Paul Rosche 1934 – 2016

Paul Rosche, the man who led the team which designed the most powerful F1 engines of all, while in charge of the technical team at BMW Motorsport  in the early 1980s, has died at the age of 82.

Rosche joined BMW in the late 1950s after graduating from the Politechnikum in Munich. He joined BMW as a development engineer and was soon a member of the team of engineers, put together by the company’s newly-appointed head of engine development Baron Alexander von Falkenhausen, to develop competition engines, beginning with the BMW 700. This would be followed by the M10 engine which was intended to be an engine to suit a broad variety of applications. The 1499cc block, which could be bored out to 1990cc, was used in the 1500, 1600, 2002, 3 series and 5 series BMWs from the 1960s through the the 1980s, with more than 3.5 million units being produced. This engine would also be the basis of all of the company’s racing engines for the next two decades and Rosche played an important role in developing the M10 and its successors. The engines were initially raced in Lola sportscars by Jo Siffert, Hubert Hahne and others. There then followed the Len Terry-designed BMW 269 and BMW 270 Formula Two cars in 1969–70 but then politics intervened in 1970 and BMW pulled out of racing, ostensibly after the death of Gerhard Mitter, but in reality because it needed to save money. Rosche became a member of the secret development group which Von Falkenhausen kept going until the BMW board could be convinced to return to the sport a couple of years later. In 1973 BMW joined forces with the March factory team in Formula 2 and in the years that followed Rosche developed the engines and the partnership led to a string of European F2 Championship titles. At the same time the engines were used in all of BMW’s successful touring car campaigns.

Von Falkenhausen retired in 1975 and Rosch became the technical head of BMW Motorsport GmbH in his place and, working with Jochen Neerpasch, he helped to try to convince the BMW board to enter Formula 1 with a turbo. It was not easy and a frustrated Neerpasch departed the company. He was replaced by Dieter Stappert and finally, in 1980, the board agreed to the proposal. Rosche already had a prototype designed and  the engine was first tested by the Brabham team at the end of 1980. It was first raced in 1982. The engine was prodigiously powerful but very unreliable although it allowed Nelson Piquet to win in Canada that year. The engines went on to power Piquet to the World Championship in 1983. In the years that followed BMW engines became the most powerful in the history of F1 with output reckoned to be more than 1500 horsepower when turned up in qualifying trim. One horsepower for each cubic centimetre – an amazing statistic.

At the end of 1986, however, the BMW board decided to withdrew from F1 and sold the rights to its engines to Megatron. Rosche turned to developing touring car engines and his E30 M3 engine powered the M3 to more touring car victories than any other car in the history of the sport.

In the 1990s he turned his attention to developing the M70 V12 engine for the McLaren road car, working with former Brabham designer Gordon Murray. The engine was then developed for racing and won the Le Mans 24 Hours in a McLaren in 1995 and later became the engine in the BMW factory sportscar team, built for the company by Williams. This won Le Mans in 1999.

By that time Rosche had begun working on the development of a new 3-litre V10 engine for Formula 1 and this was the unit which made its debut with Williams in 2000. At the end of 1999, however, Rosche retired from BMW, as per the company regulations at the time.

27 thoughts on “Paul Rosche 1934 – 2016

  1. Wow, I had no knowledge of this gentleman, nay legend! He designed the engine (I just found out!) in my most cherished car. I had it for nearly 10 years and when I brought it out for the summer, I wouldn’t turn the stereo on in the first month because the engine sound was music to my ears. Thank you for that Mr. Rosche. Rest in harmonic straight six heaven!

  2. thank you for mentioning my departed FRIEND, Len Terry, most people forget this great man!!i am the curator of his drawings

    lawrence w sufryn

  3. What sad news. Re the McLaren engine in terms of racing was it not the case that the engine had to be detuned with restrictors for racing! Fine work indeed.

  4. Indeed he was a legend. RIP.
    One of the many stories around his time at BMW was, when the original 1.5 turbo engines were being developed, the blocks were left outside & he encouraged his engineers to urinate on them when they went out for a break – apparently something in urine made them stronger!

  5. Sad news indeed. I had the privilege of working with Herr Rosche in the early 2000’s, following his retirement from BMW, where he and his good friend Heini Mader helped fix a problem that had confounded us lesser engineers. Whilst he is rightly celebrated for his wild 80’s era turbo engines and the 6.1L V12 gem that graced the McLaren F1, I was fascinated by his character. He struck me as a bit rough around the edges, but had huge presence and charisma, and couldn’t have been more at odds with the BMW corporate honcho’s that arranged for him to work with us. He was modest and reticent to talk about his achievements, but very happy to engage with a team of young engineers on a project that he could have done in his sleep. His dry humour was very entertaining, particularly with Mader as his foil. Quite clearly he was a racing man through and through: I shall never forget the Munich to Stuttgart drive in the back of his “special” BMW M5, that recalibrated my definition of fast. RIP Nocken-Paul.

  6. My whole bother with Formula E, and indeed hybrids to a certain extent, is the practical unavailability of personal and engineering histories like this.

    I no longer have my lovely Compact Oxford English Dictionary, the one with 8 pages condensed per page on “bible paper” and a magnifying glass in a top drawer in the case (which is surely the reference to check, when considering anything in describing the sheer output density of 1500cc = 1500HP!) but I believe the word “intensify” may have been first used by Coleridge, to describe the effect of high grade Laudanum.

    Rosche and fortunately, addenda, not the shortest list of contemporary careers, remains the essence of motorsport to me, and there is something the new, one might even say “modern” formulae lack. It is names like his which intensify the experience, long after the first sip.

    It wouldn’t run as a joke, but a parody three pane cartoon could probably illustrate the problem, just by being entitled “Sniff NiCd”.

    As a little boy I loved things electric, but even ozone never could not match then even for a moment, the smell of a real workshop, lovingly fumigated layer upon layer, molecule after molecule, with what every child knows is the distillate of disinterred ancient history itself. “We get the energy from that panel on the roof.” I just don’t think can inspire a young mind the same way.

    For that matter, neither can a electric motor, despite ingenious designs. Although Ars / Conde Nast and a couple other channels picked up on F1 hybrid efficiency, this year, there is still a kind of purity to obtain the output from a cylinder and piston head alone, a unique marvel. Let alone to explain the efficiency in a drive train, so simplified with electric. Also, clearly, there is a long way to go, albeit in possibly circumscribed directions, in eliciting power from the ever more modest capacities we permit.

    When Chase Carey ponders what is up with Formula One, with his long term hat on, I hope he looks closer at just how disenfranchised is everything messy, dirty, effluvia creating machinery generally. And i think one must look in particular at exaggeration of this in Europe not only the Scandi countries. We have no back yards or garages – that’s prime real estate – worth more than your career or pension! Little hands are commensurately that much less likely to be wiped ineffectually by oily rags. It’s like we need a kind of Lego neatness for combustion power, before there can be a “serious” consideration as a distraction by overprotective parents even my own generation.

    There is not even in the recent generations the same marvel at computing as a miracle, so much as a expectation, a argument in which design over function is a permissible, legitimate and allowably overriding argument. (I permit myself some sarcasm and bitterness even, but it is illustrative rather than real or my considered view)

    Backed by immense marketing and advertising bombarding precisely the same young minds, this makes it so that F1 has to compete with consumer electronics, in the effect upon impressionable – in a good way impressionable – young minds.

    The legacy of men like Paul Rosche should be bursaries and scholarships named after him and his kindred spirits.

    One does not believe in the sense of resolving famine by inviting a starving few to the Ritz, for tea, so why do we think a mere couple of prizes for the supposed best sampled at random?

    I say sampled at random, because there is never any actual measurement of when it may be best to test those who attain such benevolences, in terms of what later becomes of a child’s aptitude.

    Provide at the least a bursary in memoriam in every school, and for as young as possible.

    Don’t teach math and say a child must wait to complete a foundation. There is too much – to my view dangerously misapprehended – belief in hard sciences and related fields’ ability to catch up at K12 and after. Absolute rot, anecdotal for me anyhow: my enthusiasm was captured like a new hatched duckling’s first sight, long before I required a second numeral to count candles every April.

    But it was a utter absence of any possibility to follow that through, which ensured so much passion was diluted, compartmentalised with things my pop would sternly advise me was for when (generally speaking) I “grew up”.Not his fault, instead very much the establishment view then, as much now.

    Why do I go on so about scholarships in such detail?

    Because I cannot for the life of me imagine that any great Engineer has ever been otherwise than excited by the possibility – necessity so often – of disrupting received wisdom.

    And yet, when it comes to education, so patently failing even generations (PLURAL! – Gah!) there is nothing but atrophy and the whining of vested interests and pork barrel administration sclerosis. Like the UK NHS (which young doctors voted and campaigned against, when introduced) we have created a state within a state, with political willpower, self interest never once visibly abated in the face of atrocious, appalling, nigh criminal failures, and arrogance, the arrogance of spiteful selfishness that somehow is permitted to pass, couched in a mantra of “give us more money an we will work harder / solve what we never bothered to solve before”, the attitude of aggressive beggars working a crowd for sympathy in between menaces.

    Children are capable of seeing this, and appreciating their chances in life are political footballs, and only imaginary not ever real – any pupil at my prep school (pre K12) could have identified that, many then recently ejected from one closing system to another – but despite the young have such access to communication these days, I have seen nothing from young voices. At that age everyone I knew was vocal. Capable of articulating a perceived and real concern. (11 plus was very much still alive, a divisive examination, in the UK) Has the object of education become primarily first to indoctrinate the child, so that parents are therefore duped by proxy? I seriously now suspect so.

    My apologies for extending that to a length I couldn’t better condense, but my argument is that in memory of the truly great engineering minds, we ought to *engineer* true, outstanding, means of honouring their inventiveness, by *inventing new paths through education* to equal chances to excel.

    Apply this thought, or only a few minutes thinking upon this thought, for every one of a transforming generation of minds whose influence we have grown up or lived through experiencing vicariously, and we might start finding ways how the *phenomenon* of a historic rise of engineering and scientific talent, can be replicated.

    Then those Formula E people may have their own totemic inventors to signal their place in a much wider technical culture. I fear Formula E risks being perceived as derivative of modern technology, not forefront, in the way the motorcar gave such rise to consciousness. Just because of the marvels we shove in our pockets we still call “phones”. I do not see at all why there is no possibility for generational technical and engineering significance to repeat itself.

    Until then, I shall make a point of digging up some history of that 1500cc engine, with which to tease friends’ kids, as to how F1 regulations are really only how they are because we keep passing real laws in Parliament forcing small engine cars to go slower and slower every year, but more inefficiently to keep the oil giants happy, and the racing rules are only there to soften and PR the blow to boy racer instincts of all ages…

    Oops, bit emotional suddenly: but we need to really do something to mark, commend, *build upon* such inspirational lives. Sadly, it is just a fact of where we are in history, that one could produce a regular issue commemorating those who leave us now. But a good engineer would investigate the effects of a phenomenon of loss, and seek to identify, learn, compensate, and improve. That’s the job being left to the rest of us.

    1. You’re not alone in some of these sentiments, I am both heartened to see youngsters getting involved at my local karting club and disappointed at how few of them that represents. Even here in the great Motor City (Detroit, don’t let Stuttgart tell you any different!) there is precious little involvement at the youth level in the car and motorcycle scene. Along this vein, well worth a read is Matthew Crawford’s book “Shop class as soul craft” if you haven’t already.

    2. Sorry John, I disagree (I think….)

      (Most) Engineers and scientists are natural tinkers. good ones are inherently curious (in both senses of the word). It’s more about the lack of scope to improve things (limited by the F1 and FE rules) than the use of hybrid or electric that will prevent the arrival of more Rosches or Neweys etc.

      I’ve had the privilege of working on a more than the average number of different types of vehicles (mostly flying ones, and a few F1s) and with some of the best engineers in the world.

      The mindset of people like Paul Rosche is this: “If it moves, it can be made to move faster, or higher, or further, or more efficiently”

      I don’t particularly give a fetid dingo’s kidney if it runs on petrol, diesel, hydrogen, electricity or “zero-point”-Casimir-effect-generated steam pressure.If there’s scope to improve it, we have to try.

      Let’s not try and blame the imagined lack of such efforts on it a larger socio-ethnic-political-gender chimera.


  7. Joe, You managed to omit that the development of the turbo engine which ultimately became the F1 unit was done (with Herr Rosche) at McLaren Engines in Livonia and was raced in IMSA for several years in a 320 body with David Hobbs and sometimes Ronnie Peterson Roche supplied parts for the engine but Wiley McCoy at McLaren Engines did the development work in 1975, 76 and 77, even producing a smaller engine (1.4 liters I think) which became the benchmark for the 1.5 liter F1 unit. That aside Roche was a great and very knowledgeable guy.

    1. Joe also omitted (purposely and with good reason, I think) the whole sorry Neerpasch and Talbot story.

      I think the products of Paul Rosche’s working relationship with Gordon Murray speaks volumes about what talented engineers can achieve with trust and respect.

  8. It will be with added poignancy that I will be attending the Adelaide Motorsport Festival this weekend, watching the now Adelaide domiciled BMW Benneton B186 as it circulates around that part of the former Grand Prix track which is within the Adelaide Parklands. Ein Prosit, sehr geehrte Herr Rosche!

    Also present will be Ivan Capelli in the Leyton House March-Judd he drove in Adelaide, Stefan Johansson in a Ferrari F156, Pier Luigi Martini in a Minardi M19, plus a Ferrari F156/85, a Beatrice Lola Hart and a Ferrari 412 T1.

    But Rosche’s engine… that will be the thing.

  9. Wow, R.I.P Paul.
    Regarding the Group A E30 M3 I understood it that BMW/Rosche essentially homologated that car to use a mildly altered version of the very same F2 engine?
    The homologation specials (short run versions of the mass produced saloons) like the M3, the Sierra RS500 and latterly Skyline ‘Godzilla’ fantastic racing cars as they all were effectively killed off the Group A category in the space of 3 years!.

  10. A great engineer and engine designer.
    Something seems to be wrong now, if back in the 80s, admittedly in qualy trim, they got 1500bph out of that engine. We have 1500cc engines now plus the electrical boost but figures are somewhere around 850 -1000 bhp so in all those intervening years one might expect say 2000 bhp by now.
    We surely also have fuel of greater energy density, but we seem to be lacking a modern Herr Rosche.

    1. You may be overlooking the fact that the engines are now required to last for 4/5 races each. Hence the PUs are effectively de-tuned somewhat from their maximum potential output for the sake of reliability (and cost we are told). Back in the good old days engines were stripped and re-built from the ground up every couple of hundred miles.

      It is also entirely possible (although I admit that I do not know) that there are restrictions on the size of the turbo or the air intake in the regulations these days further restricting maximum output. Obviously too much speed was deemed to be dangerous for the nature of certain circuits hence it needed to be controlled. Think grooved slicks in the 90’s to reduce grip. Again back in the 80’s the turbos were huge and suffered from stupendous lag in order to obtain those sky high outputs.

      Just a thought.

      1. (i’m not an engine man. So if I have this wrong, or I am telling you stuff you already know, I apologise in advance).

        It’s much simpler than that. Article 5.1.4 limits fuel flow. to 100kg/hr (about 28grams/sec)

        The BMW M12/13 was running huge amounts of fuel flow for qualifying, and something around 6.0 bar boost, if I remember correctly. Current 1.6 litre F1 engines top out at around 3.5 bar from according to press reports.

        The air-fuel ratio of any of these engines don’t change much so the boost and the fuel flow are fairly closely linked. It’s all limited by how much energy you can chuck into the units (fuel mass/sec) and how efficiently you can trun that into useful work. I get the impression that current PU’s greatly outstrip the 1.5 litre engines on that front.

      2. No I thought about that as I wrote and decided that even with the now extended life, they had long enough to develop a lot more power.
        I am very surprised that the adiabatic engine principle shown last year in WEC was not pursued by F1 or maybe they just cannot get it to work. Really the use of superconductors would allow a huge advance in both heat management and in IsqR losses on the electrical side.

        1. Unless I have my quick sums wrong (always possible).

          Would be about right for F1 fuel?

          If so then with an maximum of 100kg/hour flow rate that leaves you about 1330kW of thermal energy to play with+ERS output. Even if you could get 100% of that energy out you would still have less than 1800BHP +ERS ..

          So like-for-like (though I was a big fan of the 1.5 turbos at the time) the current F1 engine is way ahead.

          Not familiar with the WEC engines, but they’d only be “pseudo-adiabatic”, surely? Unless Trump, Farage and co have decided to repeal the 2nd law of thermodynamics… 😉

  11. The atmosphere at BMW in Munich on a Monday when Nelson had won in the Brabham the previous day was wonderful. In qualifying the turbo was wound up hence the black exhaust as the ‘special brew’ fuel cooled the engine from the inside. Happy days!

  12. Joe:

    You said the F1 turbo produced 1500hp at qualifying boost. I would challenge that a bit. MOTORSPORT did an interview with Rosche some years ago as part of the cover story 1000bhp Heros. Going from memory as I haven’t seen my issue for some time, I believe what he said was at max boost on their dyno, they estimated 1450bhp. It was labeled as “estimated” because he said that their dino would only absorb 1400bhp. Anyway, is there further information?

    Also, after Hobbs and the IMSA 320 sedan came the IMSA GTP car with Hobbs and John Watson (senior team) and Davy Jones and John Andretti (junior team). As I remember, McLaren Engines had a part in this, so I assume it was a follow-on to the 320 project.

    So, Rest In Peace Herr Rosche. As a fellow engineer, you clearly made us proud.

  13. Thanks for such a touching obituary, Joe. Clearly an influential figure has passed.
    I remember seeing Piquet’s Brabham snapping sideways on the main straight of Adelaide in ’85 as Herr Rosche’s 1000+ “horses” kicked in. Those cars were something to behold.
    RIP Paul Rosche.

  14. Yes, a real Engineer in the art of designing the ICE! Fond memories of 1970s/80s F2 with BMW fighting Hart and Ferrari and Regie Renault! Happy days! Rest easy Herr Rosche, your work here is clearly done….R.I.P.

  15. An excellent way to review the history of “Mr. Engine” and his BMW MSport team is with the book, BMW Profiles by Stefan Knittel. And thanks Abo for the glowing description of the McLaren Engines/BMW relationship. Some clarification req’d tho. I just was part of a team that Gary Knutson put together to develop the IMSA turbo program; at the same time he was developing the turbo DFV program; (with great assistance from yourself and the Indy team!) Herr Rosche treated our program with loving but stern care as he watched and guided with great detail. I still have many “back-of-napkin” sketches from him providing direction. The program started late 1976, thru 1979. Work time in Munich is best characterized by stern direction by Herr Rosche, that famous frown, then a sort walk down the PreussenstraBe for a big plate of spaghetti and a beer. Great time with a great man.

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