One of the more famous BMW engines, the M10 was designed in 1961 by engineer, motorcyclist and race-car driver Baron Alex von Falkenhausen. During its usage in BMW vehicles from 1961 to 1987, more than 3.5 million M10 engines were produced, and were installed in BMW coupes, 3-series and 4-series vehicles. The engine was also known as the M12 in racing, and had a displacement ranging from 1,500 to 2,000 cubic centimetres.
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The 1.5-litre M10 was a four-cylinder inline engine that featured a chain-driven, single-overhead-camshaft configuration. The engine also featured an aluminium cylinder head with eight ports, a five-bearing crankshaft, and efficient inlet and exhaust manifold tube lengths. There were about 10 models of this engine, and specific performance specifications vary according to the model.
M10 performance specifications were exemplified by three models with varying displacements. The M115 model had the least amount of power, featuring a displacement of 1,499 cubic centimetres (91.5 cubic inches), 75 horsepower at 5,500rpm and 118ft.-lb. of torque at 3,000rpm. The M10B18 was a midrange M10, capable of a displacement of 1,766 cubic centimetres (107.8 cubic inches), 105 horsepower at 5,800rpm and 145ft.-lb. of torque at 4,500rpm. Finally, the M31 model was one of the most powerful M10 engines, featuring a displacement of 1,990 cubic centimetres (121.4 cubic inches), 170 horsepower at 5,000rpm and 240ft.-lb. of torque at 4,000rpm.
Both consumers, reviewers and even race-car drivers seemed to appreciate the M10 series of BMW engines. Besides a number of websites dedicated directly to the M10, professional reviewers such as Car and Driver praised the engine for its flexibility and its performance on sometimes-difficult terrain and hills. Reviewers also noted the engine's power and speed, which was often greater than that estimated by BMW itself. Many racers liked the engine enough to use it on the track, primarily in touring and sports cars, and some winning cars were equipped with an M10 engine.
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