MUNICH - Mainstream automotive engineers often aspire to work in the glamorous world of motorsport. Martin Kolk has travelled in the opposite direction.
Kolk started in BMW's Motorsport division in the mid-1980s working on the Group A racing program and the M3 Evolution engines. He was also the project manager of the BMW McLaren Grand Prix unit. After moving on to a collaborative project in the early 1990s to develop a sport-utility called the Bertone Free-climber - that was eventually cancelled - he turned to the 3 series production engine.
For the past five years it has been Kolk's obsession, his 'baby.' He supervised the critical translation of the hugely successful E36 powertrain into the E46 which powers the new 3 series.
This meant leading 84 engineers working in seven modules - four-cylinder engine, six-cylinder gasoline and diesel engines, cooling and exhaust systems, manual and automatic transmissions, propshaft and rear differential. They reworked virtually every drivetrain component in the campaign to retain the benchmark status of the 3 series.
No one knows more intimately than Kolk what makes the 3 series go. 'Five years is a long time working on one platform,' he admits. 'But I think it is worthwhile. You seldom get the chance to be in one program from the very first computer sketch until series production.
'People normally stay on a project for two or three years and then move on. I have seen the E46 all the way through - all the development phases, all the problems.
'I have literally sweated and shivered with my engines and transmissions - from 50 degrees in Death Valley to minus 30 in Northern Finland. And I joined in the cheering when it was launched.'
BMW's decision to baptise Kolk in motorsport has clearly paid off. The qualities he displayed in that intense heat of international competition - sustained dedication, fanatical attention to detail and a sense of responsibility bordering on ownership - were carried through to the 3 series.
A lightly built figure of medium height, Kolk is quietly precise in his assessment of himself and his work, and knows exactly where he intends to go from here.
'BMW gives everyone a free decision where he would like to go next, within sensible limits,' he says.
'I have been with powertrain for so long; now I would like a job that gives me the chance to be more engaged in developing an overall vehicle.
'I would like to try to integrate all aspects of a new vehicle, and have more knowledge of the business and economics side. I have just done a university course in economics, because without a sound calculation of economics you cannot realize a technical idea.'
Kolk's leisure activities display the same determination that rules his work. For 13 years he was a keen motorcyclist, racing at circuits such as Hockenheim and Nurburgring. A serious crash in 1990 persuaded him to take up mountain biking and golf instead.
His partner, Ursula, shares both pursuits. 'I wouldn't want to make her a golf widow - I spend enough time in the office as it is,' says Kolk, who dresses in golf-style casuals off duty and favors designer suits for formal occasions.
Golf is an appropriate field for Kolk's engineering approach and leadership skills. Although fairly new to the game, he swings a decent club and coaches the company team.
This is no frivolous appointment. Each year 12 major Munich firms compete for the Companies Cup and, according to Kolk, it is 'a good match that is taken very seriously.'
BMW has won the cup five times since its inception - including the last three years in a row - a different sort of 3 series perhaps, but one that generates a great deal of kudos and satisfaction at company headquarters.