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1971 - 1975
In-line 6 cyl.
2985/3003/3153 cc
3/5 spd. man
Top Speed:
225 km/h
Number Built:
5 star
Reviewed by Unique Cars and Parts
Our Rating: 5


The CSL was first produced in May 1971 as a lightweight version of the six cylinder coupe and to homologate for European Touring Car Group 2 races. It had thinner body panels, no front bumper, fibreglass rear bumper, racing latches to the bonnet, side windows made from Plexiglass and alloy-skinned opening panels, all to aid in weight reduction.

Top speed was unaffected, but acceleration was predominantly faster. The suspension was stiffened by Bilstein gas shockers with advanced progressive-rate springs. Wheels were fat (17.8 cm) alloys with chrome wheel-arch extensions to keep them legal. 169 were produced, and all with left-hand drive. Originally the CSL was fitted with a 2958cc carburettor version of the in-line six, in August of 1972 as slight bore increase to 3003cc allowed it to enter three-litre Group 2 competition.

Simultaneously the twin carburettors were replaced resulting in increased power. 539 of this model were made. In October 1972 the British right hand drive version was established and came with the "RHD City Package" to appeal to drivers that desired the lightweight racer but also wanted comfort.

Much of the weight previously stripped from earlier models was then put back. The British bought around 500 of these cars, put off by its high price (at the time they were pricier than an Aston or Jensen), its easily damaged panels, its bucket seats and the fact that it was fairly awkward getting in and out of. In August 1973 the 3.2 litre (or "Batmobile") was released.

Left hand drive only, it housed a 3153cc 3.2 litre 206 bhp engine but was still badged as a three litre. It had a weird-looking wing that apparently was intrinsic to its success in the European Touring Car series; created in a Stuttgart wind tunnel, the radical wing helped the CSL easily outpace competitive Capri's and cut lap times by a staggering 15 seconds at the Nurburgring. The last CSL's that were created in 1974 - 1975 had minor differences like the three wing rear batwing and an adjustable drivers headrest.


The BMW 3.0 CSi was the sporty road model between the carburetted, lower performing CS and the competition oriented CSL model. BMW claimed their three-litre coupes were on the middle ground between extreme sportiness with limited space and comfort, and extreme comfort with limited sportiness - and this described the 3.0 CSi very well. Powered by BMW's 2985cc seven main bearing in-line six, the 3.0 CSi had a power output of 147 kW at 5500 rpm and developed 277 Nm of torque at a seemingly high 4300 rpm. But on the road the engine was as smooth as the inside of a baby's ear and pulled away in top gear without effort from 800 rpm. Compression ratio was 9.5 to one, meaning premium fuel was required. The engine is fed through an electronically-controlled Bosch fuel injection system which had a large cast alloy plenum chamber over the top of the engine and six separate cast horns leading to the respective cylinders.

Inside, the car reeked of creature comfort and excellent design. Designed as a luxurious four-seater the BMW had bucket seats front and rear, though the rear compartment would carry three at a pinch if the central armrest was folded up out of the way. Upholstered in quality vinyl, the seats had large rolls of padding for lateral support and a cushion and backrest that was made from ventilated vinyl for extra comfort in hot weather. The steering wheel was an imposing size (400 mm in diameter) but although it looked big with a Volvo-like square padded boss in the centre it didn't feel quite so large when on the move. In fact, the steering was responsive and precise - characteristics not normally associated with power steering set-ups from the 1970s.

Behind the leather-rimmed wheel the dash offers the driver heaps of information on what was happening under the bonnet. There were four dials, the one on the left with indicators for fuel in the 70 litre tank and water temperature, plus warning lights for oil pressure, fuel reserve, high beam and four-way flashers. Next to that was the tacho, reading to 8000 but redlining at 6500 rpm. It also had the trip and odometer plus lights for the hand brake and twin-circuit brakes set into it. The speedo was next, calibrated to 240 km/h, though the CSi would only run out to 220 km/h, and the dial on the right housed the electric clock.

A butter smooth gearchange, with floor mounted lever with a polished wood knob, and steering column stalks (indicators, headlight flasher and lights at left, and 2 speed wipers, washers with delay wipe at right) took care of any immediate functions the driver may have needed to perform. Visibility was excellent all round and the car felt a lot more compact than it really was. Road testers first noted the length of clutch travel - which was very long. The first half was really effective, and the throws of the lever between gears were also quite long.

On the road the car was predictably quiet, but you needed to keep the speed below 80 km/h if you wanted any of the electric windows or electric sunroof to be partly opened. This small niggle aside, the handling and grip were impressive. The limpet-like Continental tyres on the 6J x 14 BMW alloy wheels would refuse to budge even under high speed g-force abuse. You could corner at ridiculously high speeds - and to provoke any kind of reaction from the tail you would need to wrench on the steering to the point that you would provoke a virtual four wheel drift style. The BMW 3.0 CSi's road manners were truly magnificent. Pity then that the only CSi coupes that came into Australia were by private order. In spite of its excellent safety features, with crumple zones front and back, plus its highly developed suspension and braking systems, the BMW 3.0 CSi failed to comply with some Australian Design Rules and as it is only a limited production car (compared with the BMW 3.0 S and Si sedans) and the factory has written Australia off as a lost cause.

BMW Motorsport, Alpina & Schnitzer

BMW has a long history of building sports cars and motorcycles. It is hard to believe that in the mid-1950s the firm was in danger of extinction: but by the late 1960s the progressive Bayerische Motorenwerke was the industrial backbone of Munich and solidly established in German and worldwide markets. Pre-war BMW competition cars included the famous 328 sports car (the engine of which was developed after the war into the well-known Bristol 2-litre) and among other successes the 328 had the distinction of winning the 1940 Mille Miglia in aerodynamic coupe form. After the war the factory encouraged the racing of its touring cars, but its main technical achievements were in the 1600cc Formula 2 for which various 4-valve versions of the 4-cylinder engine were raced in BMW-designed chassis.

Although that formula was dominated by Ford-Cosworth, BMW obtained superior horsepower outputs in 1970 and won six events that year with cars driven by Jacky Ickx, Josef Siffert, Dieter Quester and Hubert Hahne. Until 1973 BMW's policy toward racing the 3.0CS and the earlier 2800CS was to leave them in the capable hands of independent tuning specialists and racing teams like Burkard Bovensiepen's Alpina firm (located in Buchloe in Bavaria), the brothers Josef and Herbert Schnitzer of Freilassing, and BMW Concessionaires Ltd in England. The factory produced a limited series of the 3.0CSL (L for leicht, or light) model in 1972 in order to homologate an over-3000cc engine and the equipment basic to the race preparation of the works CSL Group 2 cars for 1973.

BMW Motorsport GmbH

This model was lightened by 400 lb with alloy doors, hood and deck-lid: wider alloy wheels and lighter seats were also installed. The engine was injected as on the CSi and, negligibly increased in displacement to 3003cc, produced the same output of 200 bhp. The factory quoted a maximum of 146 mph for the CSL, compared to 137 for the standard European CS. In 1972 Touring Car races the BMWs lacked the speed and preparation of the factory Ford Capris. BMW scored one victory, in the Nurburgring 6-hour event, with a 2800CS driven by Rolf Stommelen / Hans Heyer / John Fitzpatrick outlasting the Fords, but the usual lot was 2nd and 4th places. Determined to change that in 1973 the company formed a new division, BMW Motorsport GmbH. It was headed by Jochen Neerpasch, the very man who built up Ford's 1971-1972 championship-winning Capri RS 2600 team. Under Neerpasch were Martin Braungart (also ex-Ford), chief of race engineering, development and preparation, and Herbert Staudenmeier, who provided assistance to privately-organized BMW racing teams.

Neerpasch's expectations were initially for a few victories but thing got serious during the 1973 European Touring Car Championship with experienced BMW campaigners like Alpina and Schnitzer able to better the works cars in the early races. Despite this modest appraisal, the works effort cannot be described as modest: no less than five 3.3-litre CSLs were built for the European Championship, the German Touring Car Championship and two rounds of the World Championship for Makes (basically for Group 5 Sports Cars) - the Nurburgring 1000 Km and Le Mans 24-Hour races. The drivers signed up by BMW included Chris Amon, Dieter Quester, Toine Hezemans and Hans Joachim Stuck (son of the famous pre-war Auto Union and BMW driver), with Harald Menzel tackling the German Championship.

The racing 3.0CSL's bore was increased from 89.25 mm to 94 mm, giving a displacement of 3340 cc and a power output of 355-360 bhp at 7600 rpm. Kugelfischer mechanical injection was used instead of Bosch electronic and the compression ratio was 11.0:1 compared to 9.5:1 on the production CSL. A 3-plate Borg & Beck clutch replaced the stock single-plate type and the gearbox was a 5-speed in a magnesium casing. Brakes were ventilated discs of the type used on the McLaren Can-Am cars. The weight was brought down to 2340 lb, 260 lb less than that of the production and a full 700 lb under that of the normal CS/CSi. For comparison, the weight difference between the standard Ford Capri 2600 and the racing RS 2600 was only 290 lb. so it can be appreciated how much luxury equipment and insulation BMW had built into its production models.

Bodywork followed the basic lines of the production cars, with ample yet harmonious fender flares and a large fibreglass spoiler (which could better be described as a curtain) hanging from the front. Maximum speed of the racing CSL was well over 160 mph, depending on gearing. The main private teams running CSLs were Alpina and Schnitzer, with BMW Concessionaires racing an Alpina-built car in the English Group 2 Saloon Car Championship. Alpina was just one of several firms that produced conversions for road BMWs but it was by far the best known and most successful (its racing 2800CS coupes won the 1970 European Touring Car Championship in Division 2). Many of the modifications on the production CSL were developed by Alpina, and Bovensiepen offered a road-going edition of the racer that had 260 bhp and bettered 150 mph.

That was the only Alpina that a few lucky European enthusiasts could buy. For racing, Alpina prepared two 3.3-litre CSLs, producing 350 bhp, for drivers Niki Lauda / Brian Muir and Gerold Pankl / Jean-Pierre Jarier. While the power was slightly less than that of the works cars, the Alpina CSL was conceded to have the best set-up chassis as well as the most experience behind its race preparation. One of the working arrangements between the factory and the several tuning firms was that the technical results were pooled in mid-season, all the teams having the opportunity to use the best-working systems regardless of origin. This meant that Alpina's suspension tuning, Schnitzer's engines (giving the highest output at close to 375 bhp) and BMW Motorsport's detail engineering all combined to create the ultimate racer.
BMW 3.0 CSi

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BMW 3.0S
BMW History
BMW Specifications
BMW Brochures
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