The BMW E9 3.0 CSL, The car that created BMW’s M Sport

The BMW E9 3.0 CSL, The road car made into a race car that was responsible for BMW’s Motorsport GmbH

In the early 21st Century, BMW is one of the biggest automotive manufacturers in the World and certainly one of the most iconic of the German brands.  However, it was not always that way.

There are a couple of points in the company’s storied history where it fought for its very survival.  The most recent time was in the early 1960s.  BMW’s saving grace was the “Neue Klasse” or new-class line of vehicles that ensured the company’s solvency after its financial crisis in the 1950s.

BMW’s new class era took place between 1965 and 1975.  The cars produced during this era were the early predecessors to most of BMW’s current lineup.  The BMW 1500, a midsize four door sedan that would become the foundation for the 5-Series, the 2000 C and 2000 CS from which the large coupes would be based, and the 02 series, which would become the basis of the 3-Series.

The new BMW e9

Powering the entire lineup of the first generation “new class” cars, was the BMW M10 engine.  The M10 engine was a four-cylinder overhead cam engine produced with displacements between 1.5 and 2.0 liters.  It was also the engine that would power the BMW 2002 and the first generation, 3-Series in the United States, the BMW 320i and 320iS.

Produced between 1968 and 1975, the BMW E9 was based on and the successor to the BMW 2000 C and 2000 CS.  The new E9 carried over design elements from the 2000 C and 2000 CS, specifically the area of the body from the front doors on back to the rear bumper.

The design of the E9 was substantially different from the vehicle it replaced on the front end.  The front end was extended and redesigned to accommodate the new M30 engine.  The M30 engine, a six-cylinder overhead cam engine replaced the four-cylinder M10.

In addition to a new engine, the new BMW E9 switched from rear drum brakes to disk brakes to accommodate the higher performance of the M30.  The new E9 was also lighter than the outgoing 2000 C and 2000 CS.

There were four models that were produced of the BMW E9.  They include the:

  • 2800 CS
  • 3.0 CS / 3.0 CSi
  • 3.0 CSL
  • 2.5 CS

The BMW 2800 CS

The BMW 2800 CS was produced from 1968 to 1970 and was powered by a 2,788 cc carbureted version of the M30 six-cylinder engine.  The engine produced 168 horsepower at 6,000 rpm.

BMW 3.0 CS / 3.0 CSi

For the 1971 model year, BMW increased the displacement of the M30 engine to 2.986 cc.  The 3.0 CS had dual carburetors that produced 180 horsepower at 6,000 rpm.

The “I” in the 3.0 CSi was for fuel injection.   The M30 powering the CSi was running a 9:5:1 compression ratio compared to 9.0:1 for the carbureted CS.  Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection was used in part to produce 200 horsepower, 20 more than the CS.

When it came to the transmission, buyers had the option between a 4-speed manual or a 3-speed automatic transmission.

The BMW 3.0 CSL Racing Car

In many ways, the BMW E9 was an unlikely race car.  It was heavy tipping the scales at 3,131 pounds and its body was not particularly rigid.

The BMW E9’s domination in European motorsports did not start in the hands of BMW but rather in the hands of the German tuners, names such as Alpina and Schnitzer.

Alpina was the first to demonstrate the potential of the new BMW E9 Coupe when it campaigned a nearly stock 2800 CS in the Spa 24 Hours in 1969. The BMW finished in a respectable ninth place overall running many OEM parts, including the same power steering unit that it left the factory with.

Relative to their competition, the BMWs were very heavy as demonstrated by the fact that the car went through 40 Dunlop racing tires over the course of the race.

Just as with the Porsche 917 right around the same time, things started to look up for the larger coupes. This was despite fact that the factory had completely withdrawn from any competition. Success was completely at the hands of the tuners and privateers.

In 1970, Alpina’s 2800 CS won two International events that counted towards the European title. The BMW’s strength was in the straightaways thanks to its dry sump inline 6-cylinder engine producing 280bhp.

Despite its success, it was still limited by its weight. It weighed 2,800 lbs whereas its main competition, the Ford Capris weighed in at 2,138 lbs and produced 300bhp. In spite of this longshot, both Alpina and Schnitzer remained committed to the idea that they could beat the lighter and faster Ford Capris.

That day finally happened in August 1971 when a Schnitzer prepared BMW 2800 CS won against the venerable Capri. The success of the BMW E9 3.0 CSL had not gone unnoticed by the factory, on the contrary. Neither had the pleas of the tuners and privateers been ignored.

The Birth of BMW’s Motorsport Division

In response to the E9’s success, BMW was inspired to launch a new Motorsport division. In a coup, they had grabbed Jochen Neerspach, the head of Ford’s Motorsport Division and the architect of Ford Capri’s success on the tracks of Europe to head the program. As a condition for heading up the program, BMW committed to making 1,000 lightweight versions of the BMW E9 for homologation purposes.

The BMW 3.0 CSL

First shown at the 1971 Geneva Motor Show, the road going CSL weighed 400 lbs less than the CS, AT 2,569 pounds. This weight savings was achieved by using thinner steel in the unit body, deleting the trim and soundproofing, using aluminum alloy for the doors, and front and rear hood and deck lid.

The pursuit of weight savings did not end there. The rear side windows were made of acrylic with the front and rear windscreens using a thinner laminate. The front bumper was deleted with the back bumper made of a black polyester molding weighing less than 6 pounds.

The interior of the CSL had less sound deadening, thinner carpets, and minimal rust protection, not that they had much to begin with at the time. The front and rear hood latches were omitted and in their place was quick-release chrome racing latches. Finally, power steering and electric windows were deleted as well in pursuit of weight savings.

Interior weight savings consisted of a pair of lightweight racing bucket seats made by Scheel with rear seats trimmed to match. The large steering wheel that had attracted unwanted attention was omitted in favor of a smaller three-spoke steering wheel.

Rather than the six inch steel wheels that came standard on the CS, the CSL ran a set of 7 inch Alpina allow wheels with chromed wheel arch lips.

Initially running the same engine as the 3.0 CS, the 3.0 CSL was given a very small increase in displacement to enable it to qualify for the ‘over three-liter class’. The engine bore was increased to 3.51 inches for a total displacement of 3,003 liters.

In 1973, the displacement of the engine of the 3.0 CSL was increased to 3,153 cc or 3.2 liters by increasing the stroke to 84 mm, from 89.25 mm. The larger engine increased output to 203 horsepower at 5,600 rpm and 211 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm. This was sufficient to propel the 3.2 liter 3.0 CSL from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 7.0 seconds accelerating through to 138 miles per hour.

It was the 3.2 liter 3.0 CSL that associated the racing BMW with the ‘Batmobile’. It was so named because of the recognizable rear wing. Since the wing was illegal to use on public roadways in Germany, it was included in the trunk of the CSL at the time of purchase to be installed by the buyer.

All told, there were 1,296 copies of the 3.0 CSL made over four versions. While most of the vehicles manufactured had fuel injection, there were 169 produced that were carbureted. It is the carbureted versions running the 3.0 liter inline six cylinder engine that are among the most coveted by collectors.

The BMW 3.0 CSL in motorsports

The BMW 3.0 CSL was subsequently replaced by the BMW e24 on roadways and the race circuits throughout Europe. However, the CSL continued to be competitive in motorsports several years after they went out of production.

1973 was a big year in terms of wins. The CSL won the European Touring Car championship for the first time. It also won a class victory at Le Mans. The 3.0 CSL would continue to dominate the European Touring Car Championship every year from 1975 through 1979.

In 1975, the 3.0 CSL was campaigned in the IMSA GT Championship, winning races throughout the season.

In 1976, a 3.5 CSL was built for Group 5 racing enabling BMW to win three races in the 1976 World Championship.

The 3.0 CSL art cars

The 3.0 CSL was not only famous on the race circuits of Europe but also in the art world as well. In 1975, French race car driver and auctioneer Herve Poulain created the BMW art car when he commissioned American artist Alexander Calder to paint his BMW 3.0 CSL. Poulain would subsequently race his CSL in the 1975 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Since that time, eighteen BMWs have been painted by world-renowned artists, one other of which is a second 3.0 CSL. Painted by Frank Stella in 1976, both 3.0 CSL art cars are owned by BMW along with the 16 other “official” art cars. All of the BMW art cars including the CSL are priceless from an artistic value.


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