BMW 3.0 CSL: understated CSL

Gudrun Muschalla
BMW 3.0 CSL
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S chon the first encounter leaves no questions unanswered: The double headlights like the sight of a predator before the attack, the poisonous orange paintwork like that of a racing car in Jägermeister colors (“camouflage name”: Colorado), the missing front bumper like that of a youngster racer from the seventies. The thin leather steering wheel with three perforated spokes and the two black bucket seats with thin fabric cover also fit.

The seat sucks me in, I pull it forward a little, and when it clicks I turn the ignition key. A burst of gas and the six-cylinder sings hoarsely, the needle on the rev counter twitches. Four or five short moments of thought, which I dedicate to the six-cylinder in front of me, purring silky smooth while idling, then I grab the slender wooden knob of the gear stick with my right hand and slide into first gear.

200 kilograms lighter

I release the clutch and the BMW 3.0 CSL rolls off smoothly. The elastic engine accelerates the 1,145 kilogram coupé without any effort. Thanks to a diet with lightweight components such as the bonnet, trunk lid and doors as well as thin glass, the two-door model has lost 200 kilograms compared to its sister model CS. A large car manufacturer only treats its offspring to this lean diet if it wants to send it into a competition.

BMW itself had no plans to do so: The BMW 3.0 CSL was created in 1971 because the Alpina private teams involved in touring car racing and Schnitzer pushed the company headquarters in Munich to a lighter coupe. The CS had to lose weight in order to remain competitive: There was no series version equipped with lightweight components as the basis for a lightweight racing touring car. For comparison: The road version of the Capri RS, the worst enemy from Cologne, weighed 350 kilograms less than the BMW 3.0 CS.

Alpina made the start

But BMW had closed its motorsport department and the new CEO Eberhard von Kuenheim concentrated the company on expanding production capacities, expanding the model range and opening up new markets. However, after persistent insistence, the Alpina team around Burkhard Bovensiepen received approval from Sales Director Paul Hahnemann to develop a lighter version of the 3.0 CS.

From May 1971 theBMW 3.0 CSL sold: Only the side stripes with the lettering and the missing front bumper reveal the lightweight version of the E9 Coupé. However, the six-cylinder in-line engine remained the same as in the original coupé: Two register downdraft carburettors provided the mixture, the injection unit only followed the following year.

BMW 3.0 CSL was not a sales success

The motor installed at the front has an output of 180 hp, whose power is more effective thanks to the weight that has been reduced to 1,145 kilograms. The Coupé drives comfortably and, thanks to the large windows, gives a very pleasant feeling of space. However, BMW received a hefty surcharge for the CSL: the lightweight version cost exactly 4,110 marks more than the normal version of the CS. The BMW 3.0 CSL was not a sales success.

But the slim number of 169 cars makes the puristic original CSL a collector's item today, especially since the look without spoilers and the technology without the electronically controlled Bosch petrol injection something for enthusiasts. It was not until August 1972 that the BMW 3.0 CSL with the 200 hp engine was offered. The new six-cylinder then had a displacement of just over three liters so that the racing versions could be bored to the displacement limit of 3.5 liters in accordance with the regulations.

Patrol cars from 1973

The CSL project only really took off when Jochen Neerpasch and his technology expert Martin Braungart switched from Ford to BMW in the middle of the 1972 season and made a factory appearance with the new Motorsport GmbH led into new dimensions. With the three-tone stripe decoration he created the motorsport colors used today, with the further development of the BMW 3.0 CSL as a symbol for the new era.

Toine Hezemans won the European Touring Car Championship in 1973 in the works CSL, not least thanks to the evolutionary stage with the wing package. From 1975 private teams such as Faltz, Alpina, Luigi Racing and Jolly Club ensured five more European titles in a row. There were also individual victories such as four successes in the 24-hour race at Spa-Francorchamps, the success in the 24-hour race at the Nürburgring by Niki Lauda and Hans-Peter Joisten in the Alpina-CSL and the successes with the BMW 3.0 CSL in the USA.

On the ideal line through Saxony

This success story resonates when I over the BMW 3.0 CSL steer the Saxon highways. The successful drivers like Stuck, Hezemans, Lauda or Quester probably had the same view of the flat bonnet and heard a similar trumpet from six cylinders as I did when they were on the ideal line through the legendary sections of the racetracks, Brünnchen am, in the 1970s Nürburgring or Eau Rouge in Spa, for example, who fought for their successes.

On winding roads it demandsOriginally CSL, however, a shift-friendly driving style with the four-speed gearbox: only beyond 3,500 revs does the short-stroke BMW engine develop enough power to make rapid progress. The chassis of the BMW 3.0 CSL tends in tight bends to slight but easily controllable oversteer.

The BMW 3.0 CSL likes it fluid

The brake system with discs at the front and rear is adequately dimensioned. However, the BMW 3.0 CSL drives best smoothly without excessive braking: That fits the balanced character of the coupé, the one at Karmann in Rheine. When the checkered flag of the Sachsen Classic falls after two and a half days and a total distance of around 560 kilometers, I don't really want to hand over the key: The understated CSL is a fine, balanced character and a historically significant car. The CSL legend started with him.

What more could you want? But now you can find one that has been preserved in its original form ...

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