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BMW 3.0 CSL: Buying guide and review (1972-1975)

Over the past few decades we have become used to BMW producing powerful ‘M’ cars based on their standard models. This was not always so and in 1972, BMW’s first foray into this sports car category started with the 3.0CSL - which was based on the much more humble 3.0CS coupe. 
It was homologated to gain BMW entry into the European Touring Car Championship, and a number of weight saving measures were carried out to improve the overall performance. It was a successful move and the E9 CSL became the precursor to many lightweight versions of other standard BMW road cars, ultimately leading to the highly regarded E46 M3 CSL and more recently the E92 M3 GTS. Conceived in the BMW motorsport division, later to be renamed BMW M GmbH, the CSL is considered to be the first of a long line of M performance cars.
Developed to go racing, the CSL achieved some great results, with wins in the Le Mans 24 hour in the special tourism class in 1973 and 1974, the IMSA GT Championship in 1975 and winning the European Touring Car Championships every year from 1973 to 1979 (apart from a minor blip in 1974).
A CSL was also used as an automotive canvas by renowned artist Alexander Calder, becoming the first ever BMW art car. This was followed by another CSL, this time painted by Frank Stella. A Hommage CSL was revealed in 2015, showcasing some cutting edge design and hinting at the future of the BMW Coupe while paying tribute to the classic lines of the original.
Performance is still very respectable, but don’t expect modern day turbo like levels of torque. These cars deliver their power with a creamy and intoxicating straight-six howl, which used to be a hallmark of all performance BMWs. The chassis that is very well balanced, if a little tail happy at the limit.

Which one to buy?

A total of 1096 CSLs were built, with 500 of these being imported into the UK in the ‘70s, although it’s worth noting that these versions retained the standard interior trim – negating the total weight saving somewhat. The other benefits were retained however, including aero kit, thinner gauge (therefore lighter) steel, and aluminium parts. The UK-specification cars had what was referred to as the ‘city package’, which included most of the basic spec from the 3.0CS and CSi models to improve day-to-day usability. All cars had four-speed manual gearboxes, although many have since been converted to later five speed units. A lot of BMW parts are interchangeable on these cars, and searching for a totally standard car may take some time.
The original CSL came with a twin-carb 3.0-litre engine, which was shared with the 3.0CS. Later iterations received a small bump in capacity, to push swept capacity up to just over the 3.0-litre mark. Fuel injection was also added, enabling the CSL to be entered in the over three litre racing categories. These are the ones that UK imports were based on, so take a look under the bonnet to make sure that you are not being sold a standard 3,0 CSi with aftermarket parts bolted on. 
Optional extras were not very numerous, and the most noteworthy are factory-fitted air conditioning and limited slip differential. In 1973 the engines were further increased to 3.2-litres, providing a modest power and torque increase. These are the rarest examples of the CSL, on which the iconic Batmobile is based on. With just 39 made they are very sought after and command eye-watering prices. With their outlandish aerodynamic appendages, the CSL still turns heads today. Unlike so many wings and spoilers though, the CSL's kit actually delivers huge amounts of added high speed stability. 
To bypass the local laws governing the size of external aero devices, the iconic rear wing was left uninstalled in the boot of new cars. Both left- and right-hand drive cars can be found for sale in the UK, however searching for cars on the continent can increase the likelihood of you finding the right car.

There is also the option of an Alpina B2S, developed by the tuning company with even more modifications. Spec can vary from car to car, as they were all custom build, but expect aluminium doors, bonnet and bootlid with simple opening stays, fixed rear Perspex side windows, no front bumpers (the rear ones are glassfibre) and definitely no heavy City Pack…
The six-cylinder engine was then given the full Alpina treatment: forged high-compression pistons, big valves, high-lift cam, triple Weber 45DCOE carbs, a tuned tubular exhaust manifold and a road version of the racing ZF five-speed gearbox. Adjustable front and rear anti-roll bars were fitted along with progressive-rate springs, Bilstein dampers, a 45% locking differential with oil cooler, and larger ventilated disc brakes all round behind the intricate 8x14in, split-rim alloys.
The result? A lusty 250bhp in a tied-down chassis, and the promise of 0-60mph in 6.6 seconds and a top speed of 151mph, faster than the Aston Martin V8 of the day. This was a road-going racing car in its purest form.

Performance and specs

1972 3.0 BMW CSL
Engine 3003cc, 24 valve SOHC in-line six-cylinder
Power 197bhp @ 5500rpm 
Torque 201lb ft @ 4300rpm
Top speed 133mph 
0-60mph 7.3 seconds 
Fuel consumption 25mpg 
Gearbox Four-speed manual

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2625mm
Length 4630mm
Width 1730mm
Height 1370mm
Weight 1270kg

Common problems

• Engines are extremely strong and apart from requiring valve adjustments every 9000 miles or so, they go on and on. Head gaskets can blow if the cooling system is not in tip-top condition.
• Mechanical components are generally easy to source, and can be found through various specialists if BMW doesn’t stock it. Many parts are also interchangeable with later BMW models, so a lot of E9 coupes have had upgrades and modifications carried out over the years.
• The main area of concern on the 3.0 CSL is the body. The non aluminium body panels can rust, while the aluminium components can also corrode over time. If you're considering a car that needs restoration, consider that getting the body right will most likely cost upwards of £30k alone. 

• Parts are not easy to come by, leading to further expensive restoration costs. Salvage yards are a good place to start hunting, as well as car clubs, but as you might expect very few CSLs ever get broken up.
• Pay particular attention to the wheelarches as well as the sills, and getting the car up on a ramp to inspect the underside really is a must.
• Interior trim items are very scarce and will have to be sourced second hand, so it is worth looking for a car that has a complete interior, with perfect seats and dashboard trim to avoid a long and expensive search for spares.

Model history

1972: Launch spec engine, same as 177bhp 3.0 CS with twin carburettors. Only available in LHD and not sold in the UK
Late 1972: 197bhp 3.0-litre engine gains fuel injection. UK-spec BMW CSL goes into production, with 500 destined for UK market. These cars retain electric windows, sound deadening and standard bumpers. Small increase in capacity mid-year, to just over 3-litres.
1973: Engine displacement increases to 3.2-litres, with power now at 206bhp. Only available in LHD and not for UK market
1975: Final CSL rolls off production line totalling, 1096 cars.

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.e9coupe.com – website dedicated to all the early BMW Coupe models, including CSL
• www.bmwcarclubgb.ukUK-based BMW owners club and forum
• www.cslregister.comUseful and friendly forum community for CSL owners

Summary and prices

These cars have long been sought after, and the prices today reflect this. A good example will set you back around £50,000, while mint condition examples can sell for £120,000-plus. Be wary of patchy histories and modifications that compromise the nature of the car though.
The 3.0 CSL has over time become a true collector’s car with prices increasing steadily. It combines everyday useability and practicality with sports car performance in the same way that M cars do today, although very few are used this way nowadays. A classic coupe silhouette, sonorous straight six engine and decent reliability all make the CSL a great classic to own and enjoy. With prices unlikely to dip anytime soon, it is an investment that satisfies both the head and the heart.
Words: John Tallodi
Last updated: 2nd Sep 2016
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BMW 3.0CSL cars for sale

3 Search results
125000 345000 GBP
  • 1974 BMW 3.0 CSL Batmobile Coupe

    $345,000(£281,968.50) $345,000(£281,968.50)

    In the early 1970s, a war was raging between two top players in touring car racing. On one side, there was the might of Ford of Europe. Ford had enjoyed a great deal of success in European and British “tin-top” racing and was the established king of the category. Ford’s Total Performance edict encompassed worldwide programs that ranged from Nascar and Drag Racing to Indy, with European programs for LeMans, Formula 1, Rallying and Touring Cars. Ford of Germany, based in Cologne, was put in charge of the Touring Car program which evolved from running Cortinas and Escorts to the bigger, V6 powered Capri in the late 1960s. Under the guidance of Jochen Neerpasch, Ford developed the Capri into a fire-breathing monster – a dry-sumped, fuel-injected beast that weighed just 950 kilos and could nearly hold its own against the Formula 1 based 3-liter prototypes of the same era! Meanwhile, just a few hours across Germany in Munich, BMW was struggling to compete. Their Karmann built 2800CS coupe was being run by the great Alpina and Schnitzer squads, but it suffered from a massive weight handicap that rendered it little more than a moving chicane against the might of the Fords – who won 13 out of 16 races of the 1972 season. Determined to be not embarrassed again, BMW responded with the only reasonable option: Money. They poached Neerpasch to run their own Motorsport division. With what we assume is a fat signing bonus in hand, Herr Neerpasch wasted no time improving the CS coupe. Displacement was increased to just over 3-liters, and a massive amount of development work went in to honing the car’s aerodynamic performance and saving weight. The resulting car was homologated at great expense, with a limited run of 1,265 road cars built to satisfy regulations. The CS went on a massive weight loss program, gaining alloy doors and deck lids, stripped out interior trimmings, thinner glass and most notably- an aero kit that consisted of a big rear spoiler, roof spoiler, front air dam and go-fast stripes. At the time, the German government frowned upon such audacious displays of power, so BMW put the parts in the trunk of that last run of CSLs, and left it up to the dealers and owners to install the parts. The wings and spoilers earned the CSL the nickname “Batmobile” and today, full Batmobile CSLs are true blue-chip collector cars. When they hit the showroom, the CSL was extremely expensive, but the gamble paid off on track, with the CSLs (often piloted by off-duty F1 drivers) trounced the Capri RS3100 and took the European Saloon Car Championship from the clutches of their rivals in Cologne. The CSL has since gone on to become an almost mythical beast, with collectors scrambling to get their hands on a genuine example. Our featured car is a 1974 CSL finished in Polaris Silver with a black interior and black stripes, this is a genuine Batmobile CSL that presents in fabulous condition. Starting with the notoriously complex Karmann bodyshell, this exhibits precise panel fit and beautifully straight reflections. It is highly correct, with the full factory aero kit (including the rare roof spoiler and front wing splitters), correct CSL stripes and 14” Alpina alloy wheels wrapped with period correct Michelin XWX radials. This early car is denoted by the lack of a central support for the rear spoiler. Even the C-pillar badges are the correct original Cloisonné type. Brightwork is limited to a few flashes of anodized alloy and stainless around the windows and the wheel arches. However limited, it presents in very good condition. The front bumper-delete and blacked out rear bumper are correct for the CSL. As part of the weight savings, BMW deleted electric windows (on most early cars) and fitted lightweight, form hugging Scheel sport seats. This example still wears these highly desirable seats and the entire cabin has been correctly trimmed in black vinyl with black cloth inserts. The original three-spoke sports steering wheel remains and the correct but somewhat incongruous wood trim has been restored to a high standard. The original tool kit is intact and in excellent order. Engine bay detailing is done to a high standard with everything appearing neat and tidy while remaining very usable. Inner front wheel arches appear flawless, a known trouble spot on any CS coupe. This being a 1974 model, the inline six is slightly stroked to 3,153 cc. Kugelfischer-Bosch injection helps it make over 200 reliable horsepower with great masses of torque and a sonorous soundtrack. The 3.0CSL is a true motoring icon and this example is ideally suited for collectors and petrolhead drivers alike. It is beautifully finished, yet is approachable and ready to be enjoyed on the road. The CSL is a proper driver’s car, and one of the truly great original homologation specials.

    For sale
    Hyman Ltd
    314-524-6000 VIEW CONTACT NUMBER
  • BMW E9 3.0L CSL

    £125,000 £125,000

    BMW E9 3.0L CSL We are very proud to offer for sale this wonderful 3.0 CSL. This lightweight E9 3.0 coupe is very special to us at Munich Legends. Having been a local car all its life – it was owned ‘back in the day’ by the father of our dent tech – this lovely CSL was fortunate enough to retain all its original panels throughout its life. It also has matching chassis and engine numbers. The limited run of lightweight E9 coupes (of which there are estimated to be less than 250 in RHD left worldwide) makes the CSL incredibly rare, but those still with genuine matching numbers are almost non existent. It is believed that this particular coupe may have been supplied from new by the Ashdown Garage, now Munich Legends HQ, then home of one of the first BMW dealerships in the UK. Some lovely period photos exist of this rare car, which adds a wonderful back story to this special piece of motoring history. In 2011 Munich Legends were commissioned to carry out a total bare shell ‘nut and bolt’ restoration, by one of the country’s leading car collectors. This included not just a full repaint inside and out, retrimmed seats, refurbished wood trims, new carpets and console vinyl, but also a ful

    • Year: 1972
    • Mileage: 72778 mi
    For sale

    £175,000 £175,000

    This Chaasis was found in Belgium by Chris Randall at Zaprace, although little is know about its history it had obviously competed at some stage of its life, it was very common to find early CS's like this used as race cars before the CSL's came along and as regulations change over the forth coming years the cars were modified to suit until they began retiring the E9's for the next thing! Subsequently cars/shells could be found in various conditions either missing lots of parts or just unused years later and due to the increased interest in Historic racing over the last 10 years or so an upsurge in interest has made these E9's very desirable indeed, this when found was almost bare but did have some odd early schnitzer race parts with it. Zaprace/Dmworx built it up for a customer as a 1979 Gp5/ GTO specifically for him to run in the Nurburgring OTGPBMW Race. Unfortunately they changed the rules so that you could only run a genuine Gp5 in that race, (so nobody will ever race one) and so an M49 24v engine was deemed not worth sourcing, the step down to a late IMSA GTO 12v type was not preferred, and so the customer went forward with a Gp2 version leaving Zaprace with a beautiful old g

    For sale
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