E46 M3 CSL’s 10th birthday, suddenly that car seems uncharacteristically bland as you glimpse a silvery slice of iconic 70s shark nose bee-em tucked away in the corner of the workshop. This one’s in proper ‘Batmobile’ spec, a nickname the 3.0 CSL earned from its full aero package, comprising the deep front chin spoiler, the fins on the front wings, and the pair of spoilers mounted at the top of the rear window and on the boot lid.
This 3.0 CSL isn’t actually a 3.0-litre, though. Built in 1973 it’s one of the later 3.2-litre cars running Bosch fuel injection, of which just 167 were made. That means, when new, it was pushing out a healthy 206hp at 5,500rpm, would reach 62mph from rest in seven seconds flat and would go on to a top speed of 137mph. It still feels strong today.
That’s because it’s light. It weighs just 1,163kg – up to 250kg less than the regular E9 coupe it was based on if the ‘city package’ geared for comfort was deleted. The CSL used lighter alloy panels for the bonnet, boot and door skins, as well as thinner gauge steel for the front wings and lighter glass. Add to that the pared back interior through the removal of superfluous soundproofing and trim and you had a featherweight performance car by contemporary standards.
A slow rack and little grip makes it interesting when an irreplaceable classic costing 75,000 euros first breaks away on you, but the clarity with which the messages are relayed from every interface can’t fail to inspire confidence. The throttle’s weight is heavy, but the pedal’s responsive, and in no time you find yourself pumping the accelerator to trim your line and test for grip.
The brakes require a good prod to haul the car down owing to the absence of servo assistance, but unsurprisingly, due to the lack of mass to slow, the retardation levels are impressive. The massive weight saving over the standard E9 coupe improved the CSL in every respect.
Despite the 30-year age difference, it’s surprising how many parallels there are between the E9 and the E46 CSLs. There are the obvious links in that both cars had a serious amount of weight removed from the standard production vehicles, boasting lightweight body panels in places and an interior by Weight Watchers, but there are more similarities when it comes to the mechanicals. Three decades of development might mean the E46 revs harder and faster, but the nature of the full, round sound that infects your brain in the mid-range, overlaid with a hard-edged metallic rasp, is uncanny. The E9 sings, and at 2,800rpm the resonance inside the cabin is colossal.
CSL and the future
Although everything happens at a lower speed in the original 3.0, you have to be accurate to drive it quickly, just like in the E46. The engine’s urgency from the punchy mid-range will trouble the rear tyres on anything other than a bone dry surface and it means you have to be on your game with winding on corrective lock. Catch the narrow A-pillars out of the corner of your eye when you’re doing it and the lack of safety features certainly focuses the mind. It doesn’t suffer fools gladly, and although the transmission is still slick, particularly on up changes, if you don’t blip the throttle quite enough on the way down it’ll resist your efforts with a recalcitrant streak – not such a problem you’re faced with in the newer car.
Everything you feel in the 3.0 CSL reflects its lightweight concept. With the drive for efficiency in the modern era, especially in performance cars, this philosophy of a lack of mass is once again relevant. Along with the most recent CSL, this is BMW at its very best. An M4 CSL next? Let’s hope so.
BMW 3.0 CSL (1973)
Engine: 3,153cc 6-cyl, fuel-injection
Transmission: 4-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 206@5,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 212@4,200rpm
0-62mph: 7.0 sec
Top speed: 137mph
Price: 37,580 German Marks in 1973