BMW 5-Series E28 CSL Replica Saloon becomes classic racer. All is not as it seems with this CSL because it’s actually based on an E28 and allowed one man to get as close to owning his dream car as was possible. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Raceport.
THE IMPOSSIBLE E28-based M20-engined BMW E9 CSL Batmobile replica
What would you do if there was something that you really wanted but you couldn’t have? We’re not talking about something that didn’t actually exist, just something unattainable, completely out of your reach and which you’d never be able to have. It’s highly likely that you’d just give up and move onto sometime else and we wouldn’t blame you, because it’s very likely we’d do exactly the same thing. But for Alexey Davydov, that wasn’t an option, he couldn’t move on and we’re glad that he let his obsession take over because otherwise we wouldn’t be able to enjoy the car you’re looking at here.
You see, Alexey wanted a Batmobile, specifically a full-on BMW E9 3.0 CSL Batmobile racer and who wouldn’t want one of those? If you have any appreciation for the classics, which you absolutely should have, then you’ll appreciate it for being the absolute icon that it is, a racing legend but as well as being incredibly desirable it is, for the vast majority of us, completely and utterly unattainable. Perhaps, with enough time and some seriously hardcore saving, you might possibly be able to afford a road-going CSL at some point in your life but you might as well forget about ever owning a genuine racer. Alexey, however, couldn’t forget about his dream car but living in Russia made buying one, even a road-going Batmobile, virtually impossible. “I always wanted to have in my garage one of the E9 cars,” says Alexey, “but unfortunately we do not have such cars on sale and certainly there is no racing modification of the Batmobile.
For the statistics of such cars in Russia there are only two and both in the road specification.” That put paid to any plans of actually being able to own one of these mythical beasts but it wasn’t going to stop Alexey from achieving his dreams and he started looking at other ways of making Batmobile ownership a reality. “About two years ago, in Norway, some guys made something similar to a CSL out of an E28, but they cut the metal body and welded in metal inserts and the car retained its angularity. I wanted to do something similar but I wanted to get as close to the appearance of a Batmobile, with all its beautiful, smooth lines,” he explains and so the seeds were sown and Alexey began his epic CSL quest.
You might think that Alexey is a millionaire, an eccentric, slightly obsessive perhaps but actually he’s a pretty average sort of guy, not to do him any sort of disservice, you understand. We just mean that he’s a lot like any of us and that includes being a BMW fan; “I like them because of their technical excellence, driving pleasure and design,” he tells us.
His BMW ownership journey began with an E34 520i Touring, which remains in the family to this day, and he currently also owns an E38 740i, E36 M3 and an E36 Z3 Coupé while his E36 M3 track car, now sold, was a heavily upgraded machine that won a lot of time attack events in Russia. What sets Alexey apart is that he’s that little more committed than a lot of us, which is why he’s driving around in his own custom-built E28-based E9 CSL race replica and we’re not…
With plan in hand, Alexey set about getting to work on making his dream a reality and the most important ingredient in his CSL recipe was a car to build his creation around; thankfully, obtaining an E28 is Russia is somewhat easier than attempting to obtain an E9. “E28s are not very rare in Russia,” he says, “a few thousand were imported in the early ’90s and they are cheap and look similar (more or less) to the E9. Our ‘donor’ was in an average state; at least the body panels consisted not only of rust,” he laughs and he’s not wrong as the brown death is one of the E28’s greatest weaknesses. “From beginning to end, the car was built by Raceport here in Russia, I just outlined what I would like to see,” he says and that was pretty straightforward as all he needed to do was to give them a photo of his dream CSL Batmobile and let them get on with it.
Of course, turning a four-door saloon into a two-door coupé is no easy task so the rear doors have been welded up and smoothed so that the only signs of their previous existence are the larger rear side windows and inner door cards and then the process of building up the bodywork could begin. The first thing that needed to be done before the E28 could be transformed into an E9 was it had to be completely restored; while Alexey describes its original condition as “acceptable,” all that means is that it had a body worth restoring in the first place and there was still a hell of a lot of work that was needed in order to bring it up to standard. Once that had been completed, the Raceport team could begin work on actually creating the custom bodywork that that E28 needed to wear in order to transform into a CSL replica. “We went through the whole process of working with the bodywork, prototyping the panels, working with plastic before creating them in fibreglass,” Alexey explains and the results are spectacular and deliver all the drama of the real-deal racer. Custom front and rear wings give the car the massive width that the Batmobile was endowed with, complete with vast intakes and vents, while the custom front bumper gives the E28 the fat, wide chin it needed to complete the look. The body has been treated to a respray in white before the multitude of M tricolour stripes were meticulously applied. There’s attention to detail here that goes beyond just the bodywork itself, with the E28 wearing the CSL’s roof and boot spoiler combo, the period-correct rear pillar badges, wind splitters along with that awesome custom side-exit exhaust.
Of course, with such an incredibly wide body and such massive arches to fill, wheel choice was critical for this very special project and that proved to be a bit of a challenge for Alexey. “There is no great choice of vintage wheels in Russia, we were lucky to find these,” he says, by which he means the BBS RSs that the now E28 wears. Finding what is really the perfect set of wheels for this car, in the perfect size and massive widths required to work with the bodywork feels more like fate than mere luck. These 15” RSs measure a mighty 11” wide up front and 13” across at the rear and they look awesome on the car, working so well with the racing theme and really are perfect in every way. “We bought them with two sets of tyres. The bad news is the 345/40 rear tyres cost a fortune and are impossible to find,” says Alexey but that inconvenience is worth putting up with when you’ve got such an awesome set of wheels on your hands. While the suspension has been completely refurbished with all-new parts throughout, the only modifications here are a set of lowering springs, which do a good job of delivering a decent drop and giving this E28 that raked racer look, along with a front strut brace.
This being a 520i under the bonnet you will find an M20B20, which has understandably been left alone because there’s really nothing you can do to enhance the performance of this two-litre straight-six, but Alexey is pragmatic about the power plant situation. “At least we cleaned it and repainted the intake manifold and the valve cover. We also replaced all the engine seals, of course. A show car which leaves large oil puddles is not very nice,” he laughs, before adding, “This engine is enough for a show car and beating lap records is not our target, yet.” He makes a good point and just cleaning the engine up and giving it a coat of paint has made a big difference.
The interior, on the other hand, has been given plenty of attention and is now exactly what you’d expect to see in a car like this. For a race car-inspired build the E28’s standard, family-orientated furnishing would have never worked so Alexey had the interior completely stripped, which included ripping out the rear seats, leaving just the dashboard in place. The cabin’s bare metal has been finished in the same shade of white as the exterior and a Raceport half-cage as been fitted, also finished in white to match, while aluminium sheets have been added to the floor. “With the rollcage we achieved two goals: the body stiffness is now enough for some serious driving – in future – and now the car will not fall apart which, when we bought it, was a possibility,” laughs Alexey. The unsupportive stock front seats, meanwhile, have been replaced with a pair of OMP Silverstone seats, which look fantastic and finish off the interior perfectly.
After more than a year of work, Alexey’s E28 was finished and his CSL dream was as real as it was ever going to get. Is it perfect? No, of course not because the only way to get a perfect CSL would be to buy one in the first place but it is absolutely as close as you can get starting out with an E28 and you have to agree that it looks fantastic. The most important thing, and the only thing that really matters, is that to Alexey it is perfect; this is as close to owning a CSL Batmobile as he could ever get and that’s close enough. Of course, there is a lot that he would have loved to do to make this build even better, but it just wasn’t realistically possible, which is saying something when you’ve built a car like this. “We would like to install the proper engine, gearbox, rear axle with LSD, racing suspension, and plenty of tyres, to test the car on the track,” smiles Alexey. “The most serious problem is the engine. Just five-ten years ago it was easy to find the S38 engine. That was a cheap, wonderful six-cylinder engine, and it was good enough for a real racing car. Now they are gone. The older M engines are even more unavailable. If we try to get a vintage racing engine from BMW Motorsport, if it’s even possible, we don’t think that it will be affordable for us. The cheapest way to put 400-500hp in our car would be to install an American smallblock V8 (or similar), but that would ruin our idea of CSL Batmobile replica,” he says and while we’re usually all for wild engine swaps, we’re totally with him here.
This E28 is a magnificent machine, one that has been built with love and passion and it really shows. It embodies what modified cars are all about and it’s spectacular to look at. Alexey has done something that few of us have or ever will and that is literally made his dream come true, which is something truly special.
DATA FILE BMW E28 CSL Batmobile
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.0-litre six-cylinder M20B20, rebuilt, painted intake manifold and valve cover, custom side-exit exhaust. Five-speed manual gearbox
CHASSIS 11x15” (front) and 13x15” (rear) BBS RS wheels with 285/40 (front) and 345/40 (rear) Yokohama AV1-40 tyres, lowering springs, front strut brace
EXTERIOR Custom fi breglass front and rear wings, front bumper, roof spoiler and boot spoiler, wind splitters, rear pillar badges, respray in white with M tricolour racing stripe livery
INTERIOR Fully-stripped, Raceport half-cage, aluminium floor panels, OMP Racing Silverstone seats, fuel cell in boot
“E28s are not very rare in Russia, a few thousand were imported in the early ’90s and they are cheap and look similar (more or less) to the E9. Our ‘donor’ was in an average state”
“Of course, turning a four-door saloon into a two-door coupé is no easy task so the rear doors have been welded up and smoothed”
M20B20 has been rebuilt and cleaned up. From up here it really looks like the real deal. Massive arches add masses of visual drama. OMP Racing Silverstone seats really look the part Interior has been completely stripped-out.