Ecuadorian Gold. The story behind a Schnitzer E9 Coupé that was once a racer, was turned into a road car, and has now been restored back to a race car. Originally a Schnitzer Touring Car, then a road car, and now a glorious homage to the original, this is the story of how a clapped-out road car was changed back into a Schnitzer Batmobile! Words and photography: Robb Pritchard.
I have seen plenty of front gardens with strange ornaments like gnomes and miniature windmills but this house in Ecuador, on the slopes of the huge Cotopaxi volcano, has the best lawn decoration I’ve ever seen: an original Schnitzer BMW 3.0L CSi. The winged beast takes pride of place at Alfredo Cevalles’ house, right next to the front door and ornamental fountain. In resplendent gold and gleaming chrome trim it is, in my opinion, as gorgeous as BMWs come. And it has a long life history, too.
The original owner was Marco Vivanco, who back in the ’60s and ’70s was a famous Ecuadorian race car driver. That might sound like a contradiction in terms but actually this diverse little country touching the Pacific, Andes and Amazon has a rich history of motorsport. There was the 1000 miles of Lagarto, the South American equivalent of the Mille Miglia, and a huge 15-day rally around the country called the Vuelta de Republica. Marco, at the wheel of a modified BMW 2002, won both of these.
For many years he was known for driving the small but nimble 2002ti which, at considerable cost, he upgraded to run with a Schnitzer tuned engine. Ecuador has some of the most prohibitive importation restrictions in the world so anything brought across the border costs a serious amount of money. That engine cost enough on its own but when he bought the 3.0L CSi direct from Schnitzer it was, in 1972, the most expensive car ever imported into South America.
It wasn’t just a road car taken into the workshop and tuned by the German racing team. One of only a known 38 made, it’s a full specification Group 2 Schnitzer car. This was the year before Jochen Neerpasch joined the team from rival Ford and took the 3.0 CSL to the heights of glory with legendary drivers such as Jacky Ickx, Henri Pescarolo, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Jochen Mass, Bob Wollek and Hans Stuck behind the wheel. Thoroughly trounced by the Capris in 1972 the CSi doesn’t have such a good race track pedigree as its successor, which is one reason it now sports the stunning Group 5 flares instead.
The CSi didn’t particularly shine in the European Touring Car Championship… and it also didn’t quite live up to Marco’s high expectations either. Being designed for the fast and flowing European circuits a generation before chicanes were the norm, it wasn’t well suited for the twisting Ecuadorian mountain roads that the local races took place on. The first time he competed he had problems with the LSD overheating as its design perimeters were never intended for dozens of tight mountain hairpins.
Engineers from Schnitzer made him a one-off upgrade, a much tougher differential that could cope with the extra friction. But the biggest problem was that the main performance of the car came at 9000rpm… and in the local competitions he could never get up to high enough speeds to stretch its legs. He needed something with the power and torque in the lower end but couldn’t bring himself to sell such a special car and see it raced in someone else’s hands, so it was put into storage.
There is a very strange and unpopular law in Ecuador that only allows one-year-old cars to be imported and it is a rule that has stood for decades, so each and every classic car on the roads here has lived here since new. It also means that Ecuador has the accolade of being the most expensive place in the world to buy a car. As an example of how absurd the prices are I found a knackered Chevrolet equivalent of a Vauxhall Chevette with 600,000 miles on it… for £3200… which was a factor in why Marco took the BMW back out of the garage in the mid- 1980s and decommissioned it into a road car. The Schnitzer engine was far too beastly to drive in the city so it was taken out and replaced with a production CSL one. The original was sold over the border in Colombia to a man called Juan Montoya. If that name sounds familiar, it probably is: he sold it to Juan-Pablo Montoya’s father!
The roll-cage came out, rear seats went in, road tyres and wheels went on and, most sadly of all, the body kit was taken off… which is why in 2008 Alfredo’s brother Paul didn’t immediately trip over himself when he saw the car parked behind a garage on the outskirts of Quito. With the gorgeous 2002 and ‘81 E21 323i in the garden, obviously the brothers have a love for BMWs, which is why in 2008 Paul left a note on the window enquiring if it might be for sale. Marco called back with an asking price of $4500 and because of the smoking engine and general state of what looked like a normal road car Alfredo almost passed the opportunity up… until, on a whim, he looked up the VIN number on the internet. Wondering why he couldn’t find anything he searched a little more and suddenly he was looking at photos of the car in its former Schnitzer glory! It was with a shaking hand and pounding heart he called Marco up again.
In Marco’s garage there was a collection of old race posters, trophies and an amazing photo of the car doing 280km/h on a mountain road. Alfredo’s mind swirled with the possibilities and problems the rebuild would entail. The most important thing for Marco was passing the car on to someone who was going to restore it properly… and who knew what a massive undertaking that would be in a country where you cannot import second-hand car parts. Alfredo had suitable experience, though, (as his 1956 Austin Healey 100 and Porsche 944 attest to) so, coughing and spluttering, the BMW was driven home and Alfredo’s biggest project started.
Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is some 3000 metres above sea level so the air is quite dry. That helped keep the bodywork corrosion free but the aluminium outer door skins needed changing as the originals were badly dented and poorly repaired. This was an original sport part and apparently was rather expensive – which is definitely a continuing feature of this restoration. Getting the coils and Bilstein shocks for the rear suspension was a cool $4000; the front was only slightly cheaper. The rear spoiler was $3000 on its own. The German company that makes them doesn’t deal direct with Ecuador so Alfredo had to order it via an American company, multiplying the initial purchase cost. For the body kit, which he bought off eBay in Ireland, he didn’t even want to tell me how much it cost, but shipping alone was a fourfigure sum, and then for the import taxes another 35 per cent was added, and then 12 per cent VAT. He could have made it a period-correct Group 2 car but the extended arches and spoilers for the Group 5 version are both cheaper and easier to find… so he built himself a Batmobile. The front winglets on the front of the wings are from an original Group 5 car, an eBay find that Alfredo is quite proud about.
The dog-leg Getrag gearbox had been in the car since new and was one of the easiest things to be reconditioned. All it needed was a couple of bearings and an input shaft machined locally to fit. A much harder job, though, was replacing the cracked and chipped glass; unable to source original items Alfredo had to use a company in America to make a pair from scratch. All the lights, aluminium trim and dozens of hard-to-find small details that Alfredo had no hope of finding in Ecuador are from Wallothnesch in Germany – a company he has spent the best part of €15,000 with!
The seats are Scheel replicas that he also had to have made. The authentic retro-look was important and after failing twice to get sets imported from Europe, the only way to get a period-accurate pair was to have them handmade by a company in America. Yes, they were expensive.
After years of being exposed to the harsh sun the wooden trim had deteriorated so Alfredo hired a local wood master to recondition it. The cedar wood BMW used wasn’t available in Ecuador so this was yet another thing Alfredo needed to work on in order to get customs clearance for.
Now it looks as good as the day it came out of the Munich factory. The brakes are all period-correct but with new discs all-round, reconditioned callipers and Ferodo pads.
Generations of mechanics skilled in keeping old bangers running meant that the engine work could be done locally. Although it started life as a standard road-spec engine Alfredo put a lot of effort into making it as strong and as powerful as he could and had a big shopping list from VAC USA including rockers, double springs, titanium retainers, a Schrick cam, high compression pistons, machined head, ceramic coated header, 0.45 Webers, and a metallic head gasket. The car is now rated at 260hp. It’s still a long way from the 340hp that the original car had but a reconditioned Schnitzer engine is a cool $90,000 before the horrendous importation costs, so the tuned standard one is staying for the foreseeable future. The exhaust is another Schnitzer part… and an important one, too, because the sound this beauty makes when revved up is absolutely glorious!
Absolutely deafening and annoying for the neighbours, especially as it sounds quite similar to the local volcano erupting. But glorious…
The painstaking and painfully expensive rebuild took seven years but Alfredo thinks it’s well worth it. He enjoyed his collection of road cars before but wasn’t content to just drive this one. He had to race it, although Marco, now in his 80s tried to persuade him not to. “I don’t race it to win,” Alfredo smiles. “I just do it to hear the engine and show off the car. Besides I can only drive it at special events because with the spoilers it’s too low to get over the speed bumps in the city. I couldn’t even get it out past the security gates in my housing compound! Marco is always nervous when I drive it but he knows that the car means almost as much to me now as it does to him.”
This is a car that was designed to go fast, though, so at classic events like the Eleckta Rally Alfredo doesn’t hold back too much. “At high speed the car is solid and with the stiff suspension and short-ratio steering it’s very nice to drive… especially with the engine noise echoing off the mountains.”
So far Alfredo has put approximately $52,000 into the project, which isn’t actually that much for something of this quality and pedigree, but it’s not quite finished yet and there are a few details that Alfredo wants to include. The main thing is that the eight-year long hunt for original Schnitzer wheels to replace the set of BBSs doesn’t look like it’s going to end any time soon. Marco still has one, but it’s being used as a table support in his living room! So although it’s not complete just yet, Alfredo still needs to be applauded for bringing this car to the stunning condition it is now in.
“I don’t race it to win. I just do it to hear the engine and show off the car”
The Schnitzer Coupé as it was back in the day being campaigned by Marco Vivanco. He’d been hugely successful in his 2002 but the CSi proved less suitable for Ecuadorian events.
It took a long time and a lot of money but Alfredo is now able to compete in the #Schnitzer-CSi
in classic events in Ecuador where he loves the way it drives and the noises it makes.
Above: The CSi had been converted back to a road car when Alfredo first came across it but he knew that he wanted to restore it back to a race car and so the long task began.
Alfredo’s mind swirled with the possibilities and problems the rebuild would entail.
“It’s very nice to drive… especially with the engine noise echoing off the mountains”