Fast orange. Of sixties BMWS the E9 is the most admired of all, and of these the 3.0CSL E9 is the one to have. A potent lightweight homologation special built to allow BMW to enter touring car racing, the CSL has become a legend in the four decades that have followed. However, you won’t see another like this original Irish example... Words by Jack Kingston. Photos by Andrew Pollock.
For those of you old enough to remember the first motoring part-works 'On Four Wheels', a free A2 poster came with one of the issues. It was a full-colour cutaway image of a Group 5 racing #CSL
, and it hung on my bedroom wall for years. I later turned it into a banner that now hangs on my garage wall. Such was the allure of that car that I later bought an E9 CSi in silver, which I thoroughly enjoyed for a few years. I now have the opportunity to test this CSL owned by Niall O'Sullivan from Limerick, and to see how much better it is than the standard car.
There are two features of this CSL that immediately stand out; the registration plate and the colour. 272 CRI was sold in Ireland in 1972, and is the only CSL registered in Ireland from new that we are aware of. Only 500 right-hand-drive cars were produced in 1972/1973 for the British market, and these were more civilised than the stripped-out left-hand-drive versions for the Continent - all RHD cars came equipped with the ‘City Pack', which was also an option on LHD cars. Total production was just 39 more than the 1,000 needed to homologate the CSL for the European Touring Car Championship. Alongside the more sober colours of the period, BMW offered three paint schemes for the truly extrovert - Tiagra Green, Canary Yellow and this Inca Orange version. The strength of this colour reinforces what is arguably one of the most beautiful coupes that BMW have built, spawned from the awkward-looking 2000 CS with its shorter bonnet (only four cylinders) and lack of a full-width grille, sporting only the BMW centre “kidneys". Speaking of colours, the #1972-Le-Mans-CSL
was the first of the so-called "Art Cars" (by Calder, Stella and Lichtenstein) that led to a string of unique paint schemes that blended technology, design and art into a successful racing package for BMW.
One cannot write about the CSL without referring to its racing development, as this is what defines the car and is essentially its raison d'etre - it evolved from the CSi in order to win the European Touring Car Championship in the early seventies. There were a couple of problems that mitigated against the BMWs beating the winning Capris on track: too much weight, a propensity to eat tyres and a feeling of rear- end steer from the independent suspension layout. By hiring the men from Ford who made the Capri a winner, BMW set out to take the ETCC championship. This they did by the use of light weight (hence the name 'Coupe Sport Leicht) and the use of aerodynamic aids to stop the car moving around on track. As these were homologated, the road-going examples had to be to the same specification. So, first was the diet: thinner- gauge steel on the bodywork, aluminium doors, boot and bonnet, thinner glass and a Perspex rear window, a plastic rear bumper, no carpets, no wooden dashboard and, critically today, absolutely no rustproofing of any kind, ensuring that they will rot absolutely everywhere and making the survival rate low and the cost of restoration high. These measures knocked about 3 cwt. (150kg) off the weight, while power from the fuel- injected three-litre straight-six remained the same at just over 200bhp. Aerodynamics were taken care of by adding a deep front spoiler, air splitters on the wings and a roof spoiler that directed air down to a huge rear wing, which could be seen to bend in the middle under the 70lbs of downforce it generated. All this stopped the car sliding about wearing tyres, and tamed its manners enough to finally beat the Capris. The racing versions were nicknamed 'Batmobiles' thanks to their giant boot spoilers, but only just over 100 were delivered in road- going form with the full aero-kit fitted. BMW went on to race the CSL in Group 5 with a turbo engine, aluminium 24-valve head, 750bhp and a top speed of 200mph!
The period Hella spotlamps tie in perfectly with this car's seventies motorsport character. The bucket-style rear seats are a unique touch.
The recent mechanical refresh saw the suspension and brakes completely torn down and rebuilt, with all bolts and fasteners going to the zinc platers in the process. The original brake calipers were found to have hairline cracks and had to be replaced, while all rubber bushes were changed. The KW coilovers were built to order using the original struts, due to the E9's relative rarity
The interior is an interesting combination of 'gentleman's carriage' wood trimmings and competition componentry, but is purposeful and full of character.
The 3,003cc straight-six is completely standard in Nialis car, but the Bosch fuel-injected mill is good for a smidge over 200bhp and sounds fantastic.
The good news for owners was that they could buy into all of this racing glamour by simply ordering a CSL from the showroom. Race on Sunday, sell on Monday, as Ford used to say. The British buyers did not favour the extreme specifications of the German lightweights, and the 500 cars delivered in RHD were better kitted out. Because of the unfavourable exchange rate with the Deuchmark the cars worked out at over £7,000, and BMW Concessionaires felt that buyers wouldn't pay this high a price for a stripped out road car, so they were all specified with the additional City Pack, which comprised of a heated rear window, racing steering wheel, Scheel adjustable racing seats, Boge shocks, stainless-steel bumpers, black undercoating, an interior light, sound-proofing, carpeting, a luggage compartment mat, power steering, tinted glass, electric rear windows, a tool kit and an internal locking bonnet. The aero accessories weren't homologated until 1973, and could be ordered as a BMW aftermarket accessory (‘racing kit'). The doors, boot lid and bonnet had aluminium skins and were very easily dented, a hand in the wrong place when closing them being enough to cause damage.
Alpina strut brace and Ground Control top-mounts combine with KW coilovers to get the most out of that famous chassis.
The glorious BBS E55 wheels have been stepped up to seventeen-inch on the back and sixteen-inch on the front, in the spirit of the over-the-top DTM racers of old.
The competition aerodynamic parts homologated by the CSL weren't part of this car's spec when new, but are very-much a part of this model's story and look great in this application.
Niall's car, chassis no. 2285018, is a rare survivor of that batch. Mr John Hynes of Baldonnel, Dublin purchased the car, which was English registered and was an early ‘drive back' car. As a marketing exercise when BMW GB launched the CSL, BMW Concessionaires invited 50 dealers to Munich on the 9th and 10th of October 1972. After a boozy night, the next day a CSL was brought to the hotel on a traditional Bavarian horse and cart with the staff in traditional dress. The dealers, who had been able to choose the colour of the car they wanted, were then given their individual cars to ‘‘drive back" to the UK. The CS register have identified quite a few of these cars from their date of first registration in the UK being the 11th of October, and the BMW Classic certificate for this car confirms that it was originally delivered to BMW Concessionaires and registered (date of delivery on the cert) on 11th October. Each dealer got the car to use as a customer demonstrator before the car was sold to the public. At that time the CSL cost more than twice the price of a V12 E-Type (and £1,000 more than a semi-detached house), thus ensuring their extreme rarity on these shores. Precious as it was, Mr Hynes had no problem in racing the car in period. It was fitted with a roll cage (now removed), and driven to races in Mondello and Kirkstown, where it acquitted itself very well by knocking three seconds off the lap record! In 1975 came its crowning glory though, when it won the Dunlop Hawthorn Trophy in the Phoenix Park. Niall is keen to trace any photographs and history of this car during this competition period, which can be sent to this magazine for forwarding. However, ‘The Park' was not the last time it was brought to a racetrack - it was regularly driven from Dublin to Monte Carlo for the Formula 1 Grand Prix, the typically 600-mile run from Paris to Monaco being dispatched in about six hours. I'll leave you to do the maths on average speed, but the CSL could top out at 130mph... This really was a supercar of its day, soaking up the miles of autoroutes in comfort and civility. The everyday Renault and Peugeot drivers could only blink in awe as this bright orange projectile streaked past!
The service history of the car records that it was regularly maintained in the seventies by Frank Reilly Motors in Rathmines up to 108,000 miles, with many of the parts sourced from long-time BMW gurus Jaymic of Norfolk, England. In 1981 it was brought to Marbella in Spain, where it was used sparingly, racking up only 1,500 miles in ten years. It aged well in the sunshine, but a few years after returning to Ireland it started to show signs of cosmetic deterioration and was entrusted to Robert Andrews Motors in Bangor for a complete mechanical overhaul in 2005. By mid-2006 it was finished, having had an engine rebuild and a new coat of paint. Luckily this car never suffered the rigours of the British salted roads, so the body needed only minimal attention. Some time after this, the car was sold on to only its second Irish owner, who kept it for a short time before selling it to current Limerick owner, Niall O'Sullivan, who also runs another CSL, this one being the E46-series M3.
In advance of embarking on a full cosmetic restoration in the future, Niall has had some work done to keep the car functional and enjoyable, the work being entrusted to Jon Miller of Classic Carreras in Killaloe, and has taken the opportunity to put his own stamp on the CSL in the process. Practical work like stripping, reconditioning and powder/zinc-coating the suspension and brakes came first, with all new suspension bushings also being put in place. Remanufactured front and rear E9 Alpina strut braces were fitted, and the brake calipers had to be replaced as they were found to be harbouring hairline cracks when stripped. That aggressive, tarmac- sniffing stance has been achieved with a set of KW Variant 3 coilovers, which were built to order using the original struts, and Ground Control camber-adjustable top mounts were added to the front end for further adjustability. The simply glorious wheels evoke both touring car racing and the famous BMW art cars in equal measure - the BBS E50s were custom built using new centres, and are running 8x16-inch rims up front and 9.5x17-inchers out back to really pack out the arches. These RHD City-Pack cars also never came with the spoilers from new, and so these were prepped, painted and fitted by Jon Miller; the front lip, wing-top fins and rear roof spoiler came from Zaprace in the UK, while the boot spoiler is an original BMW item sourced on German eBay. Save for the Schroth harnesses and MOMO Alpina steering wheel, the interior is as it left the works, but this is one of those cars whose dramatic looks belie a short list of modifications.
The fantastic Scheel seats are factory, but wear Schroth harnesses added by Niall.
Driving the legend
So, what are these legendary cars like to drive? The answer is, whatever you want it to be. Slip down into the Scheel bucket seats, twist the key, slip into the first of four gears, and that familiar straight-six just lopes off like any 3-litre CSi; there's no drama, and it's nice and drivable through city traffic. Visibility is great due to the slim pillars, and the large glass area makes the interior almost panoramic, so it's easy to place on the city streets. The clutch is a tad heavy, but the take-up is smooth and the bite is progressive, making for very easy progress. Soon though we are in the country, and the car comes alive. The throttle is stiff and needs a deep push, but the engine responds without hesitation and third gear seems to hang on forever. No matter how unruly the road surface, this car tracks straight and true. The power steering is pin sharp, and nothing will upset it, inspiring immediate confidence in this now 43-year-old car. The chassis is stiff, but the quality uprated suspension soaks up the bumps and the ride comfort is not disturbed in the slightest. There is no bottoming out - the chassis set-up is too clever for that - and the new braking system is perfect, so good that speed is scrubbed off without even noticing it. Time to point towards the motorway. Here, the car shows its other side - it's comfortable, fast, refined (except for a hissing door seal) and relaxing. Everything about this well-maintained car makes it so easy to live with. There's no transmission slack, although the gear lever throws are too long to be rushed. You won't catch the synchros out though, and engagement is positive in a touchy-feely kind of way. Cornering hard does not provoke the front end to wash out in understeer, as the back comes round nicely just at the crossover point. I can see now how these were so good on the track, and really that's exactly where I'd like to take this one. Its racing days may be over, but I thought I heard Niall mention something about a track day... Count me in!
This CSL doesn't wear the giant 'Batmobile' rear spoiler homologated for the model, but has plenty of drama about it all the same.