Gloriously original Schnitzer 635CSi racer
A True Original Squirrelled away down in Australia you’ll find perhaps the most original Schnitzer E24 635CSi race car in existence – it’s an absolute peach!
‘It came second in every major race it entered’ – hardly a claim to fame, especially when it comes to a race car’s value post-retirement. Thankfully it’s not the only deciding factor, as this ex-Schnitzer 635CSi proves. Words and photography: Chris Nicholls.
A TRUE ORIGINAL
As with many things in life, originality is key. Whether it’s the arts, sciences, or even consumer goods, a truly unique idea or product will stand out. It doesn’t even have to be the best in its class. It just has to be one of a kind. The same can be said of racing cars. Tyrell’s six-wheeler was hardly the most successful F1 car of all time, but it’s still revered today because it tried something new. Similarly, this #Group-A
635CSi never won a single race in its life but its remarkable career, despite the lack of wins, and originality (being possibly the most complete Schnitzer Group A E24 in existence) means it truly is a standout car.
Now sitting in the Bowden Collection warehouse in Queensland, Australia, we decided our trip up there earlier this year would be a great opportunity to both shoot and delve into the history of this amazing machine. And thanks to the generous assistance of the Bowden clan, we were able to do just that. Looking into the car’s past, it’s perhaps remarkable such a storied machine could have started its career so badly. Entered into the 1985 European Touring Car Championship as the factory Schnitzer / #BMW #M-Technic
car, chassis RA2-55 didn’t even finish its first three 500km endurance races at Monza, Vallelunga and Brno due to mechanical problems. And it only managed sixth and seventh at the Salzburgring and Nürburgring events respectively. And that was despite having drivers like Emanuelle Pirro, Dieter Quester and Johnny Cecotto at the wheel. A huge effort from both the team and drivers Quester, Oestreich and Cecotto did yield a second behind its sister car at the Spa 24-hours that year, but that was as good as it got in its European run.
Thankfully, the late-season pick-up in fortune meant British team manager John Siddle still decided to bring the car Down Under for the Bathurst 1000 later that year. Originally, he wanted the Spa winner, but given it ran the famous ‘parts car’ livery, one that would have cost around AU$10,000 to replace when it returned to Europe, Siddle settled on buying its sister car outright instead and had it painted in ‘Bob Jane T-Marts’ orange. After a complete rebuild by Schnitzer and testing by Quester, it ended up on a boat to Australia.
Remarkably (at least when viewed through the lens of 2016), this was fairly normal for the time. The team’s driver line-up for ‘the great race’ originally consisted of Nelson Piquet (whom Siddle managed) and Nikki Lauda, but a date clash with a Brands Hatch F1 race meant Johnny Cecotto and Roberto Ravaglia had to be flown in instead. To help ensure the best possible result, Siddle also brought in two Schnitzer mechanics and a BMW factory engineer to bolster the local crew.
Qualifying eighth, the bright orange 635 suffered a terrible start due to the kind of engine trouble Siddle had spent so much time and money trying to avoid. Thankfully it cleared by lap three, only to be replaced by a computer wiring fault on lap 17, which left the car down on power for the remainder of the race.
Despite this, after two hours in the car was up to fourth and eventually moved up to third behind the TWR Jaguars. At one stage it even snatched second place before a charging Peter Brock went past in his Commodore. Thankfully for the BMW fans, though, Brock’s timing chain later broke and chassis RA2-55 took its second consecutive number two spot in a major race. Rather frustratingly, a post-race inspection by the team revealed the wiring problem probably cost them a second a lap and therefore the win, but such is Bathurst.
After Australia’s biggest enduro, the Bob Jane car competed in an F1 support race at Adelaide, driven by none other than Gerhard Berger, before a brief retirement until the tail end of the 1986 Australian season. There, thanks to Garry Rogers (who now runs the Volvo V8 Supercars team) destroying his ex-JPS 635CSi at Oran Park, it was pressed back into service to run with Charlie O’Brien as the second driver at the Calder Park South Pacific 300 (where it finished seventh), the Sandown 500 (where it finished 11th) and once again at the Bathurst 1000, where sadly it DNF’d. Finally, the CSi finished off its racing career by being shipped to Japan to compete at the Fuji InterTec 500, piloted by O’Brien and Pirro, where it finished (yet again) in second.
Upon returning to Bob Jane’s ownership, the former racer and tyre magnate changed the vinyl numbers to replicate the 1985 Bathurst livery and left it at that, using it as a promotional vehicle at his various tyre and wheel stores around Australia. Indeed, it seems he thought little more about the car until he showed it at the 2012 Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne. There, a chance encounter with some Red Bull mechanics made him realise what a special piece of history he had on his hands.
According to current custodian Chris Bowden, these Red Bull mechanics were ex-Schnitzer and, after examining it, said to Bob they used to work on the car and they couldn’t believe how original it was. “They told Bob that it was the only one left of the original (Schnitzer) 635CSis,” says Chris.
Having realised quite how valuable it was, Bob decided to find some caretakers who could look after it better than he could, and thanks to being friends with the Bowden family, chatted to them first.
“Bob called us after that event and said, ‘I’ve just found out this car’s a lot more special than what I thought it was, and I think you should have it,” Chris explains. “So we started talking from that point onwards and a deal was struck not that long after.
Obviously it was Bob Jane [a man renowned for his business nous], so we had to pay – we had to pay well – but let’s just say all parties were happy and, to date, I’m yet to have seen another 635 like it. It’s just a time-warp, and its fantastic race history backing it up is really cool, too.”
Chris’s description of the car as a ‘time warp’ is apt. Looking over the car, you can see every little detail from its racing career remains intact. Outside, the completely original paint is chipped and worn, as are the wheel centres, and the aluminium fuel tank still has dirt streaks running down it. The windscreen even has a crack in it from its last race in Japan. Lift up the bonnet and bootlid and you’ll see every mechanical component remains untouched and the rubber seals are long past their use-by-dates. Even the tyres are the original Pirelli P7 slicks it last raced with back in 1986. Inside, the time capsule feel continues. The original Recaro carbon bucket is now completely yellowed by the ageing resin, while the kick marks on the doorcards and aluminium roll-cage, as well as the partly-faded plastics surrounding the switchgear behind the gear knob and shiny leather on the wheel itself, all further reinforce how old and well-used the car was. (On a separate note, the completely stock road-car gear knob, door panels and dashboard are a bit of a throwback, aren’t they? It’d be impossible to think about seeing such items on a modern race car).
The car’s originality and condition makes it all the more amazing that, far from leaving it as a museum piece, Chris has had it out for a test run at Queensland Raceway. Admittedly it was just one test, and the original ’80s tyres and safety gear meant it was hardly flat-out, but after getting his mechanics to ensure it all still worked, he did indeed drive it. And to prove that age never wearies a great car, Chris says it was still a peach and rather friendlier than his other Group A 635CSi – a JPS car we’ll also be featuring. “The JPS car is very much set up for sprint racing – it’s got a huge cam in it,” Chris says. “There’s literally nothing going on below 4000rpm. Getting it out of the pits is an absolute nightmare. And the JPS car (like all Group A 635s) runs a huge amount of caster and the gearbox ratios are extremely tight. It’s a real purpose-built sprint car. Whereas in the Schnitzer the clutch in it is quite friendly, the gear ratios are spread a little bit wider and it’s got power steering. It does run a pretty big cam, but nothing like the JPS car. It generates power from about 3000rpm; you could take the Schnitzer car to the shops.”
Of course, Chris says this doesn’t mean the car isn’t utterly vice-free, as it’s still “a little bit cranky” at low speeds, but for a purpose-built race car, he says it’s a nice drive and very clearly one set up for endurance racing, where outright speed is less important than ensuring the driver isn’t exhausted by lap ten.
Thankfully for race fans, Chris even says he plans to drive the car at future events, too, if only for demonstration runs: “This particular 635, given I’ve never seen another one like it – as original – I don’t think racing is what should be done with the car. I’d love to but I don’t think I’d be doing a favour to mankind by giving it a big rub or blowing up the engine or doing those things that happen when you decide to enter a race with a car. The JPS car, definitely, there’ll be a time in the future when we do race that, but the Bob Jane car, no. It’s a time-capsule – it’s something that should be kept for future generations so that in 30, 50, 100 years from now, when they talk about the early Group A cars, and the ones that ruled the roost and what they were really like, this car should be an example of that.”
Wise words indeed. We look forward to seeing the car on track at future events, where no doubt it will wow people with its originality, history and bewitching M30 song.
Above: The ‘Bob Jane’ 635CSi as it was when campaigned by Schnitzer in European events – this is it finishing second at Spa in 1985.
Looking over the car, you can see every little detail from its racing career remains intact.
TECHNICAL DATA Bob Jane #Schnitzer #BMW-635CSi
ENGINE: 3475cc SOHC #M30
straight-six, cast iron block, 12-valve alloy head, #Bosch
injection, 310hp @ 6900rpm
GEAR BOX: Getrag five-speed gearbox
CHASSIS: Steel monocoque
SUSPENSION: McPherson struts, coil springs, shock absorbers, anti-roll bars (front), semi-trailing arms, coil springs, shock absorbers, anti-roll bars (rear)
BRAKES: AP-Racing four-piston callipers (f) and Lockheed two-piston callipers (r) with 297x26mm two-piece discs
WHEELS AND TYRES: 8x17-inch (f&r) BBS centre lock mesh wheels with 285/630 (f&r) Pirelli P7 racing slicks
For a purpose-built race car, it’s a nice drive and very clearly one set up for endurance racing.
The Bob Jane 635CSi that now resides in the Bowden collection retains a wonderful patina – it’s probably the most original E24 race car anywhere in the world.