BMW E9 3.0CSL is Legend Written in Code
We all love a good alphabet soup—seemingly random collections of letters and numbers comprise a hidden, coded language for manufacturers to name their various chassis, engines, and model derivatives. It’s a secret dialect studied by hardcore gearheads, a cryptic slang used to describe our favorite cars with a purity fitting of the machine, a nod to the engineering beneath the slick veneer of marketing, of which the BMW E9 3.0CSL is one of the tastiest bowls ever served.
Built to homologate the E9 for Touring Car racing and based on the lovely 3.0CS, a pillarless coupe that ranks among the most elegant European GT cars ever built, the CSL (coupe, sport, light) was an all-together meaner, sharper tool than the car on which it was based, a transformation brought by both addition and subtraction.
Added were model-specific shocks and springs mounted on largely standard CS-spec suspension, but with increased front and rear camber—amazingly, anti-roll bars were not fitted. Counter-intuitively, steering rates were slightly slower, while brakes were standard 10.7” discs at all four corners, as shared with standard production CS cars.
External additions eventually included an aerodynamic package comprised of distinct fender-length fins, a huge front air dam, a small spoiler along the trailing roof edge, and a much larger wing mounted on the trunklid—the latter two of which were left in the trunk for fitment on delivery, as they were illegal for German road use.
Several other small differences further distinguish CSLs from more run-of-the-mill E9s, and varied in detail as production continued, all of which contributed to its wild aesthetic—striped, vented, winged, and very, very aggressive, it’s this combination which garnered the CSL its “Batmobile” nickname.
Subtracted was several hundred pounds, anywhere from nearly 300 for more luxurious “city package” equipped examples, to 440 for full-on stripper cars with manual windows, fixed rear side glass, deleted A/C and front bumper, less sound insulation, and other weight-saving measures. All CSLs had aluminum opening panels, probably the largest single contribution to their lower mass.
First introduced in May of 1972, early cars used the CS’s existing 3.0 version of Munich’s venerable M30 straight six, giving roughly 180 HP. By August of that year its displacement was increased 18 CC to 3,003 total, which in conjunction with fuel injection (in place of dual Zenith carbs) raised HP to 200, and in the process allowed race versions to compete in a three liter and above class. Final versions displaced 3,153 CC and churned out an extra six or so horses.
Just as it was built to do, the CSL dominated European Touring Car racing, winning every championship between 1973 and ’79, with the exception of ’74 which was won by Ford’s awesome, Cosworth-powered Escort RS1600, while a class win at 1973’s Le Mans 24 hour race proved its endurance. The CSL also saw limited North American success in IMSA, with several 1975 races won at the hands of Brian Redman and others.
Furthering its iconic status, the Batmobile donated its distinctive shape for the first two blank canvases in BMW’s long-running art car series, with Alexander Calder’s painted in blocky, primary-colored swaths contrasted by Frank Stella’s stark, black and white grid-based livery.
Our featured car is an early model, purer in form and less outrageous than later, full-on Bat-spec cars, but no less special because of it. I’m not sure which I prefer, but I do know that I’d do some pretty awful things to have either one parked in my garage, license plate reading “SUPPE”.
Photography by Afshin Behnia