Journal: Driven by Design: BMW E9 3.0CS

Driven by Design: BMW E9 3.0CS

By Yoav Gilad
March 22, 2014

(This article is part of the Driven by Design series.)

Photography by Afshin Behnia and Andrew Schneider for Petrolicious

Commonly known as the ‘Batmobile’ in racing trim and more notable as the car that established BMW as the “Ultimate Driving Machine” due to their success racing in Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (DTM’s predecessor) and the FIAs European Touring Car Championship in the early-mid 1970s. The New Six Coupe, as it was sometimes called, was designed to replace the outgoing four-cylinder model.

Internally known as the E9, it first debuted in 1968 as a luxurious grand-tourer designed to carry BMW’s new M30 inline-six engine. Designed under Wilhelm Hofmeister, the same Hofmeister famous for the BMW window kink, it isn’t too surprising to find Bertone’s design sensibilities a couple of generations back. Bertone designed the BMW 3200CS, a V8, which would eventually become the 2000CS, a four cylinder, and then the E9.

Proportionally, the 3.0CS does a masterful job of deceiving the eye. It is a truly beautiful car, don’t misunderstand, but there is a successful combination of elements designed to hide certain packaging constraints. For instance, the doors are mounted closer to the front wheels than rear, which is most certainly not a front engine, rear-wheel drive look. Yet because the E9’s greenhouse extends so far back creating a short rear deck, the silhouette of the car absolutely speaks to the correct proportion.

And in spite of having a rather tall greenhouse (and thus wonderful sightlines, one of the reasons it’s so good to drive), the car is gorgeous. You can credit the slender pillars for minimizing the greenhouse’s visual weight (one of the key elements retained from the original Bertone 3200CS). The overall visual lightness of the cabin is mirrored in the entire car itself, more on this in a moment though.

The surfacing is evolutionary, at best, as it remained fairly consistent from previous BMW coupes. But the beltline that carries your eye from front to back beginning with the negative front end form a very strong, classic theme. It is that negative front end coupled with the negative rear that give the car its aforementioned visual lightness. The E9 is ready to move! Additionally, the slight wheel flares accentuate the tires giving the car a slightly more muscular look.

Use of chrome is fairly extensive on the BMW 3.0CS, but it was aimed at the luxury market and more importantly looks good. It is however generally limited to window trim, bumpers, and a few other bits. The only other details on the road-going version of the car worth mentioning are the vents on the front fenders and the roundel on the C-pillar, which accentuates the pillars’ base. This is also where the lithe pillars are sacrificed in the name of fashion, to great effect for the Hofmeister kink. The added bulk provides a nice bit of mass over the rear axle emphasizing the BMW’s rear-wheel drive platform.

Unlike many cars of the era whose wheels and tires sit a bit inboard, the E9’s stance is purposeful. Additionally, as Sir Francis Bacon said, “there is no excellent beauty that not some strangeness in the proportion.” Applied to the 3.0CS, that strangeness may be the height of the cabin compared with the rest of the body. Indeed it is a beautiful car and this one facet of the design is especially pleasing today, when the vast majority of cars trend toward a hunkered appearance. Whether spawned by Bertone or refined by Herr Hofmeister, in spite of some awkward packaging requirements the E9 remains airy, sporty, and accessible.

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Brooks Lester
Brooks Lester(@2tonic)
7 years ago

It’s definitely a beautiful car – I remember it from my youth during the 70’s. A shop owner next door to my parents’ store had one of these and parked it in front of her store.

However, I’ve always felt that the front overhang is a little too long for a front engine/rear wheel drive car. Proportion-wise, if the front axle was a few inches further towards the bumper the car would look even better. Most BMW’s have less front overhang – including the 2002 and later six cylinder models such as the E30, E36, E38, E39, etc. to the present, while the E9, E12, E24, and E28 seem to have more front overhang. I suspect this is due to engineering requirements and approaches during the period these cars were designed.

This doesn’t keep the car from being gorgeous – it’s tall greenhouse is one of my favorite design elements. I don’t care for the current fashion of having chopped down greenhouses that result in a claustrophobic cockpit. Bring back the 3.0CS and Pagoda-roofed Mercedes of the 60’s and 70’s!

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago

The E9 is hands down one of my favourite cars all time and I thoroughly enjoy these design articles, as I’m quite blind to all the details myself. This would be a win-win article in other words.

Arthur Henriques
Arthur Henriques
7 years ago

Best design BMW ever produced.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago

I have a soft spot for the 507, but the E9 is certainly up there among the best of them.

7 years ago

As I say in my book (which has my E9 on the back cover), “The total design, combining the “kink,” the sweeping unbroken window space of a true coupe, and a surfeit of glass, continues to be stunning 40 years later. This timelessness and looks-just-right sense is all the more remarkable for the following reason. One can safely argue that iconic car designs – Jaguar XKE, Porsche 911, Corvette Sting Ray, etc – tend to come out of the box as sheer perfection, and the “freshening” they received at later points did nothing but screw them up. With this in mind, consider that the 3.0CS was not a clean-sheet-of-paper design; the car’s graceful body did not, in fact, spring full-grown from the head of Zeus. It evolved incrementally from the previous 4-cylinder model – the BMW 2000CS, whose body is nearly identical from the doors back, but whose shorter nose exhibits long slits of glass-covered headlights, making the front of the car look like a cross between a praying mantis and an electric razor. The fact that, in lengthening the 2000CS’ nose to accommodate the new six-cylinder engine, they got the design of the car so right is utterly amazing. It’s like adding a dormer onto a split-level house and expecting the result to look as elegant and integrated as something penned by Frank Lloyd Wright. The 3.0CS isn’t beach-body curvaceous like a high-dollar Italian exotic – it’s more like the elegant 40-something woman you just can’t take your eyes off.”

Ae Neuman
Ae Neuman(@fb_1293493178)
7 years ago

one of the best bmw’s ever and their greatest large coupe.
these have a grace and elegance never seen again on a bmw coupe.

Chuck Moss
Chuck Moss(@fb_1652301258)
7 years ago

Great narrative and great shots. Further evidence of the increased personal appeal and valuation of e9’s comes from recent sales and auctions. Donor cars are actively sought here in the U.S and abroad for restorations.

While e9’s are relatively rare at classic car shows, the best examples are commonly seen and envied at shows of note, including Legends of the Autobahn, Monterey Ca., ( The Vintage, in North Carolina, ( and Limerock Sunday in the Park (

Clearly, current and prospective e9 owners have a unique eye for a sporty classic, and an ascendant value.

Dustin Rittle
Dustin Rittle(@mosler)
7 years ago

Plenty of great pics!. I was wondering when Petrolicious would do a article about this BMW. This has to be one of my all time favorite BMWs out there. Not only does it have a wonderful racing history and a great inline six under the hood but i also love how BMW were able to create an almost airy greenhouse sensation with there designs that includes the great BMW 2002s. This article does bring up something that i never really noticed before that while its a pretty car it does have a way of deceiving you in terms of proportions. With all that being said it while always be my favorite BMW from the racing heritage to the light airy but muscular tones its gotta be the car to have.

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson(@andreas)
7 years ago
Reply to  Dustin Rittle

The E9 has been featured a couple of times. Although mostly short articles, but there are a couple of them, namely:

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[url=””]Market Analysis[/url]
[url=””]Reader Submission 2[/url]