Searching for a Rare Version of an Already-Rare BMW 3.0 CSL

Photography by Tim Suddard unless otherwise credited

Whether they’ll admit it or not, everyone has a favorite car. But to what lengths would they go to get it? For longtime collector Jay Proops, his dream car turned out to be a bit of a needle in a haystack.

The object of his desire? A BMW 3.0 CSL, the lightweight, race homologation version of the E9 coupe not officially imported stateside. BMW only produced 1265 copies total during the model’s 1972-’75 run.

But Jay wanted a fuel-injected, left-hand-drive example, narrowing the list to just 429 of those cars. And then he wanted one fitted with the more comfortable City Package. Most of the 3.0 CSL coupes sold in the U.K. had this option, but Jay figures only about 50 left-hand-drive cars came so equipped. 

One more wish: He also wanted a car with a fall build date–more on that later. 

And then add in the fact that these cars were built more than 45 years ago. It was a hunt for the ages. 

L Is for Lightweight

The 3.0 CSL was the top model for BMW’s E9 chassis. Call it the company’s idea for a fast touring coupe. 

BMW introduced the line in 1968 with power from a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. Soon, though, the nose was lengthened. Looks improved–some say dramatically–while providing space for a 2.8-liter inline-six. By 1971, the engine had been enlarged to 3.0 liters, and the E9 was becoming a true world-class GT machine for the day.

At the 1971 Geneva Auto Show, BMW turned that GT into a race car, unveiling the CSL. The L stood for light, or “leicht” in German. 

In an effort to create a homologation special for German Touring Car competition, BMW built a lightweight version of the 3.0 CS. How light? A non-optioned CSL is said to weigh 2568 pounds, which is 440 pounds lighter than the standard model. 

BMW accomplished this weight reduction via some radical procedures. First, the unibody itself was formed in thinner sheet metal. Then the doors, hood and trunk lid were constructed from lightweight aluminum–not steel as found on the standard cars. Next, the side windows were made from lightweight Perspex. The windshield was lighter than the standard piece. 

The car was also de-contented: less sound deadening, no power options, and a lightweight rear bumper. Even the trunk lock and tool kit were removed. 

The 3.0 CSL served as the basis for BMW’s touring car contender of the ’70s. Thinner sheet metal, aluminum panels and plastic windows helped dropped weight. 

Mechanically, the brakes, engine and transmission were all carried over from the 3.0 CS model–meaning just the 180-horsepower, 3.0-liter engine at first. However, the steering ratio was slowed slightly–from 18.0:1 to 18.9:1–while stiffer, progressive-rate springs lowered the car about three-quarters of an inch and added more negative camber front and rear. Then Bilstein dampers were installed. 

Visual cues included the now-legendary 14x7-inch Alpina wheels, along with subtle black side stripes, chrome fender lip extensions and hood pins. Inside, the creation received well-bolstered Scheel seats and a unique three-spoke steering wheel.

That formula evolved a bit during the production run. Bosch fuel injection replaced the twin Zenith carburetors in 1972, boosting horsepower to an even 200. That was supercar territory, especially for something that didn’t have an American V8. A displacement bump from 3003cc to 3153cc halfway through 1973 gave the car another 6 horsepower. 

An aggressive aero package was also added for 1973, featuring a deep front spoiler, a roof spoiler, and fins attached to the tops of the front fenders. Also included was a giant rear wing that wasn’t legal for road use in Germany, so it was shipped in the trunk for installation by the new owner. (The wing found on the 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight was also delivered in the trunk.)

A City Package was also offered during the 3.0 CSL run. This package–fitted to nearly all of the U.K.-market cars and optional elsewhere–added back some of what had been removed in creating the 3.0 CSL. This version was slightly tamer. 

Most City Package cars received steel body panels, not aluminum ones. Standard glass, not plastic, was fitted. Sound deadening was added to the spec sheet, as were power windows front and rear. The rear window defroster and even a tool kit also found in the standard cars were fitted. Heavier velour carpeting was installed as well.

In the end, these City Package cars received the upgraded suspension plus the visual cues. At 2865 pounds, a City Package car weighed 297 pounds more than the stripped-out CSL but was still lighter than a standard CS model. 

Needle Found

Jay Proops entered this odyssey looking for a rare model: an injected, left-hand-drive 3.0 CSL fitted with the City Package.

But why the fall build date? As he explains, Karmann built the bodies for BMW, storing them outside sans paint or primer until the factory was ready to send the next batch of CSL coupes down the production line. 

As a result, a car built early in the calendar year likely spent the winter outside, further increasing the odds for rust–and this is on top of the rust issues these BMW coupes are already known for. But if, like Jay, you were patient and did your research and chose a car with an autumn build date, chances are good that the body hadn't sat outside all winter.

While the 3.0 CSL was cast as a lightweight special, the optional City Package, shown here, turned the model into a civilized touring car by adding back just enough equipment: front bumper, steel doors, real glass and some interior trimmings. Despite these changes, a car fitted with the City Package car still weighs nearly 300 pounds less than the standard E9 coupe.  

He found that particular car three years ago via Canepa, the well-known classic car dealer and restoration center. It ticked all the boxes: fuel injected, left-hand drive, City Package and correct build date. This one, like so many other examples of the 3.0 CSL, was delivered in Polaris Silver. 

According to Canepa’s website, this car was originally sold in Italy. In 1994, that original owner sold it to an American, with the car landing in Los Angeles that year. The last owner, Glenn Mueller of Encinitas, California, obtained the CSL in 2004. The car received a mechanical and cosmetic refurbishment before Jay and Kay Proops took ownership. In addition to our own Orange Blossom Tour, which the couple has run twice, they have taken the BMW on the Going to The Sun Rally more than once.

“Once I got some of the bugs sorted out, it has been trouble-free and very easy to maintain,” Jay reports. “That six-cylinder engine has been around for quite a long time and is easy to work on.”

And does the ownership experience live up to the hunt? “The seats are extremely comfortable,” he continues, “the gearbox shifts effortlessly, and the acceleration is very good all the way to redline at 6700 rpm.

“The view out in all directions is superb. While it is relatively a small coupe, two adults can sit in the rear seats in reasonable comfort. The handling is superb and rivals my Porsche 911 in terms of fun to drive. It truly is a grand tourer.”

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