BMW 2000CS + 3.0CSL - BMW Coupe Evolution pt.1

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Nathan Jacobs

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Big coupes have long been in the BMW playbook but how on earth did we get to the Batmobile?

If you happen to be a BMW nut, there is one car out of the entire corporate line-up that is the ultimate ‘get’ – the full race version of the 3.0CSL of the seventies, complete with wild wings and otherwise known as the Batmobile. Now we’ll get to that car in these pages, as we managed to drag one into our photo studio not so long ago.

However it’s worth having a bit of a squiz at the cars that led up to that monster. Thanks to the good folk at Makulu Car Services and Southern BM, both based in Moorabbin (Vic), we actually got to play with the direct forebears of the mighty Batmobile: the 2000CS and a road 3.0CSL.

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A little background first. The sixties was turning into a make-or-break decade for BMW. The financial results for 1958-59 were an absolute shocker, dripping with red ink, and the company blundered into the early sixties with no immediate sign of making a profit. There’s only so long you can keep that up.

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With the new decade came plans for a fresh platform, dubbed the ‘new class’ (or neue klasse), which was to be bigger and host a new engine line in the shape of the M10 inline four. That started out as a 1500 and pretty quickly was developed into a 2000. As it turned out the saloons were a minor success and were sufficient to keep the company afloat.

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Very sixties lines point to later models

However as we’ve all seen over the decades, car companies like to have a bit of a glamour in their line-ups, as a way of getting attention and to use as customer bait in the showroom. Sure they’ll turn up to look at the sexy coupe, and will probably drive home in a sedan. Or that’s the theory.

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In the case of the ‘new class’ the solution was the 2000C and CS, based on the existing platform but with much-revised styling led by in-house maestro Wilhelm Hofmeister. He was to go on and the lead the efforts on the much sexier E9 series.

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The forward-leaning snout was to set a trend that went all the way through to the Paul Bracq-designed ‘shark snout’ E24 (aka 635CSi et al) and lasted to 1989. However the bold looks of the front lights and chrome was the topic of much debate. The subtly altered CS front end wasn’t quite as confronting as the huge rectangular lamps on the sedans and it did have its supporters.

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In any case, this is a substantial car and will instantly feel vaguely familiar to anyone who’s engaged with an E9. It’s effectively a medium-sized four seater with nice airy glasshouse feel to the cabin and, ironically, the coupe was a little heavier than the sedan it was based on.

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As for the C/CS designation, the former ran a single carburetor powerplant claiming 100 horses, while the latter had a twin carburetor set-up and claimed a hefty performance jump to 120hp. Transmissions were a four-speed manual or three-speed auto as an extra cost option on the C.

BMW reportedly charged like the proverbial wounded bull for these cars – something that became a long-lasting trend for its premium coupes. In the UK, one of these would have set you back more than an E-type Jaguar. Karmann, which had a close association with BMW coupes through to around 1977, assembled the C/CS line in Osnabruck and is said to have only made 144 right-hand-drive CS versions out of 13,691.

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Twin-carb engine added 20 horses

Inside the CS you’re immediately struck by the low waistline of the cabin, the uninhibited view thanks to the skinny A-pillars and the long, low timberwork holding the dash and fascia together. There’s no doubting you’ve leaped back several decades to the sixties. It really is a different world.

Though ‘only’ a two-litre engine, the four revs willingly and is helped along by a very broad spread of ratios, with a short first. It is certainly willing to get off the line and there’s reason to think its quoted top speed of 110mph (180km/h) when new is plausible.

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Sumptuous interior helped justify the sky-high price

As a package, it feels dated these days, but would still have stacked up well against high-end cars of the era.

Much of the legend that carried BMW through the seventies and eighties – and arguably all the way through to the start of the new millennium – was the establishment of its affinity with straight-six powerplants. Whole books are dedicated to the rise of the six-pot screamer coupes, starting with the E9 series in 1968.

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One of the great Euro styles out of the sixties

Again Hofmeister was the ringleader on the styling front and you can see the direct DNA connection between this and the four-cylinder cars. The glasshouse looks very similar, as is the overall shape, while the snout has been refined and 2000CS platform lengthened to take the bigger powerplant on board.

Getting your head around this series takes a little patience. BMW, as always, wasn’t afraid of making and marketing all sorts of variations on the central theme, appealing to wallets of varying thickness. So you got 2.5CS (150hp), 2.8CS (170hp), 3.0CS (180hp), 3.0CSL (initially 180hp), 3.0CSi (injected, 200hp) and the race homologation 3.0CSL from 1973 (injected, 206hp). Auto transmissions were offered on everything up to a 3.0CS, with the alternative being a four-speed manual.

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Though relatively thin on the ground these days, some 30,000 were made, with the 3.0CS taking the lion’s share at a little over 11,000.

The hero car of the line-up was the 3.0CSL, which emerged in 1971. Where the ‘L’ designation has typically referred to ‘long’ in BMW-speak over recent decades, in this case it was ‘light’. Though looking very similar to its lesser siblings, the devil was in the detail. It sported (among other modifications) lighter aluminium panels – doors, bonnet and boot lid – saving 200 kilos along the way.

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As the hero car, it underwent numerous upgrades over time, some obvious, some less-so. For example, the engine went from twin Zenith carburettors to Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. Along the way it also picked up a lift in compression from 9.0:1 to 9.5:1. That, over time, saw the power claim soar from 180 to to 200 and then to 206hp for the full homologation version.

The example we drove was a CSL with injection and therefore in the 200hp realm. That’s not a huge amount of power these days, or even when compared to a seventies muscle car, but it was enough to do the job. You were talking a top speed in the vicinity of 220km/h and a 0-100km/h sprint of 8.0sec.

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Bosch injection looks business-like

We briefly drove a 3.0CS as well, with a carbureted version of the engine in the CSL, and the difference was significant. Not quite as sharp to steer or as willing to rev.

Behind the wheel it very quickly becomes clear a 3.0CS or CSL is a far more developed piece of machinery than its 2000CS predecessor. In reality they are very, very different generations.

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Though made in the 1970s, either of the sixes would have given a lot of toys a decade or more younger a serious run for their money, with sexy and willing engines, while clearly enjoying a high level of handling and road-holding.

Prices for these cars have been climbing over recent years, to the point where something like a CSL is now worth serious money.

Financial considerations aside, these and their closest relatives are engaging things to drive and you can count yourself very fortunate if you have one in the shed. 

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1972 BMW 3.0 CSL specs

Engine: 2985cc inline six-cylinder, Bosch D-Jetronic injection
Power: 184kW @ 5500rpm
Gearbox: four-speed H-pattern manual
Brakes: disc f/r
Suspension: Front: MacPherson struts, coils; Rear: semi-trailing arms, coils.
Weight: 1270kg

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1966-72 BMW 2000CS

Engine: 1990cc inline twin-carb four-cylinder
Power: 89kW @ 5500rpm
Gearbox: four-speed H-pattern manual
Brakes: disc/drum f/r
Suspension: Front: MacPherson struts, coils; Rear: semi-trailing arms, coils.
Weight: 1200kg

From Unique Cars #441, June 2020


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