When BMW launched its two-door, 6-cylinder CS line of sport coupes in 1968 (internally designated the E9), only the badge on the nose and the twin kidney bean grille resembled BMW's other two-door sport coupe offering, the 2002. With straight-6 power in displacements ranging from 2.5- to 3.5-liters and a longer, leaner, more agile outside appearance, the CS lineup spoke to a different buyer. Tops among the various CS cars in terms of performance and desirability was the 3.0CSL of 1972.
Following several years of development and modest racing success in the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) with various iterations of the CS, the CSL (for Coupe Sport Lightweight) was created as a homologation special, a hot rod aimed straight at the race track.
The cars are regarded as the first BMWs developed under the auspices of the company's famous Motorsport, or simply "M," division, and what resulted was a much lighter can than the standard 3.0CS thanks to the use of thinner steel in the chassis, plus an aluminum hood, doors, and trunk lid.
Several flavors of the 3.0CSL were produced over the years. In 1971 and 1972, a 2,985-cc, carbureted engine was installed, with a bored (to 3,0003 cc) and fuel injected version of the same engine debuting in late 1972. This car was produced in both left- and right-hand drive configurations, with 500 being RHD examples destined for the U.K. market. The single-overhead cam engine in a road-going 3.0CSL produced about 206 hp, good for 60 mph in just over seven seconds and a top speed of nearly 140 mph.
Early examples of the 3.0CSL were stripped down, though most were optioned with a $10,000 city pack that added such amenities as power steering, air conditioning, power windows, sound deadening, and more. Virtually all U.K. models were so equipped.
Beginning in 1973, displacement was increased again to 3,153 cc and horsepower was raised to 330. At this point, the cars also received a radical exterior treatment that included a deep front air dam, small fins along the tops of the front fenders, wider wheelarches, and—most famously—a large rear wing. Early 3.2-liter cars had a double rear wing while the later 3.2-liter models had a triple spoiler. In both treatments the wing was so large that the aluminum trunk lid had to be swapped to steel in order to support the add-on.
Overall, the Batmobile package gives the cars a menacing appearance and provides a basis for their nickname, the Batmobile.
All of this meant the CSL was a serious threat on the racetracks of the world, especially those that comprised the rounds of the ETCC, but also the American circuits of IMSA. BMW pulled factory participation from the ETCC early in the 1974 season, though privateers continued to race the CSL with great success well into the late 1970s, and by the end of the decade, CSLs had captured five ETCC championships.
When production ceased in 1975, BMW had built fewer than 1,300 3.0CSLs (110 first series cars, 57 second series cars, 110 third series cars, 655 road-going CSLs, and 500 U.K. cars), in addition to several factory race cars and some chassis without VINs, which were campaigned by privateers. It had also left its mark on the touring car segment.
Fitting for the car that inspired an entire performance division.