BMW 3.0 CSL Buying Guide
The precursor to BMW’s M performance range, the rare 3.0 CSL has become a valuable modern classic. Here's how to get the very best ones out there
• Project £50,000-90,000 • Good £90,000-170,000 • Concours £170,000-250,000
• Most Expensive at Auction: £255,000 (Batmobile)
Running costs ★★★
DIY Friendly ★★
Based on the 3.0 CS Coupe, the CSL was built between 1972 and 1975. It was a lighter and more focused vehicle than the standard E9 although UK-spec versions retained some interior niceties such as electric windows and sound deadening, negating most of the weight savings.
The first CSLs featured a carb-fed 3.0-litre inline-6 but all 500 UK models were fuel-injected and received a small capacity increase (to compete in the over 3.0-litre racing classes) in late 1972. The larger 3.2-litre engines introduced in 1973 did not make it into the UK and the most desirable Batmobile variants (39 built) are based on this version.
With a mere 1096 cars produced availability is limited and it may be worth looking over the pond for desirable LHD models too. Be wary of converted CSi’s masquerading as CSLs and it is worth noting that a traceable history and originality can greatly increase values.
Your AutoClassics BMW 3.0 CSL inspection checklist
The first CSLs featured the twin carb 3-litre engine from the 3.0 CS. Fuel injection was added soon after as well as a small rise in capacity to 3003cc. This is the engine most UK cars were fitted with. A 3.2-litre was fitted to left-hand drive models post 1973.
All versions are extremely strong and tend to go on for decades as long as regular oil changes and valve adjustments are carried out at least every 10,000 miles.
Head gaskets can blow if the cooling system is not kept in good condition, mayonnaise under the radiator cap is the usual warning sign to look for. If you find one of the early imported carburettor-fed models, then be sure to get the twin carbs adjusted regularly to avoid rough running and potential engine issues.
The mechanical similarity to other models in the range is both a blessing and a curse for the CSL as few have survived unmodified, parts availability is good however and the relative simplicity of these inline-6 engines means that most specialists will be able to carry out maintenance and repairs.
All CSLs had 4-speed manuals from new although many have since been converted to 5-speed units. Many parts are interchangeable on this era of BMW so if you are looking for originality it is worth employing a specialist to verify that each component is as the manufacturer intended.
Both the 4-speed and 5-speed gearboxes are reliable units and other than a propensity to wear out the second gear synchro, regular maintenance is all that is required to keep them operating normally.
Worn clutches can take low down although this could also be due to a worn actuator spring so get it checked before carrying out a full overhaul. Gear changes should be smooth and a little bit of play is normal although excessive gear lever movement can indicate worn linkages.
Suspension and brakes
The CSL shares many of its suspension components with the rest of the CS range and there are no real problem areas when it comes to the underpinnings. Suspension bushes and dampers need checking at least every 50,000 miles and sooner if the tyres exhibit odd wear patterns.
Most suspension components can either be refurbished or, with a little searching, be found second-hand. Rotors can warp from repeated heavy braking although in general the braking system is trouble-free. A Limited-slip differential was a factory fitted option although many cars may have had aftermarket items fitted too.
The CSL’s weak spot is its bodywork. Aluminium panels tend to corrode over time and the more traditional sheet metal rusts if not regularly maintained. The Aero kit fitted to each CSL meant thinner gauge steel and aluminium panels, both are vulnerable to minor dents and scratches so a partial or full respray would have been carried out on the vast majority of surviving cars.
Rust can occur just about anywhere but pay particular attention to the wheel arches, footwells and wherever the aluminium panels come into contact with the steel bodywork. If a sunroof is fitted check the water channels for blockages as well as the drain holes under the doors. Certain body parts can be very difficult to come by, especially if you are considering one of the bewinged Batmobile variants.
UK cars will generally have had some form of bodywork carried to remedy rust issues and badly repaired panels can lead to big bills down the line, a CSL with a poorly repaired or overly corroded body will be eye-wateringly expensive to get right.
The interior tends to stand up well to years of use and while some trim items are common across the CS range they are not always easy to source.
Second-hand trim pieces can command high prices and it is generally best to find as complete an interior as possible to avoid the headache of searching for that elusive bit of interior trim.
UK CSLs were fitted with the city package which included air-conditioning, electric windows and sound deadening. Unless they have been removed, air-conditioning systems would generally have been converted to use modern gas by now. Electric windows tend to slow in operation as they age and unless you are buying a concourse condition model, budget for a refurbishment of both systems. Check that the plexiglass side windows are still present too.
The electrics are basic and faults can generally be traced down to corroded connections, damaged wiring or dead relay switches.
- 1972: LHD twin-carburettor 177 bhp CSL launched.
- 1972: 197bhp fuel-injected engine introduced and UK production commences
UK cars retain most interior luxuries as well as standard bumpers
- 1972: Capacity increased to allow CSL to compete in over 3-litre racing classes
- 1973: Engine displacement increased to 3.2-litres and power up to 203 bhp.
UK models continue with 3.0-litre engine
- 1975: Final CSL produced, 1096 made globally with 500 UK models in total.
It has been over 40 years since the last CSL rolled off the production line and few have survived unmodified. Many UK cars have had the lighter bumpers fitted and interiors changed back to lightweight specifications, others have had more controversial engine swaps and transmission upgrades carried out.
The currently high values also mean that few bad cars remain but buyers looking for originality should still remain wary of unverified histories.
The very rare and desirable Batmobile was only ever offered in left-hand drive so none were officially sold in the UK, although many LHD cars have since found homes here and there is no reason not to consider an imported CSL.
Despite the undeniable dynamic abilities underneath that beautiful bodywork, the stratospheric values of most CSLs means that few will be driven in the way they were originally intended, but even standing still this is one desirable classic that is sure to continue appreciating in value in the years to come.
|Power||177bhp Carb, 197bhp Fuel-injected|
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