Scott Nidermaier, courtesy of Bonhams
The early 1970s were landmark years for BMW, for not only did the German manufacturer power Jean-Pierre Jarier to the European Formula 2 Championship, it also captured the European Touring Car Championship using one of the most iconic racing saloons of modern times: the 3.0 CSL, known popularly as the Batmobile. BMW had returned to 6-cylinder power for its range-topping models in 1968 with the launch of the 2500 and 2800 saloons. Also new was the 3.0 CSL’s forerunner, the 2800 CS coupe, although the latter’s running gear had more in common with the existing 4-cylinder 2000 C/CS. The introduction of the similarly styled 3.0-liter CS in 1971 brought with it numerous improvements, including 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes, and with 180 bhp on tap, the model was good for around 130 mph. For racing purposes there was the lightweight 3.0 CSL. Visually indistinguishable from its more run-of-the-mill relations, the CS and CSi, the 3.0 CSL (Coupe Sport Leicht) was creative homologation at its best. The BMW engineers’ solution to the marketing department’s requirements was to develop a limited-production-run homologation special to meet the constrictive framework of the Group 2 racing class regulations. By removing the trim; using thinner steel for the main body shell; aluminum alloy for the doors, bonnet and boot lid; and Perspex for the side windows, a valuable 300 pounds (136 kg) in weight was saved. Homologated initially with a fractionally over-bored 3,003-cc engine (enabling it to compete in the over 3-liter class), the 3.0 CSL came with 206 bhp for road use and well over 300 horsepower for the track. In 1973, the engine’s stroke was increased, upping capacity to 3,153 cc (nominally 3.2 liters), and from midseason onwards the racing CSLs used the so-called Batmobile aerodynamic package, developed at Stuttgart University, which consisted of a front chin spoiler, large rear wing and various other devices. Illegal for road use in Germany, the wings were left in the boot for final installation after purchase. Completed at the Munich-based Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) plant in 1972, this rare, homologation-special CSL was finished in Polaris Silver over a black interior, and was the 24th CSL completed in the sequence. The car is believed to have been delivered new to Italy, and was here purchased by Bronx, NY-based collector Mr. Franciamore more than three decades ago. Franciamore retained the car until recently, using it sparingly, as the kilometer reading of just over 66,500 kilometers is believed to be genuine. This sporting BMW coupe displays a wonderful, light patina throughout, and has the feeling of a car that has never been taken apart. The original CSL trim is in place, as are the iconic alloy wheels these cars came with, shod on old Michelin XWX tires. Once inside, original finishes are present, and a lovely period — possibly original — Becker Grand Prix radio adorns the dashboard. Power windows and the classic CSL sports seats are in place.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1972 BMW 3.0 CSL
Years Produced:1971–72
Number Produced:1,039
Original List Price:About $12,000 (this car was never sold in the United States)
SCM Valuation:$32,000–$55,000
Tune Up Cost:$700
Chassis Number Location:Stamped into the firewall
Engine Number Location:On left side of the block Club: BMW Car Club of America
Alternatives:1973 Porsche Carrera 2.7 RS, 1970–74 Ford Capri RS 2600, 1963–77 Alpine A110
Investment Grade:C

This car, Lot 15, sold for $187,500, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge Auction in Carmel, CA, on August 14, 2015.

The last time I wrote in these pages about an E-9 (BMW’s internal engineering designator for this generation of Karmann-bodied coupes), it was for the “Affordable Classics” column in August 2004 (p. 20). That bus left about six years ago, when these handsome coupes started catching on in the market.

I’ve owned a Euro-spec 2800 CS for nearly two decades — long enough that I bought it right (dirt cheap by recent valuations — and no, it is not for sale), but, like most fellow coupe owners of the time, tweaked it without fear of diminishing its value at the time.

Usually the changes were drivability upgrades, such as a 5-speed transmission, bigger brakes, and fuel-injection conversions. Those of us who longed for a CSL at that time were encouraged to take less-than-virgin E-9s strangling in smog gear and build them into Poor Man’s CSLs. After all, every single CSL in the United States was a gray-market import. All of this history and pent-up desire eventually helped build value in our subject 3.0 CSL.

The hierarchy of BMW desire

Our example is near the top of the desirability pecking order for E-9s. Top of the heap belongs to fully decked-out “Batmobile” CSLs — for road or track.

The Coupe Sport Leicht cars, without the air dams and wings but with the alloy body panels and Perspex windows plus fuel injection (like our subject car), are next in line.

Next down the list are the carbureted examples, then the “comfort” package CSLs (standard-issue seats, glass power windows and radios). These cars are ahead of fuel-injected 3.0 CSi cars.

Note that every single model in that list was not officially imported to North America. The best we got was the general-issue carbureted 3.0 CS, which got more smog gear each year until production ceased in 1975.

Obsolete — but not outdated

While the street-going CSLs were competent in their day, technology has marched on. IMSA-spec CSLs may do well and have lots of spectator interest in today’s vintage racing, but my 100k-mile C5 Corvette with street tires and the air conditioning on can outdo anything a CSL can do — without risking expensive body panels.

Back in the day, a CSL was more of a high-speed touring car than a track rat. BMW had to do a lot of re-engineering to make the CSL competitive in the German Touring Car series against the Ford Capris. The work involved more than just installing aluminum body panels and ditching the power windows. A lot of those esoteric changes to the track cars — such as lighter weight differentials that drove the alternator — didn’t make it to the street cars.

E-9s at moving events have now gone from Autocrosses and track days to gymkhanas and tours. This happened because the cars are getting more valuable — and there are plenty of newer, better BMWs out there.

That stated, those who lusted for a CSL from 1975 onwards don’t care. They love these cars, and they’re willing to pay for them now.

Rising interest and rising values

The CSL was a high-water-mark car for BMW, and it is a special car that attracts collector interest because potential owners have reached the financial ability to buy the car of their dreams.

Other comparable European cars of this same era have also soared in value, and the poster child for that is just about every pre-993-era Porsche 911. These BMWs are also winning popularity with younger gearheads.

These younger collectors realize that these “old cars” — which were built around the time they were born — are more fun to drive than the current Fly-by-Wire technology in just about every modern car that is zippier than a rental Kia.

This younger generation of collectors/enthusiasts may not be as great in numbers as the traditional Baby Boomer pool, but they are not afraid to spend money on what they want. And, yes, E-9 BMWs — especially CSLs — are on their short lists.

A steep rise

From the mid-1980s until roughly 2009, E-9 enthusiasts generally felt we were hiding in plain sight with these cars. They were priced between $10k to about $35k on a good day. When Rick Cole started collector car auctions on the Monterey Peninsula 29 years ago, he picked these cars as a sure bet to go up in value.

It took two decades for that to happen, but Cole was right.

When global interest in 1970s grand touring cars started to take hold, these cars were among the first to rise in interest and value. They quickly shot up in value.

Gasoline was poured on the fire when a BMW Classic-restored 1975 Batmobile CSL sold for $218,400 at Bonhams’ Dubai Auction in October 2010 (SCM# 167805). From there, the E-9 market blew red-hot, and we have only started to see price stabilization this year.

An example of this is the only other E-9 at Monterey this year: a 1973 3.0 CS at the Mecum auction. This car — a collection of newer parts in a body painted a modern BMW color — brought $35,750. Some said it sold cheap because the BMW enthusiasts were at Legends of the Autobahn. Others said that is was a no-numbers-matching car, so it appealed more to novices who want a driver rather than enthusiasts who are building a car investment portfolio.

Drink deeply

Our example from Bonhams can be enjoyed on the street — provided that the new owner is in a state that will license a privately imported car. California is not one of them.

Yet as a global market car, it has an enthusiast base that ranges from Antigua to Arkansas. This car is not a concours lawn ornament, and the repaint will keep it out of concours preservation classes. That said, the car still has a great deal of its originality, and it is still good enough to be considered investment quality.

The selling price, which surpassed the consignor’s reserve, can be seen as well sold or well bought, depending on whether you view the glass as half full or half empty. I’m tempted to say that the glass is half full, but it could be tipped over. Then again, I’ve drunk from that glass, and I would gladly have more. Well sold and well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)


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