|BMW 3.0 CSL|
Created in the early 1960s, the Touring car class quickly became very popular with manufacturers and fans alike. It was the perfect opportunity for manufacturers to prove their worth on the track, and for fans to see the cars they drove to the track compete in anger. In the first years the eligible cars were popular four door saloons like the Alfa Romeo Giulia and the Ford Cortina, but with the ever changing rules they were replaced by two door cars like the Alfa Romeo GTA and BMW 2002. What remained was the minimum production requirement of 1000 cars for homologation purposes. By the turn of the decade Alfa Romeo was the dominant force in the European Touring Car Campionship (ETCC), but in the background a rivalry grew between Ford and BMW that would headline the championship in the years to come.
First things first, what was considered a touring car in those years? Porsche tried to get their 911 homologated, but that was rejected on the grounds of having too little backseat space. Similarly cramped coupes like the Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA or BMW 2800 CS were accepted though, although it must be said that Porsche did not make things easier for themselves to also have the 911 homologated as a GT. Basically if a car had enough space to seat four people and was built in sufficient numbers it was eligible. To regulate the wide variety of cars, each displacement bracket had a minimum weight so the smaller cars had a chance of winning against the big ones. From season to season changes to the classes and homologation requirements were made. One of the most important ones was the acceptance of extensive modifications after a part's production run of just 100.
Right around the birth of Touring car racing, BMW turned a new corner away from the large and expensive V8 engined saloons to smaller and most importantly more affordable four and six cylinder engined cars. Of course the cars were by no means cheap, but it did open a whole new market for the German manufacturer. The new cars engines were also much more suited to motorsport and from 1964 the Munich based manufacturer was present in the ETCC. Alongside the Touring car program, BMW also took up construction of bespoke racing engines for single seaters and sports prototypes. Finally there was also considerable backdoor support to local tuning company Alpina, who joined the works team in the ETCC. After the dismal state the company was in at the 1950s, it was quite remarkable that BMWs and BMW powered racers were winning races all over Europe not a decade later and there was more to come.
Ford of Europe, located in Cologne, Germany, joined the ETCC in 1970 with the all new Capri coupe, which combined a very light construction with a powerful V6 engine. As an answer to the 'Mini-Mustang's' arrival, Alpina developed a racing version of the somewhat similar BMW 2800 CS. Breathing through three huge Weber Carburetors, the three litre six cylinder engines produced 300 bhp, but it was not enough to bring the heavy coupe up to pace with the Ford. Serious development work was needed to the extent that a new homologation was required. Weight was shaved off and the Webers replaced by a Kugelfischer Fuel Injection system boosting power to 335 bhp. Alpina was capable of a lot, but producing 1000 cars to pass the homologation requirements was a bit much. At this point BMW stepped in and took over the development and production from Alpina to seriously take on Ford.
To leave nothing to chance, BMW lured Ford racing director Jochen Neerpasch to Munich who set up the now legendary BMW Moporsport department. Using the new 3.0 CSi model as a basis, BMW Motorsport created the 3.0 CSL for Coupe Sport Leicht or Coupe Sport Lightweight. Where possible the trim and sound-proofing was removed and the bonnet, doors and boot were are aluminium. In the first production cars a 180 bhp three litre engine was installed, but from 1973 the CSL came equipped with an even more powerful 3.2 'six'. Today the 3.0 CSL is most famous for its extensive set of wings, which earned it the nick-name 'Batmobile', but none of the road cars ever came equipped with the aggressive spoilers. A necessity on the track, they were deemed illegal for road use. Opening the boot after delivery revealed eight carefully packaged pieces with instructions on how to turn the bare CSL into the Batmobile.
Differing in detail from the road car, the racing CSL was ready for action in 1973. Throughout six cylinder engine was increased in size from the initial 3.2 litre to 3.5 litre and the four speed gearbox replaced by a Getrag five speed box. Compared to Alpina's first efforts power was up by 75 bhp and weight down over 150 kg. Fielded foremost by the BMW Works team livered in the now familiar M-colours, but also by Alpina and Schnitzer, the 3.0 CSL fought an epic battle with the Ford Capri throughout the season. At the end of the season, it was Works driver Toine Hezemans who took the driver's title and BMW claimed the manufacturer's crown. Exemplary for the series' popularity were the guest drives of Formula 1 drivers Lauda, Hunt, Stuck and Amon. The latter two scored a victory in the Nürburgring round of the season after six brutal hours on the Nordschleiffe track.
Over the winter both BMW and Ford made use of the opportunity to modify their cars in accordance with the 100 examples minimum production rule. Both manufacturers developed twin cam, four valves per cylinder head, resulting in a power hike to well over 400 bhp. Ford also worked on aero improvements to match the Batmobile's downforce. The global oil crisis had reached a new high and this was reflected in the grid for the first race of 1974, which was noticeably smaller than for previous editions. Both works teams skipped the first round to debut their latest material in the second. Ford had managed to close the performance gap, but at the cost of decreased reliability. Drama struck for BMW in the Nürburgring race where all ten entered CSLs failed to finish, leaving an easy victory for Ford with a Zakspeed Escort. BMW decided to bail out on the championship leaving the championship for Ford and its driver Hans Heyer.
At the end of the season Ford followed BMW's lead, leaving the 1975 ETCC to the privateers. Now in the hands of the Schnitzer and Alpina teams, the 24 valve CSLs were again the force to be reckoned with Alpina's driver taking the crown. With sometimes less than a dozen cars entered, the 1975 season showed how quickly a championship could go sour within a year or two. To cut costs the rules were changed for 1976 and with homologation regulations tightened the four valve head and big body kits were banned. Equipped with the 3.2 litre engine and 4 speed gearbox, the CSL remained highly competitive until the end of the decade, even against a new generation of racing cars. The 24 valve cars went to United States and were re-homologated to run as Group 4 & 5 cars in the popular IMSA GTO championship.
Featured is one of the road going 3.0 CSL homologation specials. This one was first owned by BMW Motorsport and loaned to works-driver Hans Joachim Stuck as his daily driver. The car eventually ended up in Great Britain with its current owner. He drove it to Italy for the 2006 Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este and in doing so was awarded the Trofeo Automobile Club di Como for the car driven to the event from the farthest away. It is seen here after its two day road trip in the gardens of the Ville d'Este Grand Hotel and in the nearby Villa Erba park.
Article by Wouter Melissen, last updated on May 10, 2006
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