Your quick-fire guide to the original BMW 3.0 CSL | Top Gear
BBC TopGear
BBC TopGear
Advertisement feature

The full story of audi's 2023 dakar rally

View the latest news
Thursday 2nd February
Top Gear Advice

Your quick-fire guide to the original BMW 3.0 CSL

What’s the original 3.0 CSL all about? How fast was it? What’s it worth today? We have the answers

  • What does CSL mean?

    BMW 3.0 CSL

    Coupe Sport Lightweight. Yeah, that was an easy one to start with, wasn’t it? 

    Of course, it’s from Germany, which brings on the ‘Let’s say it as BMW would’ crowd, much like people who only speak English insisting on calling homologation-special Ferraris ‘Gran Turismo Omologato’. So depending on how much of a stickler you are, CSL is Coupe Sport Leicht, or Coupe Sport Leichtbau. 

    Leicht, unsurprisingly enough, translates to light, or lightweight. If we’re being completely accurate, it also translates to ‘easily’ and ‘effortlessly’, among other adverbs of that ilk. Leichtbau, on the other hand, translates very specifically and directly to ‘lightweight’, so it’s closer to the mark. 

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  • What are the specs?

    BMW 3.0 CSL

    That’s something of a shifting target, actually. Depending on the year and application, engine sizes vary from 3.0 litres (funnily enough) to 3.5, with power figures ranging from 180bhp for the first carburetted road engines to well into the 400s for the racing versions. 

    Even the weight and fitted equipment changes, depending on the car. An aluminium bonnet and boot are universal, except for when they’re not. All the road-going niceties like power steering, electric windows and sound deadening were stripped out... except for in the city pack, which added some of those niceties (and their attendant mass) back in. 

    But the one you’re probably talking about is the last of the 3.0 CSLs, fitted with the full kit and caboodle – bonnet strakes, air dam and that unmistakable pair of spoilers. It actually has a 3.2-litre engine with 206bhp and 211lb ft, which means 0–60 in less than seven seconds and a top speed of 136mph – even with the body kit adding more than 90kg of downforce to the CSL’s standing kerb weight of 1,270kg. 

  • Who designed the BMW 3.0 CSL?

    BMW 3.0 CSL

    We start with Wilhelm Hofmeister – as in he of ‘Hofmeister kink’ fame – who designed the E9. And good grief does it still work, half a century later. We understand tastes are personal and all, but if this isn’t in the top three BMW designs of all time, we’ll throw in the towel and be horticulturalists or something. 

    Now, of course we’re going to have to mention Jochen Neerpasch and Martin Braungart, who BMW poached from Ford and tasked with taking the 3.0 CSL racing. We’d suggest that, after six European championships, it was a fairly successful outcome. 

    Advertisement - Page continues below
  • How many were made?

    BMW 3.0 CSL

    Not a lot, to be honest. As befits a Seventies homologation special, there were only 1,265 CSLs ever built – with just 500 of that number in right-hand drive. 

    Oh, and in case you’re wondering: only the last 167 were in the full ‘Batmobile’ regalia – the rest looked like a regular 3.0 CS. And honestly, we don’t know which version we like more. 

  • How much is it worth?

    BMW 3.0 CSL

    At the moment, you won’t have any trouble picking one up for £120,000. As of writing, independent BMW specialist Munich Legends has a yellow CSL listed for £110,000, while another outfit has one with the full air dam and spoiler setup (fitted later on in life, by the look of it) for £124,000. Both look to be in incredible shape as well, in case you were in the market. 

  • Tell me something I don’t know...

    BMW 3.0 CSL

    We’ll tell you three, just for fun. 

    The CSL was the very first BMW to wear the tricolour M stripes. It was also the first BMW art car... and the second art car, come to think of it. So then you’re thinking that the CSL was a product of M Division, right? Well...

    It’s true the 3.0 CSL was the impetus behind BMW’s racing arm, and that M made its name (or indeed its letter) with it, but the first CSL prototype was actually thought out, engineered and built by Alpina. Yes, that Alpina. 

    As much as it’s associated with ‘those exec expresses with turbine wheels’, Alpina was a seriously successful racing outfit back when sideburns were a thing. In fact, it was already running an E9 – a race-prepped 2800 CS, in case you were curious – at the 1970 Spa 24 Hour. The result? Oh, just a win, covering seven miles more than the second-placed Alfa GTAm. It’s not for nothing that the seminal 3.0 CSL shipped with 14-inch Alpina wheels, after all...

More from Top Gear

See more on Top Gear Advice

Promoted Content

Subscribe to the Top Gear Newsletter

Get all the latest news, reviews and exclusives, direct to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, you agree to receive news, promotions and offers by email from Top Gear and BBC Studios. Your information will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

BBC TopGear

Subscribe to BBC Top Gear Magazine

Save 50% on a year - just £32.99