The Batmobile BMW 3.0 CSL, one of the most popular racing cars

20 November 2018 0 By Jack O.
The Batmobile BMW 3.0 CSL, one of the most popular racing cars

Launched in May 1972, the BMW 3.0 CSL has long been one of the most popular racing car. Nicknamed ‘Batmobile’ because of its visually aggressive look, it has won many races of different category during its career, such as every occasion of the European Touring Car championship from 1975 to 1979. Focus on one of the most popular racing car.

Context and history

As Touring Car racing in Europe was growing in popularity through the 60s, cars and engines started to develop fast as well from the 70s. European branch of car manufacturer Ford, located in Germany, joined the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) in 1970 with the brand-new Capri coup, a range that combined very light construction with a powerful V6 engine.

On the other hand, as an answer to the ‘mini-Mustang’, BMW’s close co-manufacturer Alpina developed a racing version of the BMW 2800 CS, fitted with an E9 chassis and carburized through three big Weber Carburettors. Although the 3L six cylinder engines produced 300 bhp, it was still not enough to make the heavier coupe competitive with the Ford model.

How BMW propelled Alpina’s 3.0 CSL model

Alpina’s engineers attempted serious development work, but they weren’t equipped to produce the 1000 examples that were necessary to ratify a better car at the time. That’s when BMW stepped and took over the development and production process from Alpina with the serious intent to take on Ford.

As a token of seriousness, BMW lured famous Ford racing director Jochen Neerpasch to Munich in order to have him set up the now legendary BMW Motorsport department. Based on the new 3.0 Csi model, BMW Motorsport launched the 3.0 CSL in May 1972 and built it in numbers to make the car eligible for racing in the ETCC.

A much lighter race car

The ‘L’ in CSL stands for ‘leicht’, which means ‘light’ in German. It is not to be mistaken with other BMW designations where it usually stands for ‘lang’, which is ‘long’ in German. Indeed, the lightness was achieved through an unibody made of thinner steel. Trim and soundproofing were deleted, aluminium was used for alloy doors, hoods and truck, and finally side windows were now made of Perplex.

A more powerful engine

At the beginning, BMW used the same engine as the 3.0 CS. But just 5 months after the car’s debut, the 3.0 CSL was given a slight increase in displacement to 3.003 cc in order to allow the CSL to be raced in the ‘over 3L’ racing category. In 1973, another more substantial increase in displacement was made to 3.153 cc.

The visually aggressive look of the ‘Batmobile’

Ratified in 1973, this final version of the 3.0 CSL came along with an aerodynamic package fitted with a large pair of dam, short fins running along the front fenders, a spoiler above and behind the trailing edge of the roof and a tall rear wing. As the wings were not legal on German roads, the areo pieces were not put together at the factory but rather left in the trunk for after-purchase assembly, which granted the BMW 3.0 CSL its “Batmobile” nickname.

Differences between the racing and the road model

Ready for action from 1973, the racing CSL obviously differed from the road car. For instance, the six cylinders engine was increased in size from 3.2L to 3.5L. Also, the four speed gearbox was replaced with a Getrag five speed box and power was up by 75 bhp and weight down over 150kg compared to Alpina’s first efforts.


Throughout the 1973 touring race season, the 3.0 CSL fought an epic battle against the Ford Capri, managing a class victory at the famous Le Mans competition. Champion Toine Hezemans took the driver’s title and BMW claimed the manufacturer’s trophy.

Later, the serie’s popularity was propelled by Formula 1 guest drivers Lauda, Hunt, Stuck and Hamon, the latter two scoring a victory during the season’s Nürburgring round after six aggressive hours on the Nordschleiffe track.

During its entire career, the racing E9 won more than 100 races, all category taken together, including every occasion of the European Touring Car Championship from 1975 to 1979, along with the IMSAGT Championship in 1975 where Sam Posey, Brian Redman and Ronnie Peterson defeating Porsche at Sebring, Daytona and Talladega.

The BMW 3.0 CSL art cars

Additionnaly to its racing dominance, the BMW 3.0 CSL model also represented the first two BMW art cars, respectively painted by Alexander Calder and Frank Stella.

BMW 3.0 CSL specifications

  • Weight: 2431 lbs
  • Length: 184 inches
  • Width: 70 inches
  • Engine type: ‘M49’ DOHC, 24-valve inline 6-cylinder, Kugelfischer Fuel Injection
  • Displacement: 3498 cc
  • Bore x stroke: 94.0 mm x 84.0 mm
  • Power output: 438 HP @ 8800 RPM