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BMW E9 3.0 CSi – Because there’s more to life than a CSL

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By Chris Pollitt

BMW first dipped its oily toe into the waters of big coupes with the Bertone-bodied 3200CS of 1962. It was an elegant, yet powerful machine thanks to the inclusion of a V8 engine. However, it wasn’t the car that BMW would use to carry the big coupe theme forward. Instead, BMW went back to the drawing board and penned what it referred to as the New Class coupe. This car would offer more to the coupe buyer, with a selection of engine specification options and trim options. It was still, however, coachbuilt. This time by Karmann rather than Bertone.

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

The New Class coupe was powered by a 2.0 inline-four engine, longitudinally mounted and powering the rear wheels, as you’d expect from any good BMW! That engine was available with one carb, in which guise it produced 100hp, or with twin carbs and as such, 120hp. Impressive, granted, but not the out and out performance figures you’d hope for. However, the purpose of this car was to showcase the new four-cylinder 2.0 version of the M10 engine that had previously only been seen in saloon cars. This coupe was a flagship for the M10 engine, a display of how the engine could be employed in a sporty capacity.

In the end though, the 2.0 capacity wasn’t enough, and in 1968 BMW gave us a refreshed and more powerful coupe in the form of the E9. This car was one of the first to carry the face that we would all become so familiar with. Gone were the New Class’ enclosed, rectangular headlights in favour of quad circular lights. Other than that, the lines remained largely the same, despite the car being longer to accommodate the new straight-six engines. Though the pillarless windows and familiar Hoffmeister Kink still remained firmly in place. But given the design was overseen by Wilhelm Hoffmeister, it’d be weird if it wasn’t there!

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

The E9 was initially made available as the 2800CS with a 2,788cc straight-six engine that produced 168hp. It was a huge leap forward in terms of performance, but even so, BMW was only getting started. In 1971 the 2800CS was replaced with the 3.0CS and the car you’re looking at here, the 3.0CSi.

The capacity was now 2,986cc and in the case of the CS, it was fuelled by twin Zenith carbs. This resulted in a mightily impressive 180hp, but again, BMW wasn’t done. The CSi model had, as the name would suggest, fuel injection care of a Bosch D Jetronic electronic system. This meant there was a mighty 200hp available at 5,500rpm. In the early ‘70s this was an obscene amount of power. Add in the utterly brilliant BMW driving dynamics and it made for a car that drove like no other. The CSi was fast, it could seat four in comfort, it was surprisingly practical, and it was absolutely drop dead gorgeous. Yet now, here in 2019, we overlook this most mighty of machines, and that’s a crying shame.

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

Why though? That’s the big question. Well, within the arena of classic cars we’re trained to covet the rarest and the most unique of any given model. This means cars that have been homologated get all the glory, while the rest of the range falls by the wayside. Say E9 and someone will almost certainly utter “oh, the Batmobile?”. And when they do, they are of course referring to the 3.0 CSL, the homologation special built to satisfy the regs so that BMW could race in the European Touring Car Championship. And yes, the CSL with its aluminium panels, Perspex windows and 3,003cc engine was and still is a wonderful, magnificent, fast and somewhat furious machine. But it’s not the only string to the E9’s bow.

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

For those of us who can’t afford the CSL, or who simply can’t find an example of the 1,265 production run car, all is not lost. We have the CSi and that’s a very close second. In fact, that’s not fair, it’s not second, it’s a damn fine car in its own right.

BMW, despite participating in the meteoric rise of the SUV, has always been a machine that has had big love for the coupe. We’ve had the 3, 4, 6 and 8 Series Coupes. The former two of which serve to really show BMW’s love for the coupe, as the 3 and 4 aren’t simple two-door versions of four-door cars. They’re restyled to better suit the minimal number of doors. There’s thought here. And it’s thought, care and detail that all flows back to cars like the E9. And to have an E9 and enjoy it, you don’t need to have the CSL. A CS or CSi is just fine, and given you’re more likely to find one, that’s good.

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

If you do buy one, you’re in for a real treat. The CSi still feels tight and composed, even by modern standards. The steering is pleasingly direct, the brakes are well-suited to the E9’s heft and the suspension does a grand job of keeping things under control without feeling the need to smash your teeth out every time you hit a bump. The fuel-injected engine, despite being from 1971, is remarkably compliant and keen in modern traffic. The only caveat to offer would be to say that without any electronic aids, the E9 can be a bit tail happy in wet or slippery conditions, so that’s something to watch out for.

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

Another thing to watch out for is the E9’s nasty rust habit. These cars were, make no mistake, well built. However, in doing so, BMW engineered in all manner of traps in which water could sit. As such, if you’re going to look at an E9, be thorough and take your time. The floors, the bulkhead, the roof, the bottoms of the windows, the panel edges, the sills and valances, all of it can and will rust if not looked after. And remember, you’re not just looking for rust, you’re looking for poor quality repairs from a previous life.

BMW, BMW E9, BMW 3.0CSi, 3.0CSi, CSi, BMW CSL, BMW coupe

Find a solid one though, one with history and one without any problems, and you’ll be glad you did. The E9 3.0CSi is the perfect mix of classic looks, but with a driveability that is modern and welcoming. This is a classic you can own and drive without hesitation or even a longstanding love for classic cars. It would welcome anyone behind the steering wheel, and once behind that wheel, you’ll be glad it did.

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