BMW 630 CSi

Will the Bavarians’ new Valkyrie carry off the XJS and 450 SLC to Valhalla?

(Road & Track, June 1977. USA.)

Most car enthusiasts know the initials BMW stand for Bayerische Motoren Werke (or Bavarian Motor Works). But few are aware that BMW traces its roots back to a company called the Bayerische Flugzeug Werke (or Bavarian Aircraft Works), founded in 1916 by Gustav Otto, son of August Otto, inventor of the 4-stroke-cycle engine. The aircraft heritage explains where the circular blue and white quartered emblem comes from. Blue and white are the Bavarian state colors and the badge symbolizes propeller motion. The company’s first product, a 6-cylinder single-overhead-camshaft engine, immediately set a world record for high-altitude flight, and another early aircraft engine powered Germany’s famous Red Baron.

   When peace came to Europe in 1918, BMW began to diversify, producing its first motorcycle in 1923. Five years later, BMW began building cars, an additional project to their aircraft work which went on until the end of World War II. Success quickly came on the road, just as in the air, and a factory team of three BMW 3/15s (a derivative of an English Austin Seven originally called the Dixi) took the team prize in the 1929 5-day Alpine Trial. This first taste of victory helped to orient BMW to sporting competition, to the development of numerous racing machines and production cars designed for the person who loves to drive, a tradition carried on by the latest in a long line of sporting coupes, the 630 CSi.

   Now the coupe has come to America and we’ve had a good opportunity to extensively drive and test it on familiar roads in its U.S. form.

   In the upper stratosphere of car prices in which the 630 CSi competes, how much a car costs is not simply a question of design sophistication and standard equipment but of what the market will bear. And when you start talking about spending around $20,000, a car becomes a relatively price-insensitive commodity. In other words, someone who’s rich enough to afford a $20,000 car can in most instances as easily spend another $5000 or even another $10,000 if he or she wants a particular car badly enough. With that as a background, it’s not surprising that BMW should ask close to $24,000 for the 630 CSi. After all, the Jaguar XJS lists for $20,000 and a Mercedes 450 SLC for $27,000. It isn’t surprising, but it is dismaying as it puts this car way out of the reach of even a semi-affluent buyer. But it does promise the person who can afford it a certain air of exclusivity. And to some buyers this is all important.

   Adding insult to injury, BMW has the audacity to charge extra for the radio. BMW believes a person who spends $24,000 would want to personalize the car with his own sound system. This might be true, but the least BMW could do would be to tell a 630 CSi owner to install the system of his choice (up to a maximum of $500 seems fair) and send the factory the bill. Admittedly, the base price includes several items – air conditioning, electric window lifts, fuel injection – not standard on the previous coupe, the 3.0 CS, but still, charging extra for a radio on this type car seems a bit much.

   The trend in interior car design these days is toward safety and function. The old coupe’s interior was rich in wood, with paneling across the dash and along the sides. In the new one there’s no wood at all, but rather the latest in padded, ergonomic, plastic contours with a black finish that is functional and glarefree but lacking in warmth. One exception is the top of the dash which reflects into the windshield if the sun strikes the car at a certain angle.

   Although a few drivers mentioned lack of lateral support during spirited cornering, overall the front seats score high marks. The driver’s seat has the usual rake and fore/aft adjustments plus a 2-way lever that allows not only the height but the angle of the whole seat to be varied. Combine this with a telescopic steering wheel and you’ve got a choice of driving positions to fit virtually any driver.

   Directly in front of the driver are the eminently readable instrument dials, bathed in easy-on-the-eyes orange light at night, and the main warning lights. To the left is a test panel that allows the driver to monitor engine oil, brake fluid, coolant and windshield-washer fluid levels, plus the condition of the front brake pads and operation of brake- and taillights by pushing a single bar labeled “test”. Above the curving dash that wraps into the doors are the outlets for the heating-ventilation-air conditioning system. These four vents in conjunction with one additional outlet directly above the logically arranged and easy-to-understand temperature, fan speed and air distribution dials provide 630 CSi occupants with appreciably better control of their environment than was possible with the 3.0 CS. For around-town driving you need to have the fan going to boost ventilation, but the outlets are more directable than on any previous BMW and fan noise is reasonably subdued. If you set the blower motor to the high position in the old coupe, it sounded like a hurricane blowing at full gale.

   Backseat accommodations are just about what you’d expect from a coupe. There’s more room than in the 3.0 CS but we still wouldn’t recommend them for long journeys. Between the seats is a fold-down center armrest and above each is an adjustable head restraint. Molded into the package tray behind the restraints are small compartments. Lift the lid and you’ve got space to store odds and ends. For larger items there’s the expected voluminous glove box up front containing a cordless plug-in trouble light, plus the expected snap-shut pockets in each of the doors.

   Powering the 630 CSi is the 3-liter single-overhead-camshaft inline six. We’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating: This engine is without a doubt the most sophisticated production inline six in the world. Although the effects of retarded ignition timing and exhaust-gas re-circulation rob it of some of its around-town response, when driving hard it frees up, smoothes out and goes nearly as well as the 3.0 CS we tested in 1973. The 630 CSi is quicker from 0 – 60 mph, only a tick slower in the quarter mile and only begins to lose out to the less tightly controlled 1973 version in the illegal speed ranges. That’s quite an accomplishment when you consider the much stricter emission regulations the current engine (a 49-state version) has to meet. Give credit to the Bosch L-Jetronic for the engine’s exceptional driveability. The engine lights instantly when cold, can be driven away immediately without stumbling or stalling and warms up quickly, albeit with a bit of roughness when the enrichment first shuts off. And the engine returned 18.0 mpg in our fuel economy test, quite a respectable figure for a car with a curb weight of 3510 lb and enough performance to propel it to a speed of 60 mph in less than 10 sec.

   The 4-speed gearbox is a real delight. The light clutch and crisp, precise gear changes are perfectly matched to the sporty character of the car and really let the driver get a lot out of what is a relatively small-displacement engine.

   The new coupe is quieter at all speeds than its predecessor, but that old BMW bugaboo – wind noise – is still present. If a front side window is lowered and then raised after closing the doors, the electric motors can’t crank out enough power to properly seat the glass into the rubber seals. The noisy differential Ron Wakefield noted in the two cars he drove in Europe wasn’t present in the one we tested. In its place was a low rumbling vibration most evident around 40-50 mph that seemed to be emanating from the center driveshaft bearing. It’s nothing we’d expected to be characteristic of the car, however.

   To appreciate how BMW can even begin to justify charging $24,000 for this car, one must drive it … and drive it hard. Out on a twisty road you discover the combination or ride, handling, braking and steering that make the coupe one of the world’s best road-going GTs. On a skidpad the 630 CSi generates 0.754g, higher than all but a handful of all-out sport cars, and the way it hangs on during fast transitions as in our slalom test is confidence inspiring. BMW’s characteristic final oversteer is there, but there’s no abrupt transition from understeer to oversteer if you back off the throttle or stab the brakes when cornering hard as is sometimes the case with semi-trailing-arm rear suspension. You have to work really hard to provoke the 630 CSi into anything unexpected. The ride is comfortable and soft, so soft that some drivers would equate it with some American luxury cars. Don’t be deceived. The ride is not only soft but well controlled and is accompanied by superb handling that is achieved by all-around independent suspension, anti-roll bars, exceptionally responsive yet compliant Michelin radial tires and plenty of suspension travel.

   Power steering similar to the re-circulation-ball type used in the 530i is standard. More interesting is the variable nature of the assist. Up to about 2000 rpm the pump delivers full boost for easy parking and low-speed maneuvers. From there up to redline the assist is reduced to 70 percent of maximum, so that at high speeds the steering communicates a firmer feel to the driver. The coupe’s steering is wonderfully exact and accurate, giving the driver a computer-like ability to instinctively crank in precisely the right amount of lock regardless of the speed or the tightness of a turn. Even the impressive Mercedes steering, which we have considered the world’s finest, can’t top the BMW’s in overall road feel, effort and precision response. Marvelous.

   Vented discs are fitted front and rear. During panic stops there’s a tendency for the fronts to lock but the ease of pedal modulation makes for straight and undramatic stops. In normal driving they’re even better; pedal effort is just about ideal and the linear relationship between effort and deceleration rate makes for smooth comfortable stops, something your passengers will appreciate.

   As the ultimate BMW currently built for the U.S., the 630 CSi answers the question: “What do I buy if I want to outdo my friends who drive Jaguar XJSs and Mercedes 450 SLCs?” The price virtually assures you won’t be seeing another one in the same neighborhood, much less on the same block, and its driving characteristics place it among the world’s best GTs. But we’re left with one nagging thought. A 530i doesn’t give up much to a 630 CSi, has four doors, comfortable seating for four (or a friendly five) and costs about half as much. Whether the coupe’s distinctive styling and slightly better overall performance are worth an extra $11,000 is something only your ego and your pocketbook can decide.




sohc inline 6

Bore x stroke, mm

89.0 x 80.0

   Equivalent in.

3.50 x 3.15

Displacement, cc/cu in.

2985 / 182

Compression ratio

8.1 : 1

Bhp @ rpm, net

176 @ 5500

   Equivalent mph


Torque @ rpm, lb-ft

185 @ 4500

   Equivalent mph


Fuel injection

Bosch L-Jetronic

Fuel requirement

Regular, 87-oct

Exhaust-emission control equipment

Air injection, thermal reactor, exhaust-gas re-circulation



Time to distance, sec:

0-100 ft


0-500 ft


0-1320 ft (¼ mi)


Speed at end of ¼ mi, mph


Time to speed, sec:

0-30 mph


0-40 mph


0-50 mph


0-60 mph


0-70 mph


0-80 mph


0-100 mph



Speeds in gears (mph)

4th gear (5700 rpm)


3rd gear (6400 rpm)


2nd gear (6400 rpm)


1st (6400 rpm)