BMW 3.0 S

Outstanding performance; good gearbox; excellent instrumentation; high standard of finish

Transmission judder; heavy fuel consumption; heavy brakes

(Motor, 25 March 1972. UK.)

Judging by the number of BMWs sold in Britain, thereís no lack of awareness about the unusually high standard to which these German cars are manufactured. Itís hard to believe that just 13 years ago BMW were on the verge of bankruptcy. Yet by 1968, so rapid was their recovery, they felt ready to challenge pillars of the establishment like Mercedes and Jaguar on their own ground with two new six-cylinder cars, the 2500 and the 2800. They shared a new low-line body and a straight six engine which, although also entirely new, was similar in concept to the smaller four-cylinder engines, with a single overhead camshaft operating inclined valves through rockers. The larger version was made by increasing the stroke of the 2500 from 71.1 Ė 80.0 mm.

   Both cars offered outstanding performance for their capacity together with a high degree of comfort and accommodation. But BMW didnít rest on their laurels. Last summer the 2800 was superseded by a more potent 3 litre version (now there is even a fuel-injected version, the Si, which we hope to test soon), the increase in capacity being achieved by enlarging the bores from 86 Ė 89 mm. The optional Boge-Nivomat self-levelling dampers of the 2800 were dropped and the ratios for second and third gear slightly lowered. Finally, the new car was given an even bigger set of boots in the form of 195 HR 14 Michelin XVRs; otherwise the only obvious distinction was in the exterior badges.

   Although some £760 more, the 3.0 S is perhaps the only true rival to the 4.2 litre XJ6 in this country and, despite a smaller engine, its performance is actually superior. The ride, however, is not in the same class and the handling, although very good, is perhaps not so forgiving because of the rather vague and low geared power steering.

   An extra 197 cc for a car that already goes remarkably quickly may not seem very significant. However, itís sufficient to bump up the output from 170 to 180 bhp and to increase the already massive torque from 174 to 189 lb ft. You can certainly feel the extra urge which is substantiated by our performance figures Ė the acceleration times are reduced throughout the range, culminating in a 0-100 time of just 23.5 secs, some 2.5 secs better than the 2800 can do. Maximum torque is produced at 3700 rpm, which correspondents to approximately 50 mph in top gear. Interestingly, below this speed top gear acceleration of the 3 litre is inferior to that of the 2800 and fierce transmission judder encourages one to change down; above it, however, the new car pulls away, 6-80 mph taking 8.5 secs instead of 9.9 secs. At 126.4 mph, the outstanding top speed is just under BMWís claim but 2.4 mph up on that of the previous model.

   You usually have to pay for an increase in performance so itís not surprising that the consumption of the 3.0 S is noticeably higher Ė the touring consumption deteriorated from 25.6 to a rather poor 18.8mpg, and the overall from 17.5 to 15.4mpg. Although the automatic choke assured first-time starting, it remained in operation unnecessarily long, causing lumpy idling and probably contributing a little to the high petrol consumption.

   An excellent gearbox encourages use of all the available performance. The stubby lever can be moved as fast as the hand can go and is largely free from any baulking or grating. The ratios for 2nd and 3rd gear are slightly lower than those of the 2800, maximum speeds in the lower gears now being 34 mph, 59 mph, and 92 mph. These correspond to an engine speed of 6200 rpm at which speed there is an automatic ignition cut out.

   Steering on the 3 litre is by the same worm and roller system as on the 2800, but with power assistance as standard. It does not have the straight-line feel of a rack and pinion system and its low gearing is emphasised by the large diameter steering wheel inherited from the old car. Once accustomed to the steering Ė some drivers didnít like it at first Ė the car feels quite sporting and agile for a large saloon. Even with only a single anti-roll bar at the front (The Coupe has one at each end), the car corners hard with little body roll.

   The adhesion of the 2800 was good; on the 3.0 S it has been improved still further by means of wider rim wheels and 195/70 tyres instead of 175/70. Our test car was fitted with Michelin XVRs which give high cornering powers in the wet and dry, although there is always sufficient torque available to break away the semi-trailing rear end when cornering hard in the wet. Under most circumstances the car remains very controllable, but continuously bumpy surfaces can induce some diagonal pitching, as on the Coupe.

   The brakes of the new car have also been modified to cope with the extra power, ventilated discs all round being operated by a dual circuit system. Despite servo-assistance the brakes are really quite heavy, and demand considerable pressure to pull the car up quickly from speed. However, they are never lacking in feel, and once you are acclimatised to the pressure required, they inspire plenty of confidence.

   New seats and improved damping make the 3.0 S more comfortable than its predecessor, though the ride is still inferior to that of the cheaper XJ6. The seats will probably appeal most to large people as they provide little lateral support for a medium sized back and bottom. They are very comfortable, however, and they have ample adjustment, although the rake knob is difficult to operate with the door closed. The rear seats are also comfortable and like the front ones have built-in head restraints which can be folded down when not in use. Slim pillars and one-piece side windows afford the driver excellent vision, and the corners of the car can be clearly seen when manoeuvring, making the car feel smaller than it is.

   The switchgear and instruments are like those of the previous model, and very good they are too. The indicators, washers and wipers are controlled by one column-mounted stalk, the headlight dip and flash by another. The horn is sounded by one of three slab switches on the steering wheel spokes. Our only criticism here lies with the auxiliary wiper switch, on the far side of the dash. We feel it could be usefully swapped for the cigar lighter, thus bringing it within easy reach of the steering wheel. The switch has three settings, low, high and delay. The wipers themselves are excellent, as are the powerful electrically operated washers.

   Four dials make up the instrument cluster, which is a model to other manufacturers. Their precise graduations are clearly visible through the steering wheel and important points, like the red line on the rev-counter, are highlighted by red lights at night. The two smaller, centrally mounted gauges register water temperature and petrol. A rectangular clock is mounted on the lip of the facia on the passengerís side.

   The big BMW is fairly well insulated from noise, though on occasions a rather harsh though expensive-sounding exhaust note penetrates the interior, and some wind noise is excited by the windscreen pillars, although this is little worse at 120 mph than at 100 mph. The transmission is inaudible and road noise is well subdued apart from a certain amount of radial thump.

   Four controls allow fine adjustment of the heating and ventilation and, as on previous BMWs, we found the rheostat-operated fan switch to be far superior to a normal two or three-speed set-up. A heated rear window, automatic reversing lights and hazard warning lights are all standard equipment on the 3 litre. Oddment space is well catered for with a large ribbed tray on top of the dashboard, a deep one in the console, door pockets, and a large parcel shelf at the rear.

   The 3.0 S is undeniably expensive in this country, but a short drive is sufficient to demonstrate its quality and outstanding performance. Itís a car we greatly admire.