25 March 1972. UK.)
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 Last summer the 2800 was superseded by a more potent 3 litre version (now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
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 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.