elegant three-litre coupes were popular in Britain in the Seventies, but their
values slumped in the Eighties. Graham Robson explains why you can today get BMW
engineering at MGB prices.
& Classic Cars, October 1990.UK.)
In 1960 BMW was on the way to extinction, trying to sell lemons like the
Isetta bubble car and their air-cooled 700. Demand for the big and costly 502s,
503s and 507s had died away; no trace of the Thirties heritage remained.
Then, in an enormous act of
faith, BMW started again, with new engines and larger, more practical cars.
First the 1500, then the 2000, next the two-door 1602 and finally the glossy
2000 CS models all led to salvation, profit and a new image.
The saloons were all assembled
at Munich, but BMW chose to have the coupe built by Karmann at Osnabrück, in
north-west Germany. This is the same Karmann business which has built so many VW
Golf and Ford Escort cabriolets in more recent years.
The first six-cylinder cars
were launched in 1968, and engines of that type have been built ever since. The
Hofmeister-styled 2000 CS was face-lifted and re-engineered into the 2800 CS,
and the long march to prestige and motor sport success was under way.
The 2800 CS was only half a new
model, with an underpan based on that of the 2000 saloon, a front end, engine
and transmission from the new six-cylinder saloons, and with rear-wheel drum
brakes. It was only following the arrival of the 3.0 CS, with a larger engine,
new-type Getrag (manual) or Borg-Warner (automatic) transmission and rear wheel
disc brakes, that it came of age.
Right from the start the
3.0 CS was available with manual or automatic transmissions – both versions
with 2,985cc and 180bhp. Stick shift cars were first imported in July 1971, but
the first 3.0 CSA (automatic) cars were delayed until March 1972.
Although 3.0 CS assembly
continued until 1975, in the UK the manual transmission car was displaced by the
fuel-injected 200bhp 3.0 CSi in May 1972. Except for the ‘i’ on the bootlid,
this car looked exactly the same as its predecessor. The 3.0 CSA continued on UK
sale, but in 180bhp/automatic transmission form it was never very popular.
Finally, from October 1972 the
lightweight 3.0 CSL ‘homologation special’ (complete with 3,003cc engine)
was put on UK sale; 500 examples were imported before mid-1974, the last batch
having 3,153cc engines and 206bhp. A mere 39 of these cars (all left-hand drive)
had the aerodynamic add-on kit, becoming true ‘Batmobiles’ with transverse
rear aerofoils, massive front ‘chin’ spoilers, roof panel hoops and rubber
strakes along the front wings.
The series production cars –
3.0 CSi and 3.0 CSA – remained on sale in the UK until the end of 1975. One
other derivative – the 2.5 CS with 2,494cc/150bhp engine – was a
‘post-Energy Crisis’ car, built from 1974 to 1977, but was never imported to
Each and every coupé in this
family was assembled at Osnabrück, using running gear shipped 600km from Munich
then and now
When the BMW 3.0 CS first
went on sale in the UK it was priced at £5,345, with power-assisted steering as
a £119 extra and automatic transmission available for £220. A number of cars
were fitted with air conditioning, which was expensive at £485.
The 3.0 CSi took over in 1972
at £5,828, though of course power-assisted steering was standard. The
lightweight BMW 3.0 CSL was introduced later in that year, selling for £6,398,
but that price had rocket to £7,399 by the summer of 1973.
By 1975 the 3.0 CSL had been
dropped, and the last of the 3.0 CSis sold for £6,699.
‘Classic’ values were low
in the early/mid-Eighties, with really doggy 3.0 CSs available for £1,000,
average-to-good 3.0 CSis for £2,500/3,000, and CSLs for up to £6,000.
All that has changed. By
cross-referring to our own Price Guide, we reckon that a Condition A (very
good condition) 3.0 CSi should be worth £7,500, whereas an original-panelled
3.0 CSL may sell for £15,000.
Compared with the prices of –
say – a similar-period Mercedes-Benz SL model, these prices are low. It
reflects the corrosion record of these BMWs, and the costs of restoration.
to look for
“Great car, shame about
“Cheap to buy, very
expensive to run.”
“Not many people can
afford to restore one properly.”
Sometimes we find a great
difference of opinion when compiling surveys of this kind, but not in the case
of the BMW. In Classic terms, everyone agrees on the general theme – that if
you can afford the high restoration and maintenance costs of getting a 3.0-litre
coupé into the proper condition, you will love the car.
BMW makes no excuses for the
high price of parts, and emphasizes that they are available, along with the
service and technical expertise to keep the cars in good condition.
There isn’t much doubt,
though, that many such cars have been allowed to deteriorate badly, and this is
reflected in today’s values. Here is our advice on the range as you may find
it today, and on putting a car right.
This is the worst aspect
of the car, and Karmann (who built the monocoques) have no cause to be proud of
their work. Almost every skin panel and almost every lower area of the car will
usually have become badly corroded over the years. Perhaps this explains why the
supply of replacement panels is so good today – BMW has clearly identified a
Incidentally, the corrosion
problem continued with early 6-series shells, too – so much so that BMW
eventually took over the rust-proofing, painting and final assembly process
itself, though Karmann built the shells right through to the end.
Associate Editor Lionel Burrell
restored a 3.0 CS for the Classic Cars fleet at the end of the Seventies,
confirming most of what now follows.
The horror stories can begin
inside the front wings and wheelarches, where there are mud traps to help
promote corrosion. In particular, the top mounting for the MacPherson strut may
have rusted so badly that it has become perforated and allowed water to get
through the panel. Both the strut mountings and the wings themselves are
welded-in items, difficult and costly to cut away and restore.
The front bulkhead itself may
have corroded, and that is very costly to restore.
Floorpans, inner wing panels, inner and outer sills, and rear panels
below the waistline all give way to tin-worm, as does the boot floor, the fuel
tank and its mountings; this is all due to muck being thrown up by the wheels
and sticking around for months.
Pick-up points for the
rear suspension, particularly the damper top mounts, also have a difficult time.
Door skins usually start to
suffer at the lower edges, the corrosion then creeping upwards. The doors are
heavy, and because they are half-frames they are not as rigid as those of a
saloon. Be very aware of a car where the doors do not shut cleanly and at the
The three-litre was
BMW’s pride-and-joy when launched in 1968, and it was sill successfully being
built more than 20 years later. The smoothness, the silky quality, the sound and
the ample power all made up for other failings in that car.
It’s a great engine, but it
doesn’t last for ever – and, off course, BMW parts are very costly. The
bottom half is ragged, so most repair and restoration work will probably be
concentrated on the top end. In some cases the aluminium cylinder heads will
have corroded, and in some cases they may have suffered overheating due to
faulty cooling systems (usually clogged or leaky radiators). You’ll only find
out after a good test drive, so don’t buy a big BMW as seen, unless you have
also ‘tried and approved’ – or unless it is very cheap and you can assume
you will need to have an engine rebuild.
Camshaft changes because of
lobe wear, carburetor (but probably not fuel injection) rebuilds, and a valve
gear freshener are all likely to be needed. If the head has never overheated it
should be OK, but at the first signs of overheating you should fear the worst…
Unless they have been
mercilessly thrashed for many years, the manual gearboxes should still be in
respectable condition. Experts agree with our usual ‘what to look for’
references here – worn second and third gear synchromesh, bushes and bearings
dying (and audibly complaining) of old age, and a generally rattly feel.
The gearboxes themselves are
straight-forward enough to remove (though bulky), and all parts are available
for rebuilds. Be sure you have the chassis number of your car when searching for
bits and pieces, for there are two distinctly different types of gearbox –
Getrag and ZF – to consider.
A surprising number of these
cars had automatic transmission. Although automatics generally have an easier
time than manual ‘boxes (the torque converters also cushion the main gearboxes
from shocks and massive torque changes), they suffer from clogged arteries in
old age. This means that the automatic transmission fluid has become
contaminated and there may be dirt or debris in the system, resulting in changes
which are sluggish or jerky.
Don’t even think about
converting an automatic to manual transmission – it’s extremely costly, it
destroys the originality of the car, and it involves you in all sort of
Unless the car has been
involved in a shunt at some time or other, it should still ride well, run
straight and feel well balanced. On the other hand, you’ll almost certainly
encounter rear springs which have settled and experience dampers which are even
softer than you expected (but don’t forget that this was always a rather
soft-riding machine – a nicely-together autobahn-cruiser more than a
hard-riding sports car…).
In general the car’s
‘chassis’ is durable, but with future tyre life and stability in mind, you
ought to go right around the car to look at the state of all the bushes. Because
the car has long-travel independent suspension at the front and rear,
geometry faults will destroy the car’s behaviour.
The power-assisted steering (some
early cars don’t have power) may feel too light, and perhaps even vague; the
bad news is that this is how the car was set up in the first place, though the
vagueness gets worse as joints wear. Look for leaks from the feed pipes and keep
a careful eye on the level in the reservoir. Gaiters seem to split quite
regularly; don’t skimp on replacements, or wear will rapidly set in on the
Brakes? Well, if you accept
that the pads don’t last all that long (they weren’t meant to – silence in
use was deemed to be more important than long life) and that front discs
eventually crack if used hard and often, there should be little trouble unless
the car you buy has been standing a while, in which case the pots may have
seized in their calipers.
Everyone agrees that the
electric window lifts were much too slow in operation (re-reading the original
road tests confirms this), and this almost guarantees that in old age they will
tend to stick in their slides. One thing is certain – during restoration you
really must spend a lot of time (if not a lot of money) going over all
the linkages with oil and grease guns, cleaning out channels, and making sure
the side and rear quarter windows eventually act like new.
When buying a car, a desirable
bonus is a complete tool kit, nut this is rarely offered these days. Look for
the fitted kit, which is in a drop-down case stowed in the boot lid. To make a
car truly ‘concours’ and original you’ll have to search hard for missing
bits and pieces. This is where the BMW Drivers Club may come in useful.
As with most other classic cars,
replacing trim items with the correct parts is difficult. These BMWs used a lot
of velour and padding. You may have problems.
When Classic Cars
was still young, and the 3.0 CSi was still a current model, we tested one in our
June 1975 issue.
Editor Michael Bowler was
rather dismissive about the car, as you can see from this extract:
“Against the saloon you have
to pay an extra £1,858 for body by Karmann; nice though the coupé is, it is
not currently worth that premium for better looks, less rear seat space and
poorer door sealing. I have driven the coupé in several forms and usually feel
that BMW themselves can offer much better value in the rest of their range. This
one was offered to use as a “Classic of the future’. Without entering into a
long discourse on what will and won’t be the non-depreciating classic of ten
years hence, it does fall into the ‘worthwhile car in its day’ category and
it is one of the flamboyant, extravagant (by which I mean thirsty) era; thus to
me in ten years time it will be a worthwhile car…”
Michael was in fact wrong by
several years, for by the mid-Eighties the 3.0 CSi was almost a forgotten car,
with values in the dumps. Only recently has it perked up again.
When the 3.0 CS was new, in
1971, Autocar called it “Quiet, very comfortable, express transport …
scores over some of its competitors in being more compact and practical as a
town car, while still very fast and manageable as a main road express. We
thoroughly enjoyed driving it, and its appearance aroused admiration wherever we
went in it.”
Naturally there was comment
about “the effortless free-running of the engine, and the wonderful ease of
control … From low speeds the carburetion is very clean, and the engine pulls
without any snatch … although the sound heard from the engine confirms that it
is revving hard at speed, it is a very sweet noise which never sounds overworked
… The central remote-control gear change has delightfully easy and positive
In addition: “The suspension
absorbs most types of uneven surface very well indeed, feeling taut and well
damped at all times. At high speeds the stability is quite uncanny …
understeer is just enough for stable cornering … If the power is suddenly cut
when cornering hard there is a rather abrupt but not excessive transition to
The same magazine tested a 3.0
CSi less than a year later, commenting that it was “better and faster still”.
Helped along by the fuel injection, the engine was dubbed “delightfully
refined and quiet, and makes the car exceptionally fast.” Of the ride: “On
poor roads the suspension provides a very comfortable ride … but at speed on
undulating roads there is a little too much bounce and recoil…”
3.0 CSLs imported to the UK
were not as light as BMW had intended, due to the concessionaires’ insistence
on electric windows, real bumpers and sound-deadening being installed. Maybe
that explains why the 1973 Autocar test car was only 143lb lighter (and
little faster) than the CSi of 1972. The testers thought it was very expensive,
but: “As a compact 3-litre coupé with elegant styling, refined running and
exceptionally quick acceleration, the CSL is hard to match. It has delightful
road manners and draws admiring glances wherever it goes …”
The fact was, however, that all
these Karmann-built cars showed a distressing tendency to go rusty, which
explains why ex-Autocar technical editor Geoffrey Howard had this to say
in Classic Cars in May 1983:
“Unfortunately for the
enthusiast, the production span of the BMW coupé coincided with one of the
worst periods in terms of corrosion protection, and it was built and painted by
a coachworks without the advantages of slipper dips, electrocoat and all other
ways of penetrating box cavities.”
Even so, he also noted that:
“Their combination of sound German quality, precision engineering and
long-distance comfort was always a fair return for the high price and sometimes
expensive running costs of owning.”
Maybe the next sentence is an
apt end to this survey:
“Now that the price penalty
has largely been eroded by age on the coupé, their motoring pleasure is much
more readily available for anyone who buys wisely and does not skimp the