BMW 3.0 CS


BMW’s 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.

(Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, October 1990.UK.)

BMW’s smart 3.0-litre coupés were more of a symbol than a profit-making range. They told the world of motoring that the Bavarian Motor Works was back in the big time, and that everyone should look out.

   BMW’s fight back from near-bankruptcy began in 1961 with the four-cylinder 1500 saloon; the first six-cylinder version of that engine was launched in 1968. A series of smart but underpowered coupes finally led to the launch of the 3.0 CS model in 1971.

   Before the coupes arrived, modern BMWs had been worthy, well-engineered, but stodgy. The 3.0-litres added style, high performance and real glamour to the range, and helped breed an image that the Munich-based concern has never lost.

   More than this, they were also successful racing cars; you could say that the 3.0 CSL was a direct ancestor of the M3 ‘homologation specials’ of the late Eighties.

   Not that they were perfect. They were too heavy and a bit ponderous; worse, they soon notched up a well-deserved reputation for rusting away. It was years before their ‘Classic’ status was restored, and even today values are low. Here is the story of a fascinating project.


   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.


Model history

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 the UK.

   Each and every coupé in this family was assembled at Osnabrück, using running gear shipped 600km from Munich by train.


Prices 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.



What to look for

“Great car, shame about the corrosion.”

“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 healthy market!

   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 right height.



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 peripheral changes.


Running gear

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 joints inside.

   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.


Road tests

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 action.”

   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 tail swing.”

   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 restoration burden.”