This two seat version of BMW’s three-litre injected sedan is about as close as the Germans come to producing hotwheels like the Dino / Urraco / Merak brigade. AJ van Loon drives the big BM and finds it damned impressive and far more practical than the Italians…
(Sports Car World, November 1975. By AJ Van Loon. Australia.)
If you’re in your twenties and have been earning money for half a dozen years, you could by now own a $15,000 - $18,000 car.
Admittedly it’s not like that you do. You probably haven’t been willing to put up with the kind of existence that would let you slot $50 or $60 into the bank every week – like continuing to live in the ‘family home’, engaging in cheap hobbies like suttlecock and pigeon racing and leaving the ladies strictly alone.
But say you’d managed to accumulate all that loot – what car would you buy? The popular answer is a Dino, a Urraco or a Merak. Maybe a Porsche 911. They’re all superb driver’s cars and their shapes spell money – important when you’ve sweated blood for years to own one.
But hold on. None of the four is particularly practical in all-roads ability or for carrying luggage and rear passengers. And can you really imagine yourself taking your Dino loaded up with old bottles, cardboard boxes and that mouldy old mattress, for a trip to the local tip? Neither can we…
Recently we drove a car which filled the $16,000 bill as a great driver’s car, a fine piece of automotive engineering and an eyeball-grabber, but which we also felt would not be degraded by a fair percentage of ‘to the city and back’ driving which it would get as the sole car from our hard saving. It can carry luggage for at least two and can take rear passengers.
It was a BMW three-litre CSI coupe.
Royal Australian Navy Lieutenant John McCaw, a long time car buff and SCW reader, bought the car on overseas duty, imported it to Austtralia and rang us up out of the blue saying that if we could get ourselves to HMAS Albatross, the Naval installation near Nowra, NSW, we could drive the $16,000 Bavarian baby. We had been keen to drive a CSi – the sporty road model between the carburetted, lower performing CS and the competition oriented CSL models – for months, so John’s phone call was like a lottery win. Staff cameraman Uwe Kuessner and I saddled up a WHEELS test Range Rover and set out for Nowra with minimum delay.
Although at the start of our test the car had 6681 km on the clock it looked as fresh and immaculate as the day it rolled out of the BMW factory. McCaw had detailed the car to the ultimate degree, there was not a speck of dust on the sleek body and the raised edge lettering on the Continental steel-belted radial tyres had been accented with white paint. With a request to stay on sealed roads (“It’s never been on dirt”) and a wisecrack (“If you crash, make sure it’s a write-off”) John withdrew and we were sent on our way.
BMW says its three-litre coupes are on the middle ground between extreme sportiness with limited space and comfort, and extreme comfort with limited sportiness – and we think this describes the 3.0 CSi very well.
Powered by BMW’s 2985 cm³ seven main bearing in-line six, the 3.0 CSi has a power output of 147 kW (200 bhp) at 5500 rpm and develops 277 Nm of torque at a seemingly high 4300 rpm. But on the road the engine is as smooth as the inside of a baby’s ear and pulls away in top gear without effort from 800 rpm. Compression ratio is 9.5 to one, meaning premium fuel is required. The engine is fed through an electronically-controlled Bosch fuel injection system which has a large cast alloy plenum chamber over the top of the engine and six separate cast horns leading to the respective cylinders.
Inside, the car reeks of creature comfort and excellent design. Designed as a luxurious four-seater the BM has bucket seats front and rear, though the rear compartment will carry three at a pinch if the central armrest is folded up out of the way. Upholstered in quality vinyl, the seats have large rolls of padding for lateral support and a cushion and backrest that is made from ventilated vinyl for extra comfort in hot weather.
The steering wheel in the car is of rather imposing size (400 mm in diameter) but if it looks big with its Volvo-like square padded boss in the centre it doesn’t feel anything less than ideal on the move. In fact, the steering felt so responsive and precise that I wasn’t aware it was power-assisted till I heard the funny hiss of the pump in the middle of a u-turn on full lock.
Behind the leather-rimmed wheel the dash offers the driver heaps of information on what’s happening under the bonnet. There are four dials, the one on the left has indicators for fuel level in the 70 litre tank and water temperature, plus warning lights for oil pressure, fuel reserve, high beam and four-way flashers. Next to that is the tach, reading to 8000 but redlined at 6500 rpm. It also has the trip and odometer plus lights for hand brake and twin circuits brakes set into it. The speedometer is next, calibrated to 240 km/h, though the CSi reaches only 220 km/h, and the dial on the right houses the electric clock.
A butter-smooth gearchange, with a floor-mounted lever with a polished wood knob, and steering column stalks (indicators, headlight flasher and lights at left; and 2-speed wipers, washers with delay wipe at right) take care of any immediate functions the driver may have to perform.
Visibility is excellent all round and the car feels a lot more compact than it really is. I was surprised at the long clutch travel, as only the first half is really effective, and the throws of the lever between gears were also longer than I’d anticipated.
To get away from speed restriction signs and the traffic of the Princess Highway, Kuessner and I headed inland along that picturesque piece of second class bitumen that winds through Kangaroo Valley and Fitzroy Falls toward Moss Vale. Leaving Nowra we only had about five kilometres of relatively flat travel before the road started climbing its way up over Cambewarra Mountain. Roadworks were in progress there so it called for some slow and easy travel over the sections of new work.
We were taking it easy but the car was anxious to get up and go. The village of Beaumont went by and then we found some of the open sweeping road that is ideal for rapid motoring. Without actually meaning to, I let the speed creep up until Uwe and I found ourselves whistling along at better than 130 km/h.
The rich blue BM was exhibiting all its superb breeding – pointing through the bends not one centimetre off line and eating up the straight bits in between at an easy gait. This was a car to be plunged into a corner with a dab on the four wheel ventilated disc brakes to steady it, flicked back to third and with its glorious sophisticated roar out the back to be rocketed out with the tach needle winding its way around the dial toward the 6000 mark.
I was still feeling my way in the car but rapidly developing an intimate association with it. Whatever I asked was done without fuss. Plunging into corners a stab on the hard, progressive brake pedal would activate the big, 272 mm disc brakes and haul the speed down without any fuss or hint of wheel lock-up. With windows closed and air-conditioning inside keeping temperature down the car whistled along with the edges of the sunroof making wind noises outside.
Unfortunately that didn’t hold true if any of the electric windows or electric sunroof were even partly opened; then, at anything over 80 km/h the wind roar made normal conversation impossible.
We sped on, slowing down for Fitzroy Falls, then toward North Yarrunga for a suitable sweeper for photographs and finally came upon a wide open left hander that we figured would provide good visual action as well as a fair test of the car’s cornering ability.
After Uwe had chosen his spot I went back to get a run up for the pass through the bend and swept through at 130 km/h with absolutely no drama whatsoever. The limpet-like Continentals on the 6J x 14 BMW alloy wheels just refused to budge. Second time through I upped the pace by 15 km/h and though the lateral g-forces became more apparent the car still just hung on.
It wasn’t till I was plunging the big blue beast into the bend at 160 km/h plus that it felt to be anywhere. And then it needed almost a twitch to just move the tail out, tightening the line through the corner up ever so slightly to prevent the whole car going wide in virtual four wheel drift style. Its road manners were truly magnificent.
Soon it was time to head back east again and this time, having found the car’s limits of brakes and cornering we pressed on a little harder using what BMW calls its “sparkling driving characteristics” the way we were supposed to.
Only once did I catch the car out of step. Thundering into a right-hander coming down Barrengarry Mountain I found a car coming the other way using too much road and had to hit the brakes hard. That, and the extreme bumpiness of the road seemed to catch the front suspension by surprise and it bottomed out badly. It seemed to need some extra wheel travel on the front.
But that was the only time I caught the blue BM off guard – otherwise its manners were impeccable. All too soon we were back at Cambewarra Mountain, idling across the fresh gravel spread by the road builders, easy down the hill to the stretch of coastal plain that led us back to Nowra, across the wide Shoalhaven River, through the town back to HMAS Albatross.
The car was dusty when we handled it back to John McCaw and the exhaust pipe was that light grey colour that says it’s been for a good hard run.
“What did you get out of her?” he wanted to know after I handed over the keys. “I didn’t go beyond 180 km/h”, I said, explaining that the second-class road and occasional bad bumps were not the conditions to tackle at 200 plus in a $16,000 motor car.
Where the BMW is now we don’t know. John McCaw had it up for private sale and it may have found a new owner by now. If he still has it, writing him c/- Wardroom, HMAS Albatross, Nowra, NSW 2540, could give you a chance to own this superb car.
Unfortunately the only CSi coupes coming into Australia now do so to private order. In spite of its excellent safety features, with crumple zones front and back, plus its highly developed suspension and braking systems, this BMW machine fails to comply with some Australian Design Rules and as it is only a limited production car (compared with the BMW 3.0 S and Si sedans) the factory has written Australia off as a lost cause.
Pity. That means even if you save very hard you’ll probably never own one.