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Is the CSL BMW’s finest “M”

The BMW CSL, possibly the finest M-car

Let’s cut to the chase. If you wanted a high performance family sized saloon/coupe, you have a choice of 3 cars. Strangely enough they are all from Germany. These choices are simple, either you buy an M3, RS4 or C-Class AMG. This statement is truer today more than ever, but back in 2003, BMW made that choice just a little bit more difficult.

In 2003, BMW revealed its E46 M3, Mercedes rumbled with the C32 AMG and Audi unleashed its mountain passing, tar ripping four wheel drive RS4. Again, each very unique and absolutely brilliant, but as Audi and Mercedes went to bed thinking that they had done their absolute best to compete, but litle did they know that BMW revealed had something special up their sleeves. A car that could possibly be one of the best examples of a true “Drivers Car”, this world has seen. The BMW E46 M3 CSL.

But what does it mean?

CSL meaning “Coupe Sport Leichtbau”, for “Coupe Sport Lightweight”. This is exactly what the CSL brought to the table. BMW history 101, thanks Manny Antunes from BMW Blog.com.

“CSL stands for “Coupe Sport Lightweight”, a moniker first given to the legendary race winning BMW 3.0 CSL. First appearing in 1972, the 3.0 CSL homologation special model was very successful in racing, especially in the European Touring Car Championship and the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft, thus securing BMW’s position amongst motorsport giants.”

Coupe Sport Lightweight
Coupe Sport Lightweight

So what made the 2003 rendition of the CSL so special? At the heart of the CSL is a slightly modified 3,246-cc S54 inline-six engine pushing out an extra +- 30 bhp, that disposed of the conventional mass air-flow meter, and in its place an air intake that calculates the air flow directly by the DME. Simple english, this increased the engines response time. OK, so a slightly modified, smarter engine, what else? The CSL has modified camshafts and exhaust valves (these are special, just wait for the video), a full lightweight exhaust system constructed of thinner steel. Much like Superman on a diet.

Full lightweight exhaust system
Full lightweight exhaust system

OK…what’s the big deal, it has a bit more power and is a little lighter than the standard E46 M3? That’s where you are completely wrong. With the clever use of carbon fibre, and German witch-craft engineering, the CSL is an astonishing 110kg lighter than it’s stock cousin. Carbon fibre reinforced panels are found everywhere on the CSL. The roof is constructed from carbon fibre reinforced plastic. While this only reduces the curb weight of the car by 7kg, it lowers the center of gravity of the car and decreases body flex. Clever stuff Germans!

Carbon Fibre reinforced plastic - Super lightweight
Carbon Fibre reinforced plastic – Super lightweight

The front bumper support and single air inlet is also made up of the same weight saving material. Helping out the exhausts at the back of the CSL is a lightweight diffuser and a re-shaped boot lid that helps sink the rear tyre into the road.

3,2 straight six
3,2 straight six

The geniuses at BMW’s M division fiddled with the suspension, control arms, stiffer ball bushings and larger cross-drilled front brakes. The CSL rides on wider, lightweight, cross-spoke wheels that arrived standard with semi-slick tyres.

We have no words, we just love this picture
We have no words, we just love this picture

The guys at M division didn’t hold back on the weight saving when it came to the interior of the car. The only two options that were available, at no extra cost, was air-conditioning and a radio. Other than that, the CSL arrived standard with lightweight, alcantara covered, none-reclinable bucket seats, carbon fibre centre console, door panels and a button free alcantara wrapped steering wheel. Even the rear windscreen is made from a thinner glass.

Alcantara steering wheel with sequential paddles
Alcantara steering wheel with sequential paddles

We all know that if you want a responsive, agile sports car, the tried and trusted formula is power gain and weight-reduction. BMW have managed to tick all of those boxes. Coupled with the extra +- 30bhp, this light weight, exhaust screeching marvel is unlike anything we have ever driven.

OK, so the CSL is fast, and it’s light, but what might be the CSL’s absolute party piece is that +-1400 CSL’s went into production. 820 left hand drive and 535 right hand drive. Globally. Yes, that is for everyone around the world. An estimated 65 arrived to South African shores.

So the CSL is unique, but the thing is, we aren’t living in 2004. Now a days there are out-of-the-box Golf R’s that have 4 wheel drive systems, 2 litre turbos, bucket loads of grunt and technology, that will absolutely demolish the CSL, especially at altitude.

With that said, the common formula to make a good Gti great, is that you need to add 4 wheel drive, add bigger turbos and add smarter driver settings. The BMW M3 CSL shows us that to turn a great drivers car into an unbelievable drivers car, you need to strip weight, strip settings, strip comfort and strip complicated engineering. Even though weight reduction, smarter and responsive engineering and a limited production number run are all very, German, analytical and mechanical. Combined, these aspects evoke only the highest and most honest driving emotions.

Thank you BMW. My 5 car dream garage has suddenly been reduced to one! The BMW M3 CSL.

Alcantara steering wheel with sequential paddles
Alcantara steering wheel with sequential paddles
Classic grey dials
Classic grey dials
Oh the noise!
Oh the noise!
Carbon Fibre reinforced plastic door panels
Carbon Fibre reinforced plastic door panels
Just a reminder that you are in a CSL
Just a reminder that you are in a CSL
Reshaped boot lid that helps push the tyres into the ground!
Reshaped boot lid that helps push the tyres into the ground!
Just a reminder to everyone else that this is a CSL
Just a reminder to everyone else that this is a CSL

Published by Marko Mandusic

It is pretty obvious that I like cars, wait, LOVE cars, but apart from that, I like to run too. I have a funny feeling that these two interests are somehow related. A bit like coffee and waking up, which are my next two favourite things!

One thought on “Is the CSL BMW’s finest “M””

  1. Rachel Jensen says:

    Definitely agree with this one! The CSL will never get old.

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