Curbside Classic: 1974 BMW 3.0 CSi Automatic – Sixties Beauty Turns Into Seventies Beast

(first posted 11/16/2017)         If it weren’t for those silly BBS rims, this might just be my dream coupé. Just the right amount of sleek, aggressive, chrome and proportions – this one has it all. Though the BMW 3.0 CS has been featured in CC several times before, I couldn’t resist this one, especially since it lacks the 5mph bumpers found in other posts. I’ve recently been won over to this version of the BMW coupé after years of preferring the earlier 2000 CS. Add to this the CC effect (a recent post by my esteemed CColleague and partner in CCrime, Don Andreina, just a day before I found this car), and we have the makings of a BMW love-fest. So rubber up, it’s going to get sticky.

(Please disregard the last bit of that intro. I just moved to Thailand, so my mind tends to wander in places it shouldn’t. Anyways, this is a car of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Prophylactics were about as useful as a hole in your shoe back then. Or so I’m told. On with the post, already.) The BMW Neue Klasse hardtop coupé originally came out as the 2000 CS / CA in 1965 with the largest 4-cyl. engine the Bavarians could muster, a 2-litre providing 120 PS (100 PS for the CA).

The 2000 CS was designed in-house under Wilhelm Hofmeister, but the cars were all made in Osnabrück by coachbuilder Karmann. This initial version was pretty and quite successful, but it came out just as BMW was finding its feet, style-wise, after a difficult decade of Baroque Angels and Isettas. The trend-setter was the Neue Klasse saloon, with its prominent Corvair-like beltline and forward-canted front end.

But the 2000 saloon, with its trendier rectangular headlamps, was slated for imminent production. So when the 2000 coupé came to be (actually pre-dating the 2000 saloon by about six months), BMW took those headlamps and sort of stretched them on the new shape. The result was rather good, in my opinion, but the visual identity that BMW were building with their range was left a little worse for wear: unlike other BMWs that came before or after them, the 2000 and 2000 CS were the only Bimmers without round headlamps. Looking at the 2000 CS straight on, a case could be made that this face looked a bit too busy and glassy-eyed for its own good. But help was on the way, in the form of a bigger engine and a new front end.

Now that’s more like it! When the 2.8 CS, known internally as the E9, came out in 1968, the coupé finally received the quad headlamps and full-width grille it deserved. The longer nose and slightly longer wheelbase up front mated well with the rest of the car, which was not tampered with – nor did it need tampering – aft of the A-pillar.

The rear end’s delicately drawn features stayed put while the badging changed – from 2000 CS to 2.8 CS, and finally to 3.0 CS and 3.0 CSi in 1971, good for 200 hp. The 4-cyl. coupés with the original design were dropped after 1970, having sold 9999 units in five years. The coupé’s engine had grown by a full litre and 80 hp in under five years. The rear drum brakes switched to discs and the suspension was tweaked a little tighter, but otherwise, few things had really changed. The oil crisis also gave us the 2.5 CS, a reduced displacement 150 hp version of the straight-6 that failed to make much of an impact – fewer than 900 were sold in 1974-75. A total of over 30,500 6-cyl. E9 coupés were made between 1968 and 1975. BMW’s sublime two-door went through several engines, but required only one major facelift in ten model years.

Which brings me to my one gripe about this particular car: if BMW were happy not changing anything, why bother with those dreadful rims and tyres? I’ll never understand folks who do this to their cars. One look at the 3.0 CS with proper wheels and things will be all right again.

There. That’s what the car’s stance should be and what well-designed alloys look like. It’s not like this car needs more chrome, it already has plenty. It doesn’t need to be closer to the ground, either. And the non-flared wheelarches! Soooo much nicer this way… I know, those are stock on the blue car, but I’m not a fan. This looks much cleaner.

One feature I’m particularly fond of is the E9’s greenhouse – another facet of the car that stayed the same from 1965 to 1975. The windshield’s slight wraparound and compound curves offer a great view from the cockpit, which is light and airy thanks to its thin pillars. Many Italian cars of the period also had these features, but they were never designed this way, with rounded corners.

To my eyes, the only car that might compare would be the 1963 Panhard 24, which was also a coupé with a Corvairesque beltline. The French car has a similar feel to its glass areas, though it is not a hardtop like the BMW and employs anodized pillars to make the roof even more “floating” than the BMW’s – almost like the Pagoda Benzes. But the Panhard’s rounded edges and curved glass has a certain kinship to the BMW’s, with one notable exception, which I’ll get into right this minute.

Of course, the styling trick that makes the BMW’s greenhouse stand out is the obligatory “Hofmeister kink”, complete with a side BMW logo. The kink always seemed to me to be an ideal place for the blue and white roundel, as it was on the car that first introduced it (and this coupé’s direct ancestor), the 3200 CS. It just so happens that in this car, the roundel is also a cabin air extractor, adding function to form in a very cool way.

One amusing and rarely seen gadget are the headlight washers/wipers. They do nothing for the car’s aesthetics (and are probably quite useless), but they’re almost comical, so they can stay.

This 3.0 CSi is something of a rarity, in that it is a RHD automatic, one of 215 made from 1973 to 1975. The slushbox used herein would be a 3-speed ZF unit, which seems to be the object of major discussions and differences of opinion amongst E9 aficionados. Most folks would rather have the 5-speed ZF manual. Performance-wise, that is a no-brainer. But the scarcity of the automatic transmission is a compelling counter-argument, as would be the ease of driving this in urban areas such as Bangkok.

The BMW hardtop coupé, whether in 4- or 6-cyl. guise, with or without automatic transmission, with go-faster stripes or painted in a calm shade of blue like this one, is an automotive masterpiece. But it’s a very delicately balanced one. Very little could be changed without it losing a lot of its appeal. A drop-top or a four-door version of this design, for instance, would be a complete disaster.

It was one of the easiest cars to photograph I’ve ever encountered, even given my complete lack of skill and the rather difficult lighting conditions I found it in. almost whatever the angles, it looked ready to pounce, its brightwork gracefully underlining its lines and its detailing catching the eye here and there. I’ll leave the Neue Klasse saloons and the 02 Tourings to all the Hofmeister debaters out there. Just leave me one of these (with the correct wheels) for my fantasy garage.


Related posts:

Cohort Sighting: BMW 2000CS – A Pretty Rare Bird, by PN

More From The CC Cohort: BMW 3.0CSi Coupe – The Neue Klasse’s Valedictorian, by PN

CC Capsule: 1974 BMW 3.0 CS – Bringing the Gentrification, by Jim Grey

Curbside Classic: 1974 BMW 3.0 CS – The Ultimate Driving Legacy, by Eric703