2004 BMW M3 CSL

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BMW used the CSL name for the first time back in 1972 when it unveiled the 3.0CSL - a special version of the Six CS (E9) developed to race the European Touring Car Championship. In 2004, that named was used once again, but this time on a road-going M3 CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau).

The CSL version was about 240 pounds lighter than a regular M3, thanks to the use of many weight-saving technologies inspired by Formula 1 cars. The model also boasted 17 extra horses under the hood than a standard M3 and thanks to its front-engine, rear-drive layout and the SMG-II gearbox, it delivered the purest driving dynamics of any BMW of the time.

The M3 CSL was limited to only 1,400 units and was offered only in two exterior colors: Silver Grey Metallic and Black Sapphire Metallic. The model never made it to the U.S. market and in the British market it was considered a very expensive car, as it was about £20,000 ($32,000 at the current exchange rates) more expensive than a standard M3.

Click past the jump to read more about the BMW M3 CSL.

Exterior

BMW M3 CSL

Weight saving and weight distribution were the two main focuses for the M3 CSL, so Bimmer went to extreme measures. It started off by using carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer (CFRP) for basically every add-on component on the body. Glass is a quick way to save a few pounds, if you can live with a little extra cabin noise, so BMW ripped out the rear window and installed a thinner piece of glass.

BMW then took a hacksaw to the roof and replaced the hulking metal panel with a slab of CFRP that weighed 15 pounds less than the standard roof. This lower weight on the top of the car also helped drop the M3’s center of gravity, giving it more stability in curves.

BMW also added in some extra aesthetic goodies, including: carbon-fiber front splitters to add 50 percent more downforce; a massive hole in the front bumper for the air intake to breath fresh air through; and a small trunk-lid lip for a little downforce. A set of special 19-inch BBS lightweight alloy wheels wrapped in special semi-slick Michelin Pilot Cup Sport tires, which required a waiver to be signed by the owner on delivery of the car, helped reduce unsprung weight and increase grip.

Lastly, customers could choose between just two exterior colors: Silver Grey Metallic and Black Sapphire Metallic.

All of these weight-saving tactics paid off, as the M3 CSL checked in at a trim 3,053 pounds.

Exterior Specifications:

Wheelbase107.4 in.
Front Track59.8 in.
Rear Track60.0 in.
Curb Weight3,053 lbs

Interior

BMW M3 CSL

In order to keep the weight down BMW decided to drop features like air conditioner, sound system, electric seats and navigation system were removed, but customers interested could get them as an option.

Other than that, the M3 CSL was equipped with a pair of massively supportive fixed-back bucket seats with butt-gripping side bolsters and shoulder hugging backs that provided the perfect driving position. The standard features also included the Alcantara steering wheel, heavy use of carbon-fiber, and motorsport inspired clocks (complete with change-up lights).

Drivetrain

BMW M3 CSL

...it was simply too flab-tastic to hang with the svelte Bimmer

Under the hood BMW kept the same 3.2-liter straight-six-cylinder engine found in the European M3, but with an output increased by 17 horsepower and 1 pound-feet of torque. As a result, the M3 CSL delivered a total of 360 horsepower at 7,900 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 4,900 rpm. Independent dyno results read showed more like 375 horsepower, but those were never the “official” specifications.

With the extra power, the CSL could complete the dash from 0 to 100km/h (62 mph) in just 4.8 seconds, charging on to an electronically limited 155.3 mph.

Along with this powerful engine, the M3 CSL was also equipped with thinner-walled exhaust system, long-duration camshafts, and a huge carbon-fiber air box. All these changes have helped the CSL breathe better and gave it a wicked exhaust note.

The engine hooked up to a Sequential M Gearbox (SMG) with Drivelogic, which was based on F1 technology at the time. This automated manual transmission took just 0.08 seconds to shift gears once you either tapped the steering-wheel-mounted paddles or shifted it via the gear shifter.

Drivetrain Specifications:

EngineCast Iron Block, Water Cooled, S54 Inline-Six
ValvetrainDOHC 24 Valves (Four Per Cylinder)
Displacement3246 cc (3.2-Liter)
Bore3.43 in
Stroke3.58 in
Compression11.5-to-1
Power Output360 horsepower @ 7,900 rpm
Torque273 foot-pounds @ 4,900 rpm
Redline8,000 rpm

Prices

In 2004 the M3 CSL was priced at £58,455 list price (around $92,000 at today’s exchange rate, but considerably more back then). Many have considered the CSL a very expensive car, but it was rather cheap when compared to a £100,000 Porsche and the £120,000-plus Ferrari, which delivered the same performance figures.

Competition

2004 Mercedes-Benz C32 AMG

Mercedes C-Class

Yeah, we’ll admit that the C32 AMG was never the pure driver that the M3 CSL was, but it is the only real performance sedan that could rival the high-flying Bimmer. It produced a similar 349 horsepower and a more impressive 332 pound-feet of torque, but it really didn’t have the track presence of the CSL model, plus its 3,540-pound curb weight made it a relative pig.

In a straight line, however, some drivers note a 4.77-second sprint to 60 mph, making it just as quick as the Bimmer. The C32, like the BMW, is limited to a 155 mph top speed.

2004 Audi S4

Audi S4

Much like the Benz C32 AMG, the 2004 S4 was powerful enough and in the same market as the M3 CSL, but it was simply too flab-tastic to hang with the svelte Bimmer. It checked in with a 4.2-liter V-8 powerplant that put down a respectable 340 horsepower and 302 pound-feet of torque. However, its 3,825-pound curb weight kept it from hanging with the M3 CSL.

The S4 could hit 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds, making it the slowest of the German performers. Its quattro all-wheel-drive system helped it a little in stability, but its waistline kept it from being a true performer.

2004 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Porsche 911 GT3 RS (996)

The GT3 RS is about a fringe competitor as we can think of for the M3, but its performance numbers are in line with it. A 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine that delivered a total of 381 horsepower laid under its hood. With this power, the RS could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and up to a top speed of 190 mph.

The CSL could easily lap a track as quick as the Porsche, and thanks to its four seats, a big boot (complete with high-tech reinforced cardboard – yes, cardboard – floor), and 25 mpg plus fuel economy, the CSL was truly useable everyday even if its ride was a little stiff.

Conclusion

The BMW M3 CSL was no doubt a very amazing sports sedan and now that the company is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary can we hope for a revival? Finger crossed!

LOVE IT
  • Lighter and more powerful
  • Looks great
  • Used lots of carbon fiber
LEAVE IT
  • Was very expensive at the time
  • Competition was more powerful

What is your take?

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