Many of us would love to own one of the pinnacle BMW’s of the '70s, the 3.2 “Batmobile”, but doesn’t the 2800 CS offer much of the experience for a quarter of the money?
By: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
The E9 range is arguably amongst the prettiest coupés BMW have ever produced, the exception perhaps being the full-fat CSL, which with all the aero addenda might not be to all tastes. On his YouTube channel, design guru Frank Stephenson (responsible for, amongst others, the original BMW X5 and modern-day Mini hatch) discusses the three greatest BMW designs of all time. At number two we find none other than the E9, designed by Wilhelm Hofmeister.
I’ve been fortunate to have enthusiastically driven BMW Classic’s E9 3.2 CSL in Germany, and have often since wondered what one of the non-CSL models would drive like. This 1970 2800 CS model has been owned by a number of enthusiasts, and is the perfect example of what a “lesser” E9 has to offer.
First impressions are favourable, the light exterior hue providing a perfect contrast to the rich, tan leather interior. The chrome beading running around the car neatly encapsulates the entire car. There is hardly an unattractive angle on it. The side profile proudly shows off two of the most endearing features of the design, the Hofmeister kink at the bottom of the C-pillar (no B-pillars here) with the chromed encircled BMW badges at the bottom and the beautiful view straight through the cabin thanks to the “pillarless” design. More on that later.
The front offers that typical aggressive shark nose with the perfectly proportioned kidney grilles taking centre stage. The rear is smoother and cleaner, conservatively tapering slightly to the inverted drop-off, mirroring the shark nose. There is an admirable combination of elegance and sportiness which most of BMW’s competitors of the time were unable to match.
An interior with patina, a great view!
The interior takes you back 50 years. Patina is a word often used inappropriately these days, but that is exactly what this cabin offers. The backrest of the driver’s seat has age-related cracks and tears, but that doesn’t deter in any way from the level of comfort or practicality of these pews. This is also the case for the leather gearlever dressing, and again, not something I would want to replace if it was my car. Then the headrests are beautifully period-mounted on a metal bar with two chromed metal pillars descending into the backrests.
Wood is used as the dial surrounds, for the gear knob and the centre panel of the dashboard. The woodwork is perfect and again, ties in perfectly with the other dark bits and the tan interior.
Except for the seat adjustment lever embellishment and a sun visor that needs to be fitted, the cabin is complete, feels solid and sturdy with no cracks in the dash or signs of serious wear anywhere else. We even open the perfectly functioning sunroof. The perforated roof lining is also in great condition, and so even the inner lining of the sunroof that has been covered with this material. Surveying the interior further, the ribbed rear seats are perfectly curved to keep their occupants in place. The two passengers in the rear have access to two convenient buttons, one on either side, to open the rear side windows if they wanted to do so.
With the weather playing along, I decide to open all the side windows and experience the closest to al fresco-motoring the E9 has to offer. The electric side windows go down conventionally, with the rear units doing some interesting gymnastics while dropping down into the body work. The result, especially with the sunroof open, is of a near-cabriolet experience.
I twist the key, the engine catches and immediately settles into a relatively quiet idle. At parking speeds the non-assisted steering system requires effort, but thankfully once the wheels start to roll it quickly becomes much easier.
In front of me I have a perfect view through the wide windscreen and then over the long bonnet. Holding the thin-rimmed, deep dish steering wheel in my hands, it provides much information straight from the front wheels – none of the disconnectedness we so often experience in modern cars.
There are only four gears to play with, but it takes merely a few shifts to revere and enjoy the direct mechanical shift action. It almost feels like metal on smooth metal with just a tiny film of oil between the shift mechanisms.
The M30 engine saw the light of day in 1968 and was a direct development of its predecessor, with some modern refinements. These engines introduced the company’s “drei-kugel-wirbelwinnen”, German for triple-hemi-swirl (combustion) chamber. The M30 was available in different sizes, ranging from the 2.5-litre six-cylinder with a cylinder size of 86 x 71.6 mm, then followed by the 2.8-litre engine fitted to this CS with a bore and stroke of 86 x 80 mm. Fueling is provided by two downdraft carburettors (Zenith 35/40 INAT). The result is a quoted 127kW at 6 000rpm and 235Nm at 3 700rpm. The engine code, in line with BMW engine nomenclature, is known as M30B28, the latter indicating the size of the engine.
The first thing that grabs my attention is the amount of torque available from low down in the rev range. From as low as 1 500rpm, you can flex your right foot and the car will pick up speed smoothly, even in second or third gear. That makes it very tractable and easy to drive in town.
Keep your right foot down and from 3 000rpm that classic BMW raw, metallic 6-cylinder sound presents itself. Past 4 000rpm there is already some serious acceleration for a 51-year old car, with the added bonus of another 2 000rpm to play with! Through the twisties you need to keep the car’s weight in mind, as well as a slight delay from when the steering wheel is turned to when the car reacts to your input. This is partly due to the plump tyres, a small price to pay for the fairly soft and absorbent ride quality, which suits the GT character of the car. Tackling a multi-day road trip in this car won’t be a challenge, the CS will easily take it in its stride without breaking sweat.
Weighing in at a claimed 1 330kg and with a 0-100km/h time of 9.1 seconds, the 2800 CS will never be a sports car, but with a top speed of 200km/h, it will serenely swallow the miles on the open road.
I reluctantly snap out of my continent-crossing reverie, stop and open the luggage compartment, pleased to find enough space for luggage for my day-dreamed trip and that it is fitted with a beautiful carpet while the full tool kit is still present, complete with the blue BMW cloth.
I chat to the owner who owned this car from 2005 to 2017 and ask him his thoughts on the car and the ownership experience.
“The car originally went from Germany to the UK, and then the car came to South Africa. I gave the car a bare metal, exterior repaint. I was very fortunate, as at the right, rear quarter panel close to the rear lights, was the only spot on the entire car that had a little rust.” This is quite rare for E9’s as Karmann did the bodies for BMW and no galvanising or rust proofing was used on these bodies.
“This full repaint took place in 2012, mainly because I was not happy with the condition of the original paintwork. The interior, carpets etc. were all left alone. It is the driving enjoyment of the car that sets it apart for me. It is a 1970s car that has air conditioning that works, a sunroof and a radio. It’s a spacious car with great visibility. Finally, the 2.8-litre is so incredibly smooth. These are the prerequisites of a Grand Touring car, together with the visual appeal that it offers. The longest trip I tackled was to Knysna and back in the Southern Cape, a total of around 1 000 kilometres.”
The current owner is just as enthusiastic about the car: “The BMW CS is just art for me – I’m so blown away by the beauty of the design, I actually have two of them. For me it is about the aesthetics of the car. I think it is one of the sleekest cars available, and that is where most of my enthusiasm comes from. I’m selling it because I don’t drive it as much as I want to and I’m feeling bad as it is just sitting in the garage. Funny thing is that I’m not a classic car guy, but when I came across this one I just had to have it.”
Before I return the car and its key to the dealer, I page through the booklets. There, neatly under the “Free Pre-delivery Check” is stamped “26 März 1970” by “Bayerische Motoren Werke” in München followed by the first service at 1 000 miles, only in 1975!
“Grand Touring” as the one owner said, that is probably the best way to sum up the 2800 CS. Whereas the 3.2 CSL is an unashamed sports car, and a car that you would want to drive as hard as possible as often as possible, the 2800 CS takes it a step back. It is a sports tourer that offers enough performance to enjoy, but has a more polished side that allows you to enjoy it more often and on a daily basis.
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Special thanks to The Archive (thearchive.co.za) for making this drive possible.
1970 BMW 2800 CS
Weight: 1 330 kg
Engine: 2.8-litre, staright-six
Power: 125kW at 6 000rpm
Torque: 235Nm at 3 700rpm
Top speed: 200km/h
0-100 km/h: 9.1 seconds
Gearbox: four-speed, manual, RWD