There had been expensive, limited edition M-Series models before the M3 but it was the latter's arrival in 1985 that brought BMW Motorsport's premier 'M-Power' performance brand within the reach of less wealthy enthusiasts. The original (E30) four-cylinder M3 resulted from BMW's need for a car suitable for Group A racing, the rules stipulating that 5,000 should be made in the first year of production. First seen at the Paris Salon in 1992, its six-cylinder successor was a very different proposition. Designated 'E36', the new M3 was bigger in every dimension, necessitating a hefty power increase to compensate for the unavoidable increase in weight.
The M3's third iteration arrived in October 2000 following the introduction of the E46 series in 1998. On this occasion though, there would be no saloon version, the new M3 being available only as a Coupé or a Convertible, while the power unit was BMW's 3.2-litre S54-type six-cylinder engine producing 338bhp. There was a choice of two transmissions: a six-speed manual Getrag or SMG (Sequential Manual Gearbox) that used an electro-hydraulically actuated clutch (no clutch pedal) to shift the Getrag's six gears. Shifts were made via the conventional gear lever or alternatively by paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel, and Road and Track magazine would declare that the 2006 M3 with the SMG transmission was its favourite sports car of all time. To satisfy Germany's vocal road-safety lobby, top speed was limited to 'only' 155mph (250km/h), though it was suggested that, free of restrictions, a maximum of around 170mph (270km/h) would be achievable.
Continuing a long-running BMW model designation, the CSL (Coupé Sport Leichtbau = Coupé Sport Lightweight) was a limited edition version of the M3. Never sold in North America, the CSL was available in only two colours: Silver Grey Metallic (as seen here) and Black Sapphire Metallic.
As one would expect, the CSL was conceived with weight reduction in mind, tipping the scales 110kg (240lb) lighter than the standard M3 while retaining the ideal 50/50 weight distribution. Weight saving measures included removing the navigation system, electric seats, air conditioning, audio system, and reducing the amount of sound insulation, though some of these features remained available as options. Extensive use of composite technologies was employed in making the CSL's unique body panels, the roof being carbon fibre, while the standard rear window was replaced with one made from thinner glass.
Equipped with different camshafts, an enlarged air intake, and a different exhaust manifold, the CSL's engine produced 17bhp more than the European-specification M3. Only the SMG transmission was offered for the CSL, suitable upgraded and capable of making shifts in a lightning-fast 0.08 seconds. The suspension too was further refined, receiving up-rated springs and quicker steering, while the braking system was upgraded with larger front discs and larger pistons in the rear callipers. There were also changes to the dynamic stability control system, with the addition of an 'M Track' mode allowing the car to be driven closer to its limits before any electronic intervention occurred. Shod as standard with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tyres, its 19" BBS alloy wheels were one of the CSL's more distinctive features, as was its aerodynamic body kit, which included a lightweight carbon fibre front splitter and rear diffuser for increased downforce.
The weight-saving theme continued inside the CSL, the interior featuring glassfibre front bucket seats and glassfibre-backed rear seats, while carbon fibre was used for the centre console, door panels, and head-lining. The steering wheel was simplified, the cruise control, audio, and phone controls being removed, leaving just a single button that activates the M Track mode.
The Car offered
Estimate (£): 80,000 - 100,000.
*Rare and desirable M3 high-performance variant
*One of only 442 right-hand drive examples
*Main dealer maintained with no expense spared
*9,986 miles from new
Find out more about the example up for auction here: www.gaukmotors.co.uk/post/featured-auction-2003-bmw-m3-csl