Happy 50th birthday to the BMW 3.0 CSL

It’s 50 years since BMW unveiled the legendary 3.0 CSL. An icon in the world of automobiles and also a model that marks a milestone in the collaboration between BMW and ALPINA. A glimpse into the history of this fascinating automobile.

Heavyweight champion: the BMW ALPINA 2800 CS

The predecessor model, the BMW 2800 CS, was unveiled by BMW in 1968 and remains a style icon to this day. ALPINA boosted the power output to 250 PS, and by 1969 was sending the model out onto Europe’s race tracks. But the BMW 2800 CS was less of a genuine sports car, and more of a sportive Gran Turismo.
Even though the 1970 racing season was extremely successful for ALPINA with the 2800 CS (read the interview with Günther Huber on this season here), one thing was clear to ALPINA founder Burkard Bovensiepen and the former co-director Gert Hack: to stay competitive against race cars like the Ford Capri and the Opel Commodore, the BMW 2800 CS needed to lose some serious weight. After all, it was competing against race cars that were 300 kg lighter. The “heavyweight champion” needed to shed some weight in order to continue its successful career in touring car racing.

Weight reduction programme

And so the idea of a BMW 2800 CS sport model was born. However, ALPINA still had to convince its partner in Munich of the merits of this idea. In a letter to BMW head of development Bernhard Osswald dated 20 May 1970, ALPINA founder Burkard Bovensiepen explained ALPINA’s radical concept for a lightweight coupé.

“Here is what we propose:

Use of alloy boot and bonnet and doors as well as lightweight trim work for the window guide in the doors. Weight saving of around 50 kg.

All windows except for the windshield from synthetic glass. Fixed rear side windows. Cost savings and weight saving of around 30 kg.

Pared-back interior, use of bucket seats, less noise suppression and acoustic insulation material. Cost savings and weight saving of around 40 kg.

Use of a lighter battery, cost savings and weight saving of around 10 kg.

Standard equipment with five-speed gearbox. Weight increase of around 5 kg.

A 3-litre carburettor engine would be preferable to set the car apart from the standard BMW 2800 CS in terms of displacement as well. The reason for the carburettor engine is that the vehicle should not, if possible, cost more than the current one, and electronic fuel injection cannot be used if the engine is going to be rebuilt.

The car should be equipped with internally vented brake discs front and rear and with 7-inch alloy wheels.

A weight saving of 120 to 130 kg can be achieved without difficulty. It should be possible with some skill to homologate the car with less than 1.100 kg.”

Meetings with the BMW leadership in Munich and Osnabrück promptly followed. Bringing such a project to fruition in the short time available, however, seemed less likely given the red tape in a large corporation. ALPINA wanted to present the lightweight coupé with road approval in 1971 and to also use it as a homologation model for motor sports. In October 1970, BMW finally decided to assign the “development-related project deliverable” for the lightweight coupé based on the 3.0 CS directly to ALPINA. It was a milestone in the partnership between BMW and ALPINA.



-215 kilograms

ALPINA started the development work immediately, and the specifications were ready by March 1971. The engineers incorporated 20 modifications and instead of the original target of 130 kilograms, managed to actually trim 215 kilograms from the total weight. The TÜV report dated 6 May 1971 certified a DIN kerb weight of 1,165 kilograms for the BMW 3.0 CSL. Even without any increase in the power, this pushed the sport coupé into a new performance class. It could now reach the 100 km/h mark from a standing start in just 7.1 seconds. The top speed? 220 km/h.

New identity. New name.

With the new identity, a new name was also needed. This was because ALPINA intended to position the lightweight coupé as a separate model range. The names up for discussion included the BMW Secura, Latin for safe, or the BMW Miglia, as a tribute to the Mille Miglia, one of the classic long-distance road races. Ultimately, the obvious one won. A model name that today has cult status: BMW 3.0 CSL. The “L” stands simply for “lightweight”.


Whereas today we’re used to ALPINA being both a supplier and customer of BMW for the production of BMW ALPINA automobiles, most of the lightweight components like the 7x14-inch alloy wheels (of course in the classic 20-spoke design) or the special suspension struts and shock absorbers from Bilstein for the production of BMW ALPINA automobiles were for the first time shipped directly by ALPINA to the BMW plant for installation. Just 169 units of the first version of the lightweight coupé were built.


By 1972, the newly established BMW Motorsport GmbH presented the second development phase of the BMW 3.0 CSL with six-cylinder injection engine. This was followed around a year later by the third phase, the so-called “Batmobile”, which caused a sensation with its eye-catching aerodynamic components. The wheels still retained the classic ALPINA 20-spoke design, however.

BMW vs. BMW vs. BMW: Race successes

It is hard to imagine European race tracks in the 1970s without the BMW 3.0 CSL – it claimed victories and titles not just for the BMW factory team, but also the ALPINA and Schnitzer teams. All of a sudden, the biggest competition was no longer from Opel in Rüsselsheim or Ford in Cologne, but from within BMW’s own series.

During the 6 Hours of Nürburgring on 8 July 1973, Niki Lauda took pole position in the orange BMW ALPINA coupé in Jägermeister livery. He set a new lap record of 8:21.3 minutes in the race. Lauda also won the 24-hour race on the Nordschleife in the same car. At the end of the 1973 racing season, BMW was the clear winner. The ALPINA team’s points alone would have been enough to beat Ford and secure the European Touring Car Championship for BMW.