Right then, clearly, this is one for the car-modifiers among you. If you like a swathe of sticker or a decent spoiler, then the BMW 3.0CSL ‘Batmobile’ must be the one for you, right? It’s even got little lateral ‘air guides’ running the length of the front wings, for goodness’ sake. Well, there are two big surprises lurking here. Number one is the fact that, despite looking like something scribbled on a schoolbook by a 12-year old, it’s a very serious piece of kit. I know – take another look and just roll that thought around: ‘It’s a serious car’. It’s like introducing a children’s entertainer with a fake nose onto Newsnight as a heavyweight politician.
Words: Richard Hammond
This feature was originally published in the February issue of Top Gear magazine
But everything you see, apart from the stripes, is there for a reason. The body kit adds 90kg of downforce at 124mph. Those strakes along the wing tops were added by engineers poached from Ford when BMW got sick of the Capri beating the CSL on the Touring Car circuit. And therein lies the secret to this car: it's a homologation special. Only 1,039 were built, the whole enterprise just an exercise in getting BMW's competition cars certified. Thinner gauge steel was used to build the monocoque, and the bonnet and boot were formed from aluminium - although the bootlid had to revert to steel once they'd added the rear wing. Engineers threw out the carpet, power-steering, electric windows and sound-deadening. Far from a clown, then; that's surprise number one.
Surprise number two came as soon as I drove the thing. I was expecting it to feel harsh, naked, edgy and focused. This car is seen by many, after all, as the most brutal homologation special ever produced. It's not, though. What it is, as it turns out, is bloody hilarious.
The body kit is outrageous enough to be seen from the inside looking out, which is always a fun thing. But more surprising is the way it rides. It feels silky-smooth and sophisticated - a constant reminder of the base car's autobahn-storming ability, even inthis extreme form. And the engine, ultimately rebored from 3.0-litre to 3.2 in the later cars, sounds and feels like a turbine. It simply winds up with a discreet whoosh and throws the thing at the horizon with the sort of relentless acceleration that's usually followed by the wheels folding away and a nice lady in a silly hat asking if you'd like a hot flannel.
It's not all good news, though. Chuck the CSL at a corner, and it has a bit of a think, and then leans on the bar and sups its pint as you try to thread it through. The suspect yaw control could be down to tired shocks - it's 36 years old, don't forget - but I suspect this was no Elise when it first leapt out of the factory gates and into the arms of whichever wealthy businessman could afford it back in 1973. Back then, one of these cost £6,399, at a time when the average house price in the UK was £10,990.
It's by no means slow, even by modern standards - 0-60 takes 6.8 seconds, and it tops out at 136mph, but despite all the homologation stuff, it still feels like an old, rather funky executive coupe. There are no turbos, it's got only four gears, and power is strictly reserved for the rear wheels, but thanks to that silky-smooth ride and power delivery, it feels way more sophisticated than it really is. This is one legend you really could cope with driving every day. Except you'd have to be pretty minted. They're as rare as a sympathetic plumber, and you'll be stealing it if you pay less than £80k.
BMW 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’: specs
Engine: 3153cc, straight-six
Torque: 211lb ft
Top speed: 136mph