Those who know it love it, and those who don’t know it, think it’s just another E46 M3. To me though, the M3 CSL has been somewhat of a hero car. There is just something about it which I find fascinating and desirable, but what is it about it? I managed to track one down and its lucky owner to find out.
When the original concept was released in 2001, audiences couldn’t believe what they saw. The CSL had been designed to make the E46 M3 as light as possible. Carbon Fibre reinforced plastic which was being used in F1 racing, could be found everywhere in the CSL. The M team had also optimised the boot lid by making it out of plastic and including a built in spoiler. What had been achieved through all of these innovations was an increase of a great 10% in the power to weight ratio.
But the work hadn’t stopped there; the transmission had been upgraded to, at the time, BMW’s latest sequential manual gearbox, the SMG II. Whilst a lot of enthusiasts weren’t happy with the move away from a six speed manual, the CSL needed the SMG II to be able to push the limits on the track.
One of the most notable things about the M3 CSL visually though was the front spoiler and the roof. The front spoiler did away with the fog lights and contained just one cut out on the right hand corner. This was designed to supply air directly into the carbon fibre induction box. The roof and what BMW did to it was also a first for an M car…a Carbon Fibre roof. What the carbon fibre roof did, as well as helping to reduce weight, was to lower the cars centre of gravity.
Now those statistics aside, until I met the owner of the M3 CSL you’re seeing in these pictures, I had only seen one on display at a BMW Show and Shine back in 2005. Unfortunately though, I seem to have lost the photos from that event in a computer upgrade! When this car pulled up however, I immediately remembered why I loved this car so much. The owner Jon also loved his car, so much so, in fact that when he moved from the UK to Australia he brought it with him because he didn’t want to leave it behind.
The car itself, as the owner describes, isn’t in concours condition though the car does still look stunning. Up close you can see the stories on the sleek black body work of the life it’s had as a hard-core track special. It is a well-travelled vehicle and has graced the Nurburgring a number of times as well as a plethora of other tracks in Europe and Australia.
The car has had a number of modifications, including bigger brakes and coilovers, to better arm it on the track and to allow it to reach its full potential. Jon however, doesn’t use the car as a daily drive simply because of the stiffness of the suspension and the gearbox not liking slow speeds such as those experienced during peak hour pace traffic, but he loves every moment when he can take it out for a spin on the weekend.
The car is currently black on black and draws a serious bit of attention, though most of the time people miss what it actually is over the standard M3. Even amongst Aussie BMW enthusiasts there were questions if the car was a real CSL, until the engine bay was opened of course.
After enjoying a chat with Jon and listening to the stories he had to share, including when pulling up for a session on the Nurburgring and Jeremy Clarkson giving him a thumbs up, he offered me an amazing opportunity to jump behind the wheel. Whilst at first I was hesitant, how could I say no to a car which I had always admired and wanted to drive since it came onto the scene? With only 24 being originally brought into Australia, my chances were slim to ever have such a chance, so I took the keys. And I was glad I did!
When getting into the car, the familiarities of an E46 coupe are there, but the carbon fibre, suede steering wheel and firm bucket seats set it apart and tell you that this car means business. After a quick tutorial on the SMG II system, we were away. As we weren’t on a track, we had to stick to the road limits but even the acceleration and that engine sound blew me away. Whilst normally you’re let down by your hero when you meet them, it didn’t happen this time. The neck snapping gear changes were forgiven and the car was just ready to respond at the drop of a hat. PLUS there is nothing like the induction noise this car produces. Whilst most cars are dressed up with a loud exhaust, the M3 CSL isn’t and you don’t need it, it’s that good and satisfying to hear.
So if you didn’t know what an M3 CSL is before, hopefully you know what it is now and if you spot one you can appreciate why it is regarded as one of the best M cars ever made and one of the best sports cars to own. I know I won’t forget my time behind the wheel, even if it was still in granny mode and on the road, not a track. Whilst I can’t still pin point why I find the M3 CSL fascinating and desirable, I know why I felt that way in the first place and why it will stay that way.
A massive and sincere thanks to Jon, the owner of this magnificent machine, for letting me see and experience the car up close as well as sharing his insights. The Daily Auto Fix community will surely appreciate your generosity!