One of the privileges of doing car photography is that you do not only get to see very special cars, but also you get to meet their owners. I enjoy taking modern cars on beautiful roads to capture the beauty of a high performance car in an environment where it belongs, but there is a different feel when you enter the classic car world. It is no longer a story of the car alone – it is a story about the car and its owner, the story of where it has been, and why it is there. Perhaps classic car owners often have a strong bond with their car that make them describe their car like it is the greatest driving machine they have ever laid their eyes on. They are often not afraid to point out imperfections, or describe the downsides of living with a classic in the modern world. But in the end the words you remember are the superlatives of praise.
The reason for buying a classic car is often quite personal. You do not own a classic car because you need one as a method of transport – for most people it is a second car they cherish and keep for special occasions. You own a classic car because you want one. It might be the first car you ever bought and kept, a childhood dream that became possible later in life, or a newly discovered passion for classics. Whatever the reason for getting one is I believe there is no wrong answer.
I recently made a road trip in an Alpina C2 Cabriolet from South of France to Ashdown Forest in Sussex, the home to one of the world’s most well-known BMW specialist, Munich Legends. Friends who know me and my preference when it comes to German cars might say that only a very special man could get me excited about BMW as a brand. They are right of course. I have never felt the connection, the urge to drive one, the desire to own one. Perhaps with one exception – the BMW E30 M3 – which has a well deserved place on my bucket list of cars to own and drive. But other BMW models? I never got the hype around them to be honest.
So here I was in United Kingdom because I wanted to spend time with the man who recently has become a big part of my life. That person, Dan, wanted me to test several BMW models while I was there and his BMW E9 3.0 CSL was one of the cars I drove. When he handed me over the keys and told me to drive the car to Ashdown Park Hotel and Country Club for a photo shoot, I was terrified. Not because I found the CSL intimidating – it might be capable but that does not mean it isn’t comfortable – but because I could sense how important the car was to Dan. I often think twice before I drive people’s personal cars – especially the ones that I know mean the world to their owners. But with a 70’s BMW legend in front of you it is difficult to resist the temptation to not get in and take it for a drive. There is a reason why the owners ask you – they want you to get a glimpse of how they feel.
Personally I think the right person to describe the BMW E9 3.0 CSL to you is not me, who only had a brief but very nice drive in one, but Dan himself, who has owned and enjoyed the car for six years and can not imagine life without it. Nothing more powerful than the words from a man in love.
The 3.0 CS was the game changer for BMW. With the notable exception of the heavenly 507 (which had nearly ruined the company) until the CS, BMW had made clunky, uninspiring, almost Soviet looking machines – not fast, not cool. With one single bound, BMW righted all previous wrongs, and showed the world a clear view of what was coming. Cleaning up on the racetrack throughout the 1970s – if not yet in the showrooms – the CSL (the ‘L’ meant lightweight) established BMW’s reputation as a manufacturer of seriously capable cars. Inside the company, the impact was no less seismic, and out of the early team of petrolheads that took the racing CSLs to podiums across the globe, BMW’s M division was born.
The first time I saw a CSL in motion I fell in love. It’s the way the contrasts work so well – the blatant aggression of the coupe’s front end, the quad lights and the shark nose, the wing vents and bonnet louvers, all blending seemlessly with the stylish lines of the C pillar, the pillarless window designs adding effortless elegance and cool.
My CSL had travelled a strange journey. Imported into the UK as one of the 500 right hand drive ‘city pack’ cars – effectively lightweights with most of the weight added back due to the importer’s demand for electric windows, soundproofing and other showroom necessities – it cost more in 1972 than an average house, at a time when to earn the sort of salary needed to buy such a car probably meant paying around 80% tax. But on the streets the British public had little appetite for such extravagance – BMW’s growing reputation was yet to filter through to the national consciousness. So it passed through six or seven owners, as during the 80’s it seemed the BMW E9 3.0 CSL would pass into obscurity, a footnote in automotive history. Ending up – bizarrely – at a classic auction in Padua, my coupe was bought by an Austrian enthusiast, with the intention of converting it to left hand drive. Fortunately the costs were prohibitive, so XMF languished almost forgotten in a foreign land until fate put me in touch with the owner.
The CSL’s blend of power, elegance, and individuality make it irresistible. I love the attention the car gets – even at the local supermarket – people are drawn to those fabulous lines, to that exotic blend of modern and classic. Every journey is an event. If I had to own only one classic BMW it would without doubt be the 3.0 CSL. Nothing else even comes close.