FOR A MOMENT I’m Hans-Joachim ’Strietzel’ Stuck, full-chat in a CSL Batmobile, arguably the archetypal saloon racer (both car and driver!) from the mid-1970s and a combination that cemented BMW’s reputation as a purveyor of involving, well-engineered performance cars. In my mind’s eye the inside front wheel is pawing the air, the tail squatting and squirming – a stance that is so typical of cars of the era – as I feed in the power while a gaggle of Porsches snap at my heels. In reality I’m guiding a replica Bat fairly gingerly onto the main straight at Zwartkops, feeling out the grip from the Avon slicks and watching the lanky needle of the huge VDO rev counter climb towards the 7000 mark. The straight-six is really starting to sing and what was an odd, off-beat and almost rotary-like three-into-one exhaust thrum in the pit lane has risen to a stirring and evocative wail.
It sounds brilliant from within the tube-festooned interior, the experience aided by the absence of side windows – something that will be corrected soon. I imagine it sounds equally stirring to a group of interested observers leaning on the pit wall, especially with the dual fat pipes exiting on the right of the car, sending sound waves over the rise of the circuit’s infield and up towards the pits complex. The red line is marked at 8000, but I’d agreed beforehand not to exceed 7000 and achieving lap times is not the object of the exercise anyway. As always, my goal is to get a feel of the machine and appreciate it in context of the era in which it competed.
This replica pays homage to the Group 5 CSL as shared by Stuck and Sam Posey in America’s 1975 International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) Camel GT series, a season in which Stuck won four races but BMW was still pipped by Porsche for the championship. The surviving original race cars are worth telephone number figures, but because of its handsome shape, impressive reputation, relative simplicity and availability of donor cars (coupes going back to 1968 will work perfectly as a starting point) it is a favourite with BMW aficionados who want a race replica…
Indeed, the car you see here is not South Africa’s first lookalike. A black Batmobile is being raced by BMW enthusiast Uli Sanne and nearly two decades ago, Andre Honiball (he of Fat Arnies restaurant fame) built a car very similar to this, painstakingly getting hold of detailed plans and faithfully recreating the car from a CS donor – or E9 in BMW-speak. Over time, ownership changed and so did the car, but when motorsport enthusiast extraordinaire Paolo Cavalieri decided he wanted one for his collection, it seemed a logical starting point. As it turned out, that car was pretty much past its sell-by date as the years and rust had taken their toll: nice from afar, but far from nice. After much soul-searching a decision to source a new donor car was taken – a 2800 CS to be precise – and salvage what was still usable from the racer. Not inconsiderable wads of cash had changed hands before the two cars were ready to be handed over to classic BMW specialists Evolution 2 Motorsport, where a long and laborious transformation took place.
Key man in the project was Wynand Durand, whose youth – along with earrings and lip piercing – belie his ability to fabricate, weld and improvise. He’s made dozens of individual items from scratch including the aluminium brackets for mounting the 15-litre dry sump oil tank in the boot, and a complete drive system to run the alternator off the left-hand driveshaft – as per the original race car. The rest of the luggage space is dominated by a fuel tank that holds over 100 litres of Avgas. With a background in building show cars and one-off specials, Wynand’s flair and skills were very much evident when he joined the team two years ago, though he is very quick to insist that the finished car was a team effort that also involved a number of respected suppliers to the local motor sport industry. Under the watchful eye of Evo2 boss man Alec Ceprnich, the project took shape.
As it turned out, the tired old Bat contributed some worthy parts that would otherwise have been difficult and/or expensive to source. These include the rare centre-lock 16-inch BBS wheels, of which there are a total of six – the mix fortunately including a spare for front and rear. It also offered up most of the brake hardware, some of the suspension components, the rear wing and the differential – which sadly broke during testing. Significantly, it also provided a set of moulds for the special bodywork though it is slightly narrower than the real McCoy and anoraks will no doubt notice the tyres sit considerably closer to the outer edges than they did in the actual race car. This will be corrected says Ceprnich. Still, it makes the replica look especially beefy, as does the protruding ‘cow catcher’ front spoiler, though period cars are more often seen with a slightly less elaborate nose with a spoiler that drops straight down from the grille.
A scale model provided the template for the roll cage, with the full-size chrome-moly version replicated and welded into the CS’s shell by Van der Linde Systems, a company that needs no introduction. It also provided the exhaust system: got to love that white powder-coat finish of the manifold and the lovely curves of the rearmost trio of pipes as they balloon upwards to achieve the same lengths as the front three… The Van der Lindes – South Africa’s fastest family – also fettled the cylinder head of the M88 DOHC 3,5-litre engine, which found its way under the Batmobile’s bonnet having started its career in an early M5. Fittingly, the M88 is derived from the M49 racing engine, which when kitted-out with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection is exactly what a pukka race CSL would’ve used. This one is fitted with Bosch Motronic injection that is similar to standard with some trademark red intake trumpets sprouting from a big airbox. It is all controlled by a Motec race management system that allows for a degree of fine tuning as well as the ability to monitor a number of functions.
A crankshaft from the later S38 engine (which replaced the M88) is fitted, to which standard rods are attached, topped-off with special Wiseco pistons. What reaches the road is about 250kW and 360Nm of torque – more than enough to make for an authentically exciting driving experience. So that there is little chance of over-revving – on an upshift anyway – a battery of tiny LED lights directly above the steering column start to blink an intense blue hue as the 7000 mark comes up, and as it turns out, I use a maximum of 7006rpm in my brief stint at the wheel.
Bolted to the engine block is the Getrag dog-leg gearbox from the Fat Arnie car. It is perfect for track use, what with second and third providing the left-hand leg of the H and fourth/fifth the right-hand leg. Embed this in your head and it is a real joy: a confident grasp of the lever is rewarded instantly and you couldn’t ask for sharper, more decisive shifts. The weighty precision is complemented by a short and very beefy clutch action, so beefy that at first you wonder whether it is manageable, but within a corner or three its heaviness is forgotten. The weighting of these two primary controls is key to the pleasure the car offers and within just a lap or two I felt comfortable giving it, er, some stick… The Avon slicks are confidence-inspiring and with the chassis seemingly set up with mild understeer, it can be confidently and relatively easily powered into mild oversteer with the throttle, precise modulation possible thanks to a long and linear pedal travel.
The original worm-and-roller steering reveals some inherent play in the dead-ahead position but it is surprisingly delicate as far as effort goes, but not just because of the generously-sized wheel that, by the way, is a genuine BMW Motorsport item. No, the secret to the lightness of helm is a Mini power steering pump nestling in the passenger footwell, thanks to which you could easily drive the race car all day. And down there there’s also a brake booster, reducing effort to the front wheels only while leaving the rears unassisted. It’s a set-up which works better than you might think: you can get on the clamps really hard, enjoying good feedback and minimal pedal travel so that heel-and-toe blips can be executed comfortably. The stoppers don’t feel like they’ll tax the muscles around your eyeballs but the confidence with which they can be used is appreciated.
So too the overall handling, and this car has done the best part of 100 laps at Zwartkops during testing and fine-tuning of the shock and spring settings, the dampers being the work of respected local race-car guru, Mark Sacks. The ride is surprisingly plush with just a hint of mild and progressive body roll when aimed towards the apex, and overall it feels well-sorted and benign. Interestingly, road-going CSLs don’t have an anti-roll bar at either end. The CSL was conceived as an endurance racer (that’s why there are two huge fuel-filler nozzles cut into the boot lid), and there’s a huge advantage in having relatively docile and predictable manners if long stints at the wheel are the order of the day – even if your name happens to be Hans Stuck.
To many, the terms Batmobile and CSL are synonymous, but that’s not strictly true. The first run of 169 CSLs, built so that the car could compete in European Group 2 racing that at the time was dominated by Ford Cologne’s V6 Capris, were arguably the most extreme of the road-going homologation specials. The heart of the car was the pretty 3.0 CS, which meant power came from an M30 2985cc twin-carb straight-six with an unchanged 135kW. The increased performance was largely thanks to thinner gauge sheet metal for certain parts of the body, along with aluminium doors, boot lid and bonnet. Polycarbonate, non-opening rear side windows were added along with a glass fibre rear bumper, which weighed about 2,5kg. Sound-deadening material and luxury features such as power windows and power steering were also junked, trimming mass to a svelte 1165 kilograms.
Lightweight 15x7J Alpina alloys were fitted along with Bilstein dampers and a limited-slip differential helping the 195/70x14s put the power down. Problem was, at DM30000 it was very much a case of less costing more, and BMW was still some way short of producing the 1000 units needed to meet homologation requirements.
Fortunately, a new company had been formed within BMW: BMW Motorsport GmbH, and this new competitions department took over the CSL project from 1972. In went the fractionally-larger 3003cc fuel-injected powerplant from the CSi, bumping power up to almost 150kW. Reverting to glass (albeit thinner and lighter) added weight. Some 929 were made in this basic specification, including 500 right-hand drive cars for the UK, many of which were fitted with the Town Package bevy of luxury features that included power steering, and a number were sold without the 20mm lower Bilstein suspension. In rare instances, the aluminium doors were replaced with conventional steel items.
The version now popularly known as the Batmobile only came into existence in mid-1973, engine capacity growing to 3153cc that helped add a few more kilowatts but substantially increased torque. More importantly, it had the now-famous aerodynamic additions: a deep front spoiler incorporating brake cooling ducts hanging straight down from the front valance, thin little fins atop each front fender guiding the air flow, an impressive, stirrup-type spoiler at the trailing edge of the roof designed to delay the point at which airflow detaches itself from the rear glass, thereby bringing the CSL’s piece de la resistance into play – a boot spoiler to end all boot spoilers…
All this added up to more stability and additional downforce without adding drag, but because the add-ons didn’t comply with legislation in certain markets, including Germany (one assumes due to the dire effect on rear visibility), it was sold packed in the boot, requiring some, er, assembly… This also meant the individual parts could be ordered as a kit, and no doubt many owners of earlier CSLs and CSs beat a path to the parts counter of willing BMW dealers. And in at least one instance, the body kit was stolen from the boot of a car being shipped to SA… According to the book BMW Coupes, A Tradition of Elegance, published by BMW’s own Mobile Tradition, only 110 genuine road-going Bats were built initially and thereafter, but a further 57 cars were produced between June 1974 and November 1975, bringing the era of the road-going CSLs to an end. A total of 1265 cars of all types were built, and depending on condition, they’ll fetch anywhere up to the equivalent of R1.75 million, with ropey rust buckets worth R250000…
Original (May 1971 to July 1972 production run) CSL road car
PRICE | R1million upwards (depending on condition)
ENGINE | M30 2985cc, 12v six-cylinder, 134kW @ 6000rpm, 260Nm @ 3700rpm
TRANSMISSION | Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, LSD
SUSPENSION | MacPherson strut front, semi-trailing arm rear
LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT/WHEELBASE | 4630/1710/1370/2625mm
WEIGHT | 1165kg
WHEELS & TYRES | 7Jx14, 195/70 HR14
PERFORMANCE | 6.9secs 0-100kph, 220kph top speed, 10.9ℓ/100km (@ 110kph)
Replica Batmobile race, built to 1975 IMSA GT specs
PRICE | R1-million upwards
ENGINE | M88/S38 hybrid 3453cc, 24v six-cylinder, 275kW @ 6 500rpm, 390Nm @ 4000rpm
TRANSMISSION | Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive, LSD
SUSPENSION | MacPherson strut front, semi-trailing arm rear
LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT/WHEELBASE | 4630/1710/1370/2625mm
WEIGHT | 1030kg
WHEELS & TYRES | 11Jx16(f), 13.5Jx16(r) Avon racing slicks
PERFORMANCE | 4secs 0-100kph, 280kph top speed, 25ℓ/100km (at Zwartkops)