The BMW CS series was one of the automakers most successful models. A key part of BMW's startling sales success in the 1970s and 1980s was its introduction of a new engine family in the 1960s, with hemispherical combustion chambers, opposed valves in crossflow cylinder heads, and overhead-camshaft valvegear. The first of these appeared in late 1961 to power the make-or-break "New Generation" 1500 sedan. Since then, it's been built with both four and six cylinders in displacements from 1.5 to 3.4 liters, and remains an important building block at BMW today.
As this engine grew, the original "New Generation" sedan evolved through 1600, 1800, and 2000 derivatives. A new CS coupe variation arrived in 1965, combining the 2000 sedan's running gear, floorpan, and some inner panels with a handsome new pillarless body designed by BMW's Wilhelm Hofmeister and executed by Karmann of Osnabrück. Unfortunately, this 2000CS had but a 120-horsepower four and was thus somewhat underpowered, while its face was one only Frau Hofmeister could have loved.
But BMW is nothing if not persistent, and in late 1968 it corrected most every 2000CS flaw in a six-cylinder successor, the BMW 2800CS. To accommodate the longer engine, new sheetmetal was grafted onto the existing body ahead of the cowl, adding 2.9 inches in wheelbase but nearly five inches to overall length.
Together with a better-integrated "twin-kidney" grille motif and four headlamps, this simple change yielded more balanced proportions that completely transformed the coupe from ugly duckling to beautiful swan. Retained from the 2000CS were BMW's now-characteristic full-length, chrome-trimmed creaseline just below the belt, plus a gently wrapped rear window and horizontal taillamps.
Even better, the BMW 2800CS went as well as it looked. The new six (borrowed from the 2800 sedan, introduced at the same time) delivered a rated 170 horsepower from its 170 cubic inches -- the hallowed "1 hp per cu. in." ideal. It not only made for performance of a much higher order than the 2.0-liter four but was smoother, less fussy, very torquey, and an aural delight.
It also fulfilled another requisite of a truly great engine by being terrific to look at. All-independent coil-spring suspension with front MacPherson struts and rear semi-trailing arms was continued per established BMW practice, combining a supple ride with good handling and roadholding.
Karmann continued to build CS bodies and handle final assembly in Osnabrück. Interiors were trimmed neatly, if not luxuriously, with top-quality materials in the German manner. As in the 2000CS, the rear seat was more " + 2" than adult-size, though most grown-ups riding there wouldn't complain on short trips and the glassy cabin ensured that no one suffered claustrophobia. Adding to the spacious feel was a roomy front cabin with generously wide individual seats and the now-customary low-profile BMW dash.
This handsome package followed another recent Munich tradition by continuing for a good number of years, albeit with various displacement changes to accommodate market demand and, as time passed, preserve performance in the face of power-sapping safety and emissions regulations.
Thus, the BMW 2800CS gave way to the 3.0CS in 1971, followed shortly by the 3.0CSi with Bosch D-Jetronic fuel injection. (BMW model designations in this period reflected displacement in liters rather than cubic centimeters.) Both also had disc brakes at the rear as well as the front (replacing the 2800's drums).
Also appearing in '71 was a lightweight, detrimmed competition special, the 3.0CSL, with aluminum substituted for steel in many body panels. Late 1972 brought fuel injection as well as a small bore increase that boosted capacity to 3003 cc. A year later, displacement was stretched to 3153 cc for a third CSL, which was available with various eye-catching aerodynamic addenda including a rear spoiler between shark-like fins, front-fender strakes, and front airdam. The CSLs were quite successful in road racing on both sides of the Atlantic, carrying BMW's blau-und-weiss banner against archrival Porsche, among others, and winning the European Touring Car Championship in several years.
At the other extreme, BMW responded to the first "Energy Crisis" with the downmarket 2.5CS of mid-1974. This had a smaller, less powerful version of the "big-block" six (as initially offered in the 1968 big-sedan generation) and lacked a few frills, but sold for DM 6000 less than the 3.0-liter CS. But though it continued through the end of the Hofmeister coupes in 1975, it saw only 844 copies, making it one of the rarer BMWs of modern times.
All of these cars are fast, but some are outstandingly quick. The BMW 2800CS could reach 128 mph, while the injected 3.0CSi was good for nearly 140 mph and 7.5 seconds in the 0-60 mph test. Surprisingly, the CSL was little faster than this in roadgoing trim, but then the winged and bespoilered jobs looked like they should have been on a racetrack anyway.
Aside from performance, plus styling that has held up amazingly well over the years, the best thing about owning one of these BMWs is that their running gear comes straight from the counterpart sedans, which means that the coupes are no more difficult or expensive to maintain. But even BMW now admits that the Karmann bodies tended to severe rust after a few years, and squeaks, rattles, and air leaks are common, as with most pillarless body styles. This may explain why the replacement 6-Series was built in-house, where BMW could keep a better eye on quality.
With a little care and feeding, though, any of these six-cylinder coupes will return a lot of driving pleasure while testifying to its owner's discerning good taste. You can't say that about every car, especially those from the Seventies.
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