BMW dishes from his CSL badge so rare that even Porsches with RS bags look as common as Corollas by comparison. Only three BMWs have been found worthy of the Coupe Sport Leichtbau (lightweight) name, which was first applied to the E9 CSL coupe of the 1970s, a modified CS specially made to win on Europe’s racetracks.
Those original CSLs are hugely valuable now ($200,000 for a standard car in good condition; more like $300k for a winged Batmobile), and to be honest, as cool as they are, they drive like old cars because they to be old cars, and they’re not that fast by 2022 standards. But the other two CSLs make a fascinating combination, almost close enough in age (and thus driving character) and price that you might be between the two should choose.
We are of course talking about the 2004 E46 M3 CSL and the 2023 M4 CSL which was released earlier this year. I’m not going to pretend for a minute that the M3 has hopes of keeping up with its modern namesake in a straight line or around a track, or that it’s a clunky single-clutch SMG paddle-shift box (there was no manual option) doesn’t feel like tractor tech next to the modern M4’s ZF car. But think for a moment about how people are going to use the new CSL, and the gap between the two is quickly narrowing.
Because most 2023 CSL buyers will not be using their M4 on a daily basis. They buy one to drive out of the garage on the weekend for short fun rides, perhaps to take to the odd track day. And they buy them as investments. If that’s the criteria, you’re damn right that the 2004 CSL is a valid rival to the new one.
But let’s do our due diligence and look at the numbers. BMW M built 1,383 M3 CSL, each powered by a slightly upgraded version of the standard E46 M3’s 3.2-liter S54 inline six with 355 horsepower (360 hp) and a modest 273 lb-ft (370 Nm) of torque. Zero to 62 mph (100 kph) officially took 4.9 seconds, which was barely better than what the stock car could handle, despite the sticky Michelin Cup rubber and claimed weight reduction of 243 lbs (110 kg). Compare that to the latest CSL, which delivers 542 horsepower (550 hp) and 479 lb-ft (649 Nm) of torque, accelerates to 100 km/h in 3.7 seconds and is limited to just 1,000 units .
So different until now. But in concept – no rear seats, heavy use of carbon fiber to save weight – they are incredibly close. As they are in price. The new M4 CSL costs $140,895 (£128,820 in the UK) including destination, which is almost exactly what you’d pay for a really great M3 CSL in Europe today – unfortunately the hottest M3 was never offered in the US, and even more frustrating is still several years away from being eligible for imports under the 25-year rule. Yes you can get them for under $90k with a ton of miles but all the best like this car of 2,679 miles (4,311 km) are advertised for over $160,000.
Why would anyone pay more for an older, slower car that isn’t that rare? Perhaps they really wanted the M3 nearly 20 years ago, but are only now able to make it happen. Maybe they prefer the way it looks (we do), or the fact that it weighs almost 272 kg less. Or it could be that they heard an M3 CSL at full blast as he sniffs through his carbon airbox. It is one of the best sounding production road cars ever built. And if you only drive a handful of miles a year, the fact that the new M4 is a much more complete package isn’t too much of a problem.
Or maybe you think the new CSL looks light-years better, you want your mod cons, and can’t imagine spending $150,000 on a car with a paltry 355 horsepower. There is no right or wrong answer. You would love it in either car. But which one would you choose? Leave a comment and let us know.