Road impressions: BMW 3.0 CS

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The latest and fastest from Munich

The growth of the German firm of BMW over the past decade has been a major success story of the European motor industry and with its increased range BMW continues to make progress. This is particularly reflected in Britain where SMMT figures show that, in the first seven months of 1971, BMW increased their sales from the 1,500 units in the same period last year to a new record of 2,443. Significantly, BMW sales overtook Mercedes-Benz along the way and are now the fourth largest exporter of German cars to Britain—just behind Audi.

Quite a number of these increased sales can be attributed to the fairly recent decision to break out of the four-cylinder, 2-litre market and, in addition, produce a range of larger but still compact machines with six-cylinder engines of 2.5 and 2.8-litre capacities. The most recent addition in this family has been an increase to a full 3-litres for both the saloon and the handsome coupé body built by Karmann. It is the 3-litre coupé, designated the 3.0 CS, which we recently tested in an extensive run which took the car back to its land of manufacture, and in particular to the Nurburgring, for the German Grand Prix. Three Standard House staff members found this £5,000 motor car almost ideal transport for the journey, thanks to its effortless touring at two miles a minute and plus.

The 3.0 CS was only introduced this July and, according to the Press release issued at the time, is “the flagship of the BMW range” and is “a trans-Continental tourer that is perfectly tractable in city traffic”—a statement which to our mind sums up the machine perfectly.

The main features of the 3.0 CS, which were not available on the 2800 CS other than the increased engine capacity, are a change of gearbox from a ZF to a new Getrag box (which allows faster changes), better steering, improved handling and ventilated disc brakes all round to increase stopping power—a feature which was criticised on the earlier models. In fact, it doesn’t seem so long ago that ventilated discs were talked of in hushed tones in the motor-racing world. So don’t be fooled when you hear that technological feedback from motor racing no longer exists!

The earlier six-cylinder BMWs seemed to be remarkably elusive to the staff of this magazine and, while our managing director was able to purchase a 2500 saloon, the Editor almost found himself stranded over the Easter holiday when a 2800 coupé failed to materialise. However, the efficiency one would expect from an organisation like BMW and its British concessionaires returned and our road-test BMW 3.0 CS appeared only a month after the announcement. It was a little disappointing that the car had not been cleaned and even the ashtrays were chock-a-block with sweet papers, but the machine was undoubtedly in fine mechanical fettle, having just over 4,000 miles on the speedometer.

The coach-builders’ art still lives at Karmann, who have produced a proud, beautiful and efficient body set off perfectly by the smart alloy road wheels which are standard. The side windows of the car are pillarless and thus there is a considerable expanse of glass which adds to the all-round visibility of the cars. These windows are operated electrically and were about the only aspect of the car to give trouble, the right-hand rear glass refusing to lower itself with any regularity.

Those drivers not used to German cars, and in particular BMWs, would probably be somewhat surprised upon sitting in the car at the relative lack of instruments in a car of this price. BMW engineers are quite convinced that the array of instruments provided by Jaguar, for instance, are unnecessary. Instead BMW provide just a rev.-counter, speedometer, clock and water temperature and fuel gauges, plus the usual warning lights. However, the seats and the rest of the interior exude real luxury and the creature comforts are of a very high order. Upholstery is in a form of blue velvet, while the driving position was excellent and, being rather small, I have not found this so in smaller BMWs. It should be recorded that some of the larger members of the staff found the seat belts a little awkward to wear.

The six-cylinder engine gives the car a very large heart and on lifting the forward-hinging bonnet one sees a cam cover bearing a close resemblance to that of the 2-litre engine only longer. The straight-six continues the BMW tradition of a single overhead cam and the crankshaft is supported by seven main bearings. The extra 200 c.c. over the earlier 2800 model has been obtained by simply increasing the bore from 86 mm. to 89 mm. and this gives a claimed increase to 180 very smooth (din) b.h.p, at 6,000 r.p.m. Carburation is provided by two big progressive choke downdraught Zeniths which are hidden under a big air cleaner.

It has always been a BMW policy to let their tremendously well-engineered power units rev hard and thus they do not go in for high gearing à la Citroën or even bother to provide the car with an overdrive. But the 3.0 CS proved that it would cruise for hours on end on the autoroutes of Holland and Belgium close on 6,000 r.p.m. with 120 m.p.h. on the clock, very little noise and minimum of effort. Nevertheless, the engine is completely docile in traffic and in town. The car will rush from rest to 100 m.p.h. in about 23 sec., while the 0-60 m.p.h. figure can be achieved in second gear within 8 sec. The top speed came out at just over 130 m.p.h., while 120 m.p.h. is, as we remarked earlier, a happy cruising speed and, in fact, I personally slept in the car while the chief photographer maintained this speed in Belgium for well over an hour. Fuel consumption is around 21 m.p.g. and oil consumption absolutely nil.

The gearbox is operated from a centrally-mourned stubby lever which fell easily to hand, the change itself was trouble-free and the synchromesh on all gears works perfectly. Like the smaller BMWs, reverse can be engaged if one grabs quickly for first.

Another good characteristic of the car is its fine handling which we were able to explore on the twisty road from our hotel to the Nurburgring. The handling is well up to the power of the car, being fully independent front and rear. Coil springs are used at the front with a system of struts and wishbones and, in fact, there is a system which allows for wheel setting with castor displacement by adjusting the angle of spring strut axis and wheel steering axis in relation to each other. This sounds all very complicated but it certainly works well. At the rear coil springs are used with trailing links and all the suspension is mounted in rubber, which provide extra springing. Double telescopic dampers are used at the front and single at the rear.

The car we tested was fitted with the option of power-assisted steering at an extra cost of just over £100, Which is manufactured by ZF. As in all such systems (except that exceptional one on the NSU Ro 80), this gave a light feel which took some getting used to but once mastered it proved to be of a high standard.

The brakes were perhaps a trifle disappointing having read all the blurb about the all-round ventilated discs. They pulled the car up straight and true but somehow did not have the bite expected, particularly over the last 30-40 yards. Very probably they were out of adjustment or someone had previously glazed the pads. In fact, our colleagues on Motoring News tested a different 3.0 CS and reported the brakes to be tremendous.

Once we got to know the car we found the minor controls to be generally fumble-free. The rather complicated windscreen wiper control necessitated using two separate knobs, one on the end of a stalk and another (which controlled the actual wiper speed) on the central console, but did include a pause control. Incidentally, Tudor Accessories have just put such a device on the market for lesser cars, and we are expecting one for test in the near future. The headlights are twin Hella tungsten-halogens which have an excellent range. The electric windows only move when the ignition is on and we lost count of the number of times we wanted to lower, and particularly raise, them when the ignition was not on. Definitely a minus point, this. Leg room in the rear seats is not vast but is quite adequate, particularly if the passenger has his seat in the forward position.

In this enlightened age of in-car entertainment, as it is now called, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a radio included in the over-£5,000 price tag, while a colleague who likes to be selective about his musical choice was definitely chastened to find no slot stereo. Perhaps we are all being spoilt too much by British Leyland who seem to fit such equipment in some quite mundane road-test cars.

It is difficult to find a car to compare with the 3.0 CS unless one counts other BMWs, including the much less expensive 2800 which retails at £3,347 compared with the 3.0 CS at £5,118. Undoubtedly one has to pay very dearly for the Karmann body. Conversely those who like to buy British and have £5,000 to spend on a motor car may decide that a £2,700 Jaguar XJ6 is a better idea and still have some change to buy the wife a very nice car, too. On the subject one would add that BMW’s record for reliability and dependability is undoubtedly well founded and that any (and particularly this BMW 3.0 CS model) must be considered in the light that it will probably be just as efficient and trouble-free in three years or more.—A. R. M.