A Batmobile for Bobby

One of the legendary—and rare—3.2-liter “Batmobile” CSLs was recently delivered to a racing legend in his own right, Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who let us drive it before he’d taken the helm himself. Fortunately, we brought it back in one piece…and now

December 14, 2012
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It isn’t every day that you get to drive a CSL, much less a genuine “Batmobile,” but here I am, ready to drive one of just 110 such cars built by BMW Motorsport GmbH in 1973 with a 3.2-liter engine and a raft of aerodynamic appendages stashed in the trunk. A homologation special, this CSL was a street-legal race car built to do battle against an army of Porsches at Le Mans and the Nürburgring.

As I put this impressive vehicle into gear, I pray to the gods of motoring to—please!!!—let me avoid any embarrassing incidents (specifically those that would cost a fortune to repair, whether the car or my reputation). Not only is this CSL rare, it’s also been freshly restored for its new owner, 1986 Indy 500 winner and BMW Team RLL principal Bobby Rahal.

The gods seem to listen to my pleas, the “Bat” goes smoothly into motion and by the time I’m in second gear it already feels like this CSL and I are old friends.

What’s even more astounding is that the car I’m sitting in still takes your breath away. It may be 40 years old, but its racing heritage comes through strongly around every corner of this isolated Southern California road. The Batmobile eats up the turns like it’s coming off an extended fast, and the moderate understeer, infamous in its time, is easily corrected by adding a tad more throttle to let the rear come over just so.

The 3.2-liter M30 six has plenty of power, and I mean plenty! It’s smooth and strong, revving willingly past 5,000 rpm in a way that belies its age. And even though some modern engines have more than twice as much torque, the powerful inline six rockets the CSL forward with a lusty roar and squealing tires. It surprises me to learn that the fuel-injected “big six” was rebuilt by Beyer Motor Work of Chandler, Arizona to its original specification, which means a fairly modest 210 lb-ft (at 4,200 rpm) to match its 206 horsepower (at 5,600 rpm).

Of course, the secret to this car’s performance isn’t power but weight—specifically that there’s not much of it. From the factory, a 3.0 CSL weighed 2,568 lbs., or about 440 less than an equivalent CS. The larger engine means this 3.2 weighs a few pounds more, but it still feels really light thanks to doors, hood and trunk lid made of aluminum, plus further weight reductions through the use of thinner steel for the body as well as minimized trim and soundproofing. The overall effect makes fast driving feel more like ballroom dancing than wrestling, which is often the case in a heavier car of this vintage.

Also from Issue 112

  • James Bond's BMWs: Z3, Z8, 750iL, R1200C
  • M5 vs. M6 vs. Alpina B7 at Laguna Seca
  • Willisch on making of M5, M6
  • BMW's new 3-cylinder engine
  • Buyer's Guide: $25,000 BMWs
  • Peter Nam's 1 Series M Coupe
  • E3, E23, E32, E38 7 Series comparison
  • BavAuto Show&Shine
  • E3 BMW Bertone Spicup concept
  • BMW wins 3 DTM titles
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