The Fab Five

The histories of BMW’s five IMSA-specification CSLs can resemble a tangled web, but new information has allowed us to clarify the role of each car in building BMW’s early reputation as the Ultimate Driving Machine in North America.

December 1, 2016
The Fab Five 1

History, they say, is written by the winners. Certainly this has been largely true with respect to world conflict, but the same doesn’t necessarily apply to automotive history. For various reasons, the histories of individual cars tend to be confused or embellished, especially when the car in question is one of high value or importance. Ultimately, though, it all gets sorted out. It may take decades, but eventually the right people come forward with verifiable information that resolves conflicts or fills a gap in the timeline.

Race cars present an even more daunting challenge to the historian, because they’re routinely modified and developed from race to race during their active careers. Furthermore, the teams that race these cars typically view them as expendable tools in the quest for victories.

As the person currently in charge of the BMWUSA Classic collection, which includes several race cars, it has been my task to retire our active race cars into the collection in the livery, configuration and level of technical development that represents the most important time in their short racing careers. I’m also responsible for documenting that history so that my successors 40 to 50 years from now will know exactly what each of these cars achieved.

Archiving the history of a race car is much easier today than it was a few decades ago. We now have robust, easily stored, searchable electronic files rather than paper documents, including thousands of digital photos and videos, that can chronicle the entire history of each car. In 1975, when the IMSA CSLs we’ll be looking at here were new, notes were often hand-written, photography was expensive and required a fair amount of skill and video cameras were just starting to be available to consumers. Scant resources are available to piece together the individual histories of these five nearly identical-looking race cars, resulting in much confusion over the years and making the task of correcting that history a daunting one.

History: It’s a work in progress

This magazine has a strong track record of researching and documenting the history of significant BMW street and race automobiles, including the IMSA CSLs we’re revisiting here. In Bimmer #31 back in December 2002, David Katz authored the most plausible documentation of the history of the five cars that were thought to have raced the IMSA Camel GT series in the U.S. during the first year that BMW of North America was incorporated. Katz conducted extensive interviews with just about everyone he could find who’d been involved with that program, but the information he was able to obtain remained incomplete…and some of it was incorrect.

Recently, we discovered new information that refutes some of what was written in that article, and which allowed us to solve a few of the mysteries that surrounded the cars at the time. We still don’t have the complete histories of these important cars, but their early histories are now much clearer.

Also from Issue 144

  • Dirk de Groen's 1937 328
  • 2017 M2 vs. 1973 2002 Turbo
  • 2017 M Performance M2 road & track test
  • Concepts: Four Vision Next 100s
  • Buyer’s Guide: AWD E9X, X5, X3
  • Concepts: M3 specials
  • Marc Norris' E46 M3 Touring
  • Darin Stephenson's 1988 E28 535is
  • Sam Moultrie's 1976 Schnitzer 2002 Group 5
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