The CSL that got away

After finding an original, low-mileage CSL, an enthusiast ponders the thrill of the chase and the agony of loss.

January 13, 2012
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THE EMAIL FROM MARK MCCONNEL WAS SHORT AND CRYPTIC, stating simply that he was looking for a buyer for a ’73 CSL. I dismissed it as pure spam, the sort of thing I get all the time as co-founder of Southern California Vintage BMW. Nonetheless, I told McConnell I’d put the word out if he’d send me the details along with photos and a price range.

A week later, I received a bullet-pointed reply:

—Approximately 37,600 miles on the car. The instrument gauges are European and show 61,660 kilometers.

—Mechanically the car is in great shape. The body looks good except for a few small bubbles under the paint.

—The car was brought over from Germany over 30 years ago and has been in S. California since then.

—Please give me an idea of the value of the car.

He’d attached photos of the BMW in his driveway along with details of the engine and the Karmann Karosserie plate on the door jamb. The VIN indicated a 1973 3.0 CSL built in late 1972, early in CSL production and thus even more unlikely.

I set up a time to check it out, convinced the car was a more commonplace CS or CSi rather than a real CSL with aluminum doors, hood and trunk lid, lighweight windows, Bilstein suspension and a bunch of other high-performance parts meant to homologate the car for racing. In the vintage car world, when something sounds too good to be true it’s because it is completely untrue.

When I arrived at McConnell’s house in Temecula, sure enough there was a Verona Red E9 coupe sitting in the driveway. It had the black CSL stripes, but a lot of E9s have those just for the look. It also had Alpina-style wheels that a closer inspection revealed as real Alpina wheels, just like the ones on a CSL.

McConnell told me that the car had belonged to his father-in-law, Don Corbin. A co-founder of Corbin Yamafuji Architects, Corbin had imported the CSL from Germany in the 1980s along with another Verona Red CSL and an M1. After driving it for some years, Corbin had parked it for a few more before giving it to his granddaughter, McConnell’s daughter, who was then 16 and had little interest in it.

By this time, I was barely listening, my concentration absorbed by the car’s striped corduroy Scheel bucket seats, CSL-correct and with no visible wear.

This was a real CSL, I suddely realized, feeling a bit like Hiram Bingham stumbling upon Machu Picchu back in 1911.

I had entered the Barn Find Zone.

Also from Issue 105

  • First Drive: F30 3 Series
  • Interview: New BMW NA CEO Ludwig Willisch
  • Market Update: E90 3 Series
  • History of Munich up to F30 3 Series
  • Choosing and buying new tires
  • E82 1 M Coupe: Kelleners Sport KS1-S
  • E30 3 Series-based Alpina C2
  • 150th Climb to the Clouds: Mt. Washington
  • Paying homage to the E30 M3
  • Synergies between M and Motorsport
  • News about BMW Motorsports
  • Six cylinders: BMW K1600GTL motorcycle
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