When AC Schnitzer unveiled the E36 M3-based ACS3 CLS at the 1993 Frankfurt motor show, enthusiasts went wild for this 320-hp hot rod with carbon fiber bodywork that shaved 282 lbs. from the M3’s curb weight. Version 2 was even better, with 350 hp and a whopping 297-lb. weight reduction that allowed it to lap the Nürburging Nordschleife in under 7 minutes and 42 seconds. AC Schnitzer built just 16 copies of the CLS and two of the CLS 2, and that was it for the cars that had generated so much positive notice.
Until now, that is: At the Geneva show in March 2016, AC Schnitzer revived the CLS concept with a new ACL 2, this one based not on the M3 or M4 but on the M235i whose dimensions and output so closely resemble those of the E36 M3 from two decades earlier.
Technically, things have moved on considerably in the intervening years. While the smooth, free-revving straight-six engine remains dear to BMW, the need to meet increasingly tight emissions and fuel economy standards has resulted in the adoption of turbocharging across the board. At the same time, the need to contain costs has led to the use of modular construction and widespread component sharing.
The similarity of the basic N55 and S55 motors used in the M235i and M3/M4, respectively, meant that swapping one for the other would be relatively straightforward. AC Schnitzer also undertook the more challenging task of fitting M4 front and rear axles, widening the car by 70mm on each side. BMW did roughly the same in making the M2, but the baby M car was still months away from the showrooms when the ACL2 project was under development.
Inner and outer metalwork revisions were required to make everything fit, along with hand-fabricated new fenders. The bespoke carbon fiber bodywork consists of a new hood with air vents, door mirrors, front spoiler splitter and side dive planes, fender extensions, rear diffuser and the big rear wing with Gurney flap. The front and rear bumpers and side skirts are made from OE-grade PU-RIM polyurethane.
Alloy struts position the carbon fiber rear wing up in the airstream 250mm clear of the trunk lid, where it’s both aerodynamically effective and doesn’t impede rear view too badly. In the wind tunnel, the factory M235i has an aerodynamic lift of 15 kg over its front axle and 32 kg over its rear axle at 125 mph. The ACL2’s aerodynamic aids more than counter this, producing 15 kg and 38 kg of positive downforce over the front and rear axles, respectively.
As with all AC Schnitzer show cars, the cabin of the ACL2 is designed to complement its distinctive bodywork. It’s lightweight luxury, dominated by a pair of figure-hugging and exquisitely trimmed bucket seats. Although the low weight theme requires the removal of all superfluous equipment, including the rear seat, the black and green Nappa leather/Alcantara interior is second to none. The trademark AC Schnitzer Blackline aluminum gear-lever/knob and handbrake lever are present, as are the alloy pedal set and embroidered floor mats.