In a chaotic little shop in the uninspiring suburb of Duarte, California, east of Los Angeles, sits one of the most legendary BMW race cars in the history of the Mothership. The Martini CSL Batmobile is freshly restored and ready for the track, beginning the latest chapter in a story whose cast of characters is nearly as colorful as the green-and-white livery that signals this car’s Nürburgring origins.
In order of appearance, our cast includes:
–Willi Martini, the “Meister” himself. Born in 1925 in Adenau, Germany, home of the Nürburgring, Martini started building airplanes at Heinkel while he was still a teenager. After World War II, he joined Veritas, the race car company run by ex-BMW men. Veritas’ Nürburgring shop eventually became his, and Martini used it to build everything from Formula Juniors to Porsche 911s and more than a few BMWs.
–Martini’s sons, Michael and Oliver. Michael raced his dad’s cars and later became a BMW test driver as well as the first pilot of the ’Ring Taxi. Both Martini brothers were instrumental in getting this car restored, supplying important and detailed information about its history and that of the Martini Renngemeinschaft, or racing company. And which, by the way, should never be confused with the Italian vermouth distillery that sponsors the Martini Racing F1, rally and sports car teams.
–Jimmy Baker, the “Stocking King of Fort Payne, Alabama.” The longtime BMW enthusiast stumbled upon the Martini Batmobile on an Amsterdam used-car lot that specialized in vintage cars.
–Bill Kincaid, the co-inventor of Apple’s iTunes and an avid vintage racer. Kincaid bought the Martini Bat from Baker, intending to restore it to its former glory.
–Ron Perry, enlisted by Kincaid to organize the car’s restoration. Bimmer readers know Perry well by now, and many will remember the Batmobile he restored for racing legend Bobby Rahal a few years ago.
–Art Simonds, one of the founding members of BMW Motorsport. In the early 1970s, Simonds helped design the revolutionary aerodynamic components on BMW’s factory race cars before returning to California in 1974. Simonds came out of retirement to build replicas of the original aerodynamic parts and put them back where they belonged.
Prologue: Willi Martini builds his last Batmobile
Let us start at the beginning, with Willi Martini himself. In 1958, after a stint at BMW in Munich, he returned to Adenau and took over the former Veritas race shop behind the grandstands at the Nürburgring. Martini started off by building Formula Juniors for Wolfgang von Trips, and his pioneering work in fiberglass served him well when he began building racing versions of the humble BMW 700 in 1965. Along with helping
to save BMW from bankruptcy, the Mothership’s Einstiegsmodell turned out to be a surprisingly capable basis for a race car, especially after Martini bumped horsepower from 40 to 52 and fitted it with an aerodynamic fiberglass body.
When 700 production ended in 1965, Martini moved on to cars based on the Neue Klasse sedans, and he expanded his operation with a new dealership in Adenau. The Nürburgring location allowed his Renngemeinschaft to have a close relationship with BMW in the days before BMW Motorsport was founded in 1972.
Despite his long history with the marque, Martini’s tiny team was gradually overtaken by bigger outfits like Alpina—which had developed the CSL for BMW in 1971—Schnitzer and eventually BMW’s own Motorsport division. In 1982, Martini sold his race shop to BMW outright, with his dealership being absorbed into the Mothership nine years later.
“Sadly, Martini never was able to make a name for himself in the U.S.,” says Kincaid, “but in Europe he’s still a legend.”
The Martini legend was well established by the time his team started racing the E9 CSL in 1972. Starting with a new Polaris Silver E9, Martini built a Group 1-spec race car that was soon supplanted by a more heavily modified car in Group 2 specification. That allowed Martini to fit big wings and dramatic fender flares, which were painted in bright green to contrast with the car’s Alpine White body. The car was also painted with a map of its home track, the Nürburgring, which became a Martini signature.
“My father’s shop was situated right on the track, which explains his love for the Nordschleife,” Willi’s son Oliver told Bimmer. “Racing there also had logistical reasons: We didn’t need to transport the cars, we didn’t need to rent pits, no need for catering or hotels for the pit crew and so forth. At the time, my father’s company was called ‘Martini am Ring,’ so it was the perfect advertising vehicle for everything that happened on the Nürburgring.”
It also helped that Martini’s cars were fast. Indeed, the white-green machines came to dominate long-distance races on the Nordschleife. The team raced primarily in the VLN, but it also entered the European Tourenwagen Championship races held on its home track. In 1978, the Martini CSL placed third overall and won its class in the four-hour Grand Prix of the Nürburgring.
Act I: Martini builds his last CSL
As well as its own cars, Martini built race cars for customers. One was Dr. Bruno Demuth, who purchased an early production 3.0 CSL from Autohaus Martini and had the team modify it in stages for racing. As Willi’s son Michael recalls, the car was first given fender flares and wider wheels, then the motor was tuned with parts from Schnitzer. Later, the car got a larger-capacity fuel cell, a racing gearbox and a roll cage.
“As far as I remember, however, Dr. Demuth never raced the car,” Michael told Bimmer.
In 1977 or 1978, Michael says, Demuth sold the car back to Autohaus Martini. It was still street legal even with the racing parts, but over the winter of 1978-’79 Martini decided to build it into a full-on Group 2 race car. Retiring their old CSL from active service, they stamped the ex-Demuth car with Martini’s own chassis number, 001/79, indicating that it was the team’s first race car for the 1979 season.
On April 5, 1979, it was formally homologated by the grandly named Supreme National Sports Commission for Automotive Sport in Germany [Oberste Nationale Sportkommission für den Automobilesport in Deutschland GmbH] and issued with a Wagenpass for Group 2 competition. Its owner was Willi Martini, 5489 Nürburgring.
Interestingly, its Wagenpass doesn’t acknowledge its origins as a street car but lists its model year as 1978 and its chassis number only as “BMW 001/79.” It also lists the engine displacement as 3,151.5cc from a bore x stroke of 89.25 × 84mm, the same dimensions used by the factory in the 3.2-liter CSL engines. Its weight was listed as a svelte 1,082 kg, or 2,336 lbs.
According to its Wagenpass, into which each of the car’s race entries were recorded, 001/79 was entered in 13 races in 1979. Driven by Michael Martini and Heinz Becker, with other drivers joining them for the longer races, it won five events that year: the ADAC Bilstein Cup 600-km race on June 9, the ADAC Reinoldus Race on August 4, the DMV/RCM Grenzland race on August 18, the ADAC Barbarossa Prize 4.5-hour race on September 1 and the DMV 250-mile race on October 20.
In its last race of the season, the Münsterland Cup on October 27, Michael Martini and Heinz Becker swapped their CSL for the 2002 normally driven by their teammates Hans Weisgerber and Richard Bremekamp. Since the 2002 class had more participants, Martini and Becker stood to earn more points for a top finish, points they hoped would vault them to the endurance racing title. That plan failed, and worse, the Martini CSL (driven by Weisberger and Bremenkamp) was involved in a first-lap accident at the South Hairpin and DNF’d, badly damaged.
With its homologation set to expire at the end of the year, the Martini team had to make a decision: What to do with 001/79?
Act II: Death and transfiguration
“There was at the time discussion of allowing vehicles with an expired homologation to continue to race in the Long Distance Cup in a new class under Group 5 rules,” wrote Michael Martini to a Mr. Steinbrink, the car’s subsequent owner, in 2003. “We could use wider wheels and lighten the car, but the disadvantage was that we couldn’t race anymore with the old Group 2 bodywork. Since we had to repair the collision damage anyway, we saw this as an opportunity to continue with the coupe and install Group 5 bodywork.
“In the midst of this work, we got the news that we could not participate in the endurance championship with this vehicle after all. We stopped working on the coupe after mounting the Group 5 fenders. This body was stored until you bought it from my father.”
The old Group 2 fenders and aero parts went onto a new 535i, but Michael says the team “was never able to build on the success of our coupe” with that car. Perhaps not to his standards, but said 535i is still holding its own in European vintage races, driven by its current owner, Patrick Mortier. (Coincidentally, Mortier has offered it for sale to Bill Kincaid.)
In any case, the CSL then languished in a corner of the Martini shop until Steinbrink bought it and converted it to a street car.
And then, about ten years ago, Alabama stocking manufacturer and BMW enthusiast Jimmy Baker found the shell of 001/79 at a vintage car dealer in Amsterdam.
“It was a strange car somehow,” Mr. Baker says. “It had the peculiar VIN number and the original logbook but it was converted to a street-legal car with new and different livery. It had the Group 5 fenders and the dash had been removed and replaced with some kind of a production version. It was a clean car, but it had all the wrong parts on it. I know that the previous owner had showcased it on the Nürburgring once for a couple of laps but never really raced it.”
Hardly believing his luck, Baker brought the car home to the U.S., but like Martini and Steinbrink he then let it sit for a couple of years. In the meantime, he bought yet another BMW to be restored, which took his attention from the Martini CSL.
“I had imported a lot of BMWs from Europe in those days,” Baker remembers. “Among them were quite a few CSLs. Bill Kincaid had heard about me and my BMWs and he initially wanted to buy a specific one of my CSLs. I said, ‘Sorry, Bill, but I sold that one already.’ So we talked and I told him about that other CSL, the ex-Martini racecar that was sitting in my garage. ‘It comes with the European racing logbook,’ I told him, ‘with all the stamps of all the races and all the proper entries.’ And I guess he liked that.”
Act III: Rebirth in California
Kincaid did indeed like that, and the deal was sealed. With that, 001/79 made the trek to Palo Alto, California.
“Basically, what I bought was a shell and that logbook,” remembers Kincaid. “My enthusiasm for the project perhaps clouded my judgment a bit, for despite being in very sound condition the car needed absolutely everything! To turn the shell back into a race car, at least on the terms to which I was committed, using only vintage and period correct parts and with painstaking attention to its history, was an undertaking I frankly underestimated.“
That doesn’t mean that Kincaid was some green newcomer with too much hope and money on his hands. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I had raced cars for fun for about twenty years, and at one time I decided to retire from it,” he says. “But what do you do when you’re not racing?”
Well, you could always pursue your dream cars…
“My father’s friend had a CSL when I was a kid growing up in Puerto Rico,” Kincaid recalls. “It was Polaris Silver, and I thought it was the prettiest car I’d ever seen.”
Since retiring from racing, Kincaid has always owned at least one CSL, and he’s restored a few of them with Ron Perry, including the CSL for Rahal.
The Martini CSL was one of the most exciting cars they’d get to work on, but perhaps it was just too daunting. Instead of being stripped for restoration, it sat in a dark corner of Ron’s shop for about three years before Kincaid decided it was time to get serious.
In the interim, he’d been reading up on the history of the CSLs and European touring car racing, consulting experts like author Wolfgang Thierack, poring over old photos and scouring Europe for parts. In the U.K., he found Alpina coilovers and the rare slide throttle intake, while Germany yielded the Getrag four-speed gearbox, a Sachs racing clutch and rear axle, all FIA-conforming. And in Italy, he found a complete, period original M52 race engine, a 3.3-liter six-cylinder that produced about 280 horses in full race trim.
“The block, the head, the crankshaft, the cam, the headers, the slide throttle and oil pump, the crankshaft, even the injection pump and the oil pan…all the Group 2 parts from the ’70s,” he smiles. “I have virtually memorized FIA Homologation Document 1648!”
The car was stripped to bare metal and documented, a process Kincaid said “turned up lots of evidence in support of its history.” With the patience of a paleontologist, Kincaid compared parts numbers and old photographs with what he found underneath the layers of paint. His attempts to make sure the CSL would be exactly as it had left Martini’s shop for its first race on the ’Ring led Perry to nickname him “The Excavator.”
The biggest challenge was in reconstructing this CSL’s Group 2 bodywork. It had to be done just right, so Perry and Kincaid turned to one of the few fabricators with the experience to get it done: Art Simonds, who’d been part of the team that designed and fabricated the aerodynamics for the first Batmobile CSLs raced by BMW Motorsport in the early 1970s.
Simonds was retired, and he initially said no to the fabrication job while offering to consult on the project instead. He admired Kincaid’s passion for legitimacy, however, and he’d also been the one who had brought the car to Kincaid’s attention in the first place, back when it was still owned by Jimmy Baker in Alabama.
Eventually, Simonds relented, and he began recreating the Martini’s flares in a body shop near Sacramento, California, working from photographs sourced by Kincaid.
“We blew up the old photographs until we could count the number of screws they had used and locate the exact same position on the body,” Simonds says. “Bill’s historical precision is unbelievable.”
Back in Duarte, the Group 5 bodywork was removed from the 001/79 shell and stored for use on some future project. Under Simonds’ guidance, new front fenders were welded in to carry the Group 2 flares. Period Lockheed front brake calipers were rebuilt along with period-correct Ate rears. It took Kincaid forever to find the right Kugelfischer injection pump, but find it he did. The trunk now holds a vintage endurance racing fuel tank with a modern fuel cell hidden inside, plus an oil tank for the dry sump engine and another for the rear axle, the latter fluid circulated by a period pump driven off the axle shaft.
In the cockpit, the dash has been rebuilt to its original form, with the correct instrument cluster. Kincaid even managed to find a vintage label maker from the ’70s to print the markers for the gauges…in German.
Epilogue: Time to go racing!
By the summer of 2016, the revived 001/79 was finally ready for its close-up.
Kincaid wanted to bring his Martini CSL to the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, and the work became frenzied as the deadline approached. All of the delays that are inherent in restoring old cars seemed to happen at the most inopportune time, Perry says. Parts like the connector between clutch and transmission weren’t fitting properly. The rear window installation took longer than planned. The engine wasn’t quite ready to run in anger, so the final sorting-out would be done on the track at Laguna Seca.
Before it went into the trailer, we spent a good long time just looking at one of the most intriguing cars ever to have raced at the Nürburgring, restored to period-correct glory. It still looks extraordinary, even standing still, a strange mixture of brute force and almost ethereal beauty. The gigantic wing in the back, the oversized fenders straining to cover those huge tires, the 345/35-15s in the back, 235/40-15s in front…utterly captivating.
Given the chance to get behind the wheel, I fire up the engine and hear the Martini Bat roar to life with throaty abandon, a sound that must have woken up the entire town of Duarte. It’s a sharp, barking bellow that rattles your vertebrae and sends big dogs scurrying to hide in corners. At higher revs, it changes from an aggressive rumble into a shrieking banshee howl. The sound is almost painful, but sometimes pain can be fun.
Grown men emerge from garages and workshops to stare at the thing that made their workbenches quiver. Smartphones pop as I maneuver the car into position for photos. To turn those enormous front wheels takes all the strength I can muster, and by the time I drive maybe sixty feet I’m bathed in sweat. Michael Martini must have been one fit dude.
The clutch is one of those old-fashioned German race clutches that has zero “spiel” and embarrasses you by thwarting every attempt to get the monster rolling. At some point, I remember the racing clutches of my younger days, when you couldn’t just “let her come,” when you didn’t have electronic launch control but had to rely on the seat of your pants, the feeling in both of your feet, and your guts. To drive this car around the Nordschleife—for hours!—you had to have been crazy and courageous, and probably deaf, as well.
Oh, how I would love to drive this thing over the Schwedenkreuz!
As Perry says, this car is special, carrying with it the story of Willi Martini—who died in 2001 at the age of 76—and his vital contribution to the history of BMW.
The Martini Renngemeinschaft never had much money, even in its heyday. Without it, Martini was forced to improvise, and he did so more adventurously than most. Yet because Martini’s success was limited almost exclusively to the Nürburgring, his team never received the widespread recognition afforded an Alpina or a Schnitzer. (Not surprisingly, the Martini family remains involved with the track to this day, Michael driving the ’Ring Taxi for more than 15 years and Oliver working as a race announcer.)
Martini remained an Adenauer legend, never really making it across the Atlantic.
“The car belongs in Europe,” says Kincaid. “It really has no history in the U.S. One day, I would just love to bring it to Spa, say, or the Nürburgring. Wouldn’t that be fun?”
Indeed it would.
Cars like this should be driven, Simonds says, mounting the enormous rear wing to the trunk.
“And Bill’s gonna drive it.”