From Beautiful to Badass: the Story of BMW’s E9 Coupés

Photo by Bengt Kolnes on Instagram.

BMW’s E9 generation of coupés are probably the finest examples of automotive design ever to leave Munich’s doors. They represent a clear high water mark in the history of not just German automobiles, but cars in general; not to mention human accomplishment and the success of evolution as a whole. What’s even more commendable is that the E9 Coupés managed to become even more desirable with each revision and facelift, unlike so many other design greats, such as the Jaguar E-Type for example.

Photo by Bengt Kolnes on Instagram

Bavarian Motor Works kicked things off with the introduction of their new flagship coupé, the 2800 CS in 1968. Replacing the 2000 CS, upgrades over its predecessor were numerous; the engine gained an extra two cylinders and an almost 50% increase in horsepower, giving the 2.8L straight-six 170 reasons to put your foot down. The wheelbase had to be lengthened to accommodate that new engine, improving high-speed stability. The new car was also lighter than the 2000 CS, further adding to the performance improvements. BMW also introduced their now iconic twin headlights, however, the one thing they kept was the gorgeous rear of the 2000 CS, letting everyone know that the guys in Munich clearly appreciate a good bottom. In the years leading up to the 2800 CS’s release Mercedes had overtaken BMW in the luxury car market, and with the creation of this irresponsibly gorgeous straight-six pillarless coupé, it was clear they intended for things to change.

Focused on continuous improvement, in 1971 BMW replaced the 2800 CS with the 3.0 CS and 3.0 CSi. The new cars featured bored-out versions of the M30 engine used in the 2800 CS, increasing engine capacity to 3 litres. The CS had 180 horsepower, while the CSi, which benefited from higher compression and fuel injection, had 200 ponies to play with. Thankfully the looks remained the same, allowing the world to continue to gawp at that beautiful metal.

Photo by Bengt Kolnes on Instagram

Up until this point the E9 generation coupés had seen relatively little change, with only minor mechanical and visual enhancements being made, that is in comparison to what happened in 1972 with the introduction of the batshit (pun intended) 3.0 CSL. If you want to understand what a Pavlovian response is, say the words homologation special to a car enthusiast and watch them become visibly aroused, and that’s just what the CSL was. In most cases L denotes long wheelbase for BMWs, however here it stands for Leichtbau, that’s ‘lightweight’ to us non-Germans. Weight reduction was extensive; the Bavarian brainiacs over at BMW used thinner steel for the main body shell, perspex for the windows, and aluminium alloy for the doors, bonnet, and boot lid, finally they deleted a lot of trim and all of the soundproofing. This added up to a kerb-weight that was lighter by 136kgs, or roughly half an Amy Schumer.  As if they hadn’t done enough, those lunatics in Munich bored out the cylinders yet again to give a staggering 7cc increase in capacity (done to allow the CSL to compete in the “over three-litre” racing category).

1973 saw the pinnacle of the CSL’s evolution, with an even further increase in engine capacity to 3.2 litres and the addition of one of the raddest aerodynamic packages of all time, featuring a monolithic air dam, short fins running along the front fenders, a visually excellent roof spoiler, and a tall rear wing because it’s a RACE CAR. It gave the car so much presence and aggression that it earned itself a nickname so awesome that it would make every 10-year-old do a little wee with excitement for years to come. The Batmobile was born. To lend credibility to its badass nickname, a 3.0 CSL won the 1973 European Touring Car Championship, it’s class at Le Mans in 1973, and the European Touring Car Championship every year from 1975 to 1979; talk about domination.


To add a final feather to it’s cap, and to needlessly reaffirm how beautiful the 3.0 CSL is, in 1975 it became the canvas for Alexander Calder and Frank Stella to create to the first two BMW Art Cars, a fitting way to immortalise one of the most iconic coupés ever to grace this planet’s tarmac.

Alexander Calder’s Batmobile
Frank Stella’s Batmobile