“This model is not earmarked for production,” says Adrian van Hooydonk, grandmaster of the group’s drawing board, about the CSL Hommage, his latest creation.
“For now at least, it’s only a design exercise,” confirms the brand’s chief designer, Karim Habib, before adding with a broad smile, “But of course we would be delighted to take it to the next level.”
Another company spokesperson comments, “Don’t expect styling elements of the CSL Hommage to reappear on future BMW products. This is purely a concept, albeit a very exciting one.”
Will the suits ever learn? Here we are, on our knees, admiring yet another amazing design study that takes everyone’s breath away — and once again the company behind it fails to recognize its potential, to draw up a business case, and run it through a couple of customer clinics. Public opinion is the only way to make the bureaucrats change their minds. So please allow us to whet your appetite by taking the near full-size two-seater around the block, literally speaking: The only location where we could drive the unregistered, hand-built canary yellow coupe were the private grounds of Villa Erba, next door to Villa d’Este where the annual concorso was held in late May.
Like almost all BMW concepts, Hommage Mk III is a runner. True, the turning circle is seriously curbed by the fat 21-inch tires (265/35 front and 325/30 rear), and the speed is — eight hours before the official unveil — limited by hand signals to what chief minder Wolfgang Sauer and his team deem acceptable. Despite these restrictions, the first encounter with the stunning reinvented “Batmobile” deserves 10 out of 10 points on my personal show-car hit scale.
The doors open wide and the cabin is unexpectedly spacious, but sliding down into the cockpit requires extra care because the solid-looking carbon-fiber sills are actually wafer thin and the seat frame is made of fragile small-diameter aluminum tubes. You sit quite low in a not-too-narrow tunnel clad with dark manmade materials. Alloy-capped pedals as well as plenty of bright yellow stitching and piping offset the predominantly black environment. The shiny steering wheel is an intriguing mix of a race-car helm and motorcycle handlebars. Armed with numerous (nonfunctional) controls, the assembly protrudes from the dashboard on a delta-wing panel; it ends so close to the driver’s chest that you must angle your arms like a DTM racer.
When the straight-six fires, air on the passenger side blurs as the unilateral sidepipe tattoos the pavement with the firing order of the triple-charger 3.0-liter engine mounted close to the bulkhead. It’s a totally addictive noise: rough, impatient, vibrant, and loud. Very loud. Idle speed sounds like racetrack pit-lane traffic, only without the speed limiter. Part-throttle sounds like quick lappers driving through the Nurburgring’s Adenau section. I’m hopelessly hooked after the very first fix.
The car is badged CSL, but the interior is all but retro. The fingertip controls were inspired by avionics and motor racing, and the anodized red fire-extinguishing system and two helmets stowed behind the seats shout competition mode. Seats are slim-fit carbon-fiber buckets with fixed backrests, while the headliner-cum-roof skin is a naked lightweight structure. The main information cluster consists of a relatively small multi-functional monitor that straddles the steering column’s bottom end and indicates speed, revs, gear, and shift recommendation. A rectangular e-boost readout sits in the center of a wraparound wooden panel and the still absent head-up display. The rear window distorts like a bottle of fine Bordeaux, the door mirrors are tiny cameras mounted on low-drag, chrome arms, and the blurred view through the inside mirror is sliced in half by what must be one of the most remarkable drag-cutting devices ever conceived by an automotive designer. “We call the four fully integrated lateral elements wrapover wings,” says Habib. “They make the car more slippery, reduce lift, and look good. I’m particularly proud of the LED taillights-in-wing assembly, which frames the rear end like a bright red ribbon.”
The CSL Hommage harks back to BMW’s E9, better known as 2.5CS to 3.2CSL. Developed in cooperation with Alpina, the high-performance coupe attained instant cult status when BMW launched it in 1971. It won the European Touring Car championship almost straight away, and four years in a row. There were three different versions of the breed: the carb-fed 180 horsepower Mk I model (1971-’72, 169 units), the fuel-injected 200-hp Mk II edition (1972-’73, 929 units), and the 206-hp “Batmobile” (1973-’75, 167 units). At 2,568 pounds, the lightweight cars undercut the gentlemanly CS/CSi by 441 pounds.
The 2015 Hommage was modeled after the most extreme CSL, which combined plenty of extra lips and ducts with more wings than a Tiger Moth. Celebrating the original, the Hommage features details such as black longitudinal splitters that ride on top of the front wings; a low-flying nasal air dam that eats gravel for breakfast, lunch and dinner; flared wheel arches; and the pair of rear spoilers — one trailing the roof and masking the window partially, the other bolted onto the decklid. Neatly integrated air curtains and air breathers complete the list of wind-tunnel conceived addenda.
Out of the five available period-correct colors, BMW’s designers picked golf yellow, probably the most eye-catching shade. Also part of the package are full-length black rally stripes, circular air intakes in the front bumper, a wraparound chrome strip also known as the waterline, and two roundels at the base of the C-pillar just aft of the ubiquitous Hofmeiser kink. The CSL Hommage fuses modern architecture with striking proportions and a nicely balanced stance. It features the 4 Series coupe’s running gear, a stock eight-speed automatic transmission, large Brembo brakes and, of course, the straight-six engine. There is no word on power and torque, but with two turbochargers and one e-boost device, 500 hp or more should be a realistic number. The two energy reservoirs the e-charger communicates with sit under eye-catching covers on top of the rear axle where lesser coupes would accommodate second-row seats. Also only visible from behind is an asymmetrical V-shaped reinforcement element that supports the roof from the parcel shelf.
Although our pace is slow to protect the virginal paintwork and the vulnerable duotone wheels, this first outing is an emotional and unexpectedly involving experience. One stab at the throttle is all it takes to make this beast growl and leap forward and to push Herr Sauer to the brink of a heart attack. When you lift off, first gear lazily passes a portion of torque on to second gear, slurping up a notch and then sucking down a notch during the inevitable downshift that follows. What little action there is feels mechanical, pure, and very promising. The steering boasts stiff directness, the brakes perform with chafing promptness, and the suspension barely moves. After all, the Hommage rides so low that mice would have to duck to avoid the yellow fuselage. The more time you spend in this car, the more details you recognize. In line with the 1973 model, the Hommage’s cabin features black leather and carbon fiber, contrasting brightwork and wooden accents. Even the inner door opening mechanism, which consists of a simple nylon loop positioned next to the armrest, harks back to the ’70s. The single-arm windshield wiper, centrally mounted, rests in an upright position just like on the trackmobile. Headlamp lenses are marked by cross-shaped blue LED strips inspired by the black protection tape stuck on period endurance racers.
After about an hour of nonstop action photography, the CSL slowly begins to dispense its very own Eau Mechanique. A trained nose deciphers different scents like fresh paint and polish, tire blackener, rubber and glue, unspecific lubricants, and even a whiff of brakepad dust. There is no doubt about it: This car wants to be an elegant and dynamic metamorphosis of a classic BMW, not a de-contented, no-frills follow-up to the thunderbolt wide-body touring car in green Gösser livery that used to scare Capris and Carreras with Dieter Quester, Hans-Joachim Stuck, and Niki Lauda at the wheel. More than 40 years later, we immediately fall in love with this semi-retro work of art conceived by Joji Nagashima (exterior) — a BMW veteran hired in 1988 — Doeke de Walle (interior), and Patrick McCormack (color and trim), to name only three of the eight designers involved in the project. Flaws? There is nothing seriously wrong with the shape of this crowd-stopper, except maybe for the must-have kidney grille up front that looks a little too bright and tall for a sports car, and the multi-spoke wheels, which are 100 percent bling and zero percent CSL.
“There is so much else that needs addressing — autonomous driving, CO2, connectivity, you name it,” he argues. “We don’t know yet to which extent these new priorities may dent the demand for the proverbial ‘ultimate driving machine.’ The Hommage cars make sure that old-fashioned excitement is alive and kicking. And don’t worry: We have more than enough ideas for the next three or four iterations … ”
Fantastic — but please build one for the real world.