The BMW E46 M3 CSL is, many would argue, a manual gearbox away from M car perfection. Although cutting edge at the time, the SMG II transmission the CSL left the factory with is noticeably slower and less consistent than a modern dual-clutch automatic, and not as engaging as stick shift.
For all its focus, it seems a shame BMW never at least offered a manual option. One owner seems to have agreed and taken matters into his own hands.
The most recent keeper of the example enlisted Darragh Doyle of Everything M3s to give it the manual shift action we all think the CSL deserves. Handily, this didn’t involve transplanting a whole new gearbox.
The SMG transmission is as a ‘robotised manual’ rather than a true automatic, meaning it’s possible to ditch the hydraulic pump, the hydraulic clutch actuator and all the electric gubbins that make the shift happen, then replace with the parts necessary for a manual cog change. To sweeten the conversion even further, Doyle also changed the final drive ratio from 3.62:1 to 4.1:1.
The limited-slip differential has also been rebuilt with a revised ratio, but other than that, nothing has been fiddled with. But why would you need to? BMW really went to town on the CSL. Power increased over the standard M3 thanks to a rebuilt top end for the S54 inline-six and a carbon fibre intake manifold, while the weight dramatically dropped by 110kg.
This was thanks to a variety of measures including the ditching of most luxuries (some of which could be optioned back in for free) and much of the soundproofing, plus the use of carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic panels and even thinner glass. Revised springs and dampers sharpened up the body control, with grip and traction increased further via the fitting of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup semi-slick tyres.
If like us, you now want this thing with every fibre of your being, we’ve good news - it’s up for sale via an online auction from Collecting Cars. With over 140,000 miles on the clock it’s been heroically well used but also very well looked after, and there’s a decent amount of tread left on its tyres, which are the newer Pilot Sport Cup 2s.
At the time of writing the auction is at £25,000 with seven days remaining. Since the cheapest CSLs in the classifieds right now are hovering around £50k, that figure is set to rise considerably. For what might just be the greatest M car BMW never made, though, the high price of entry will surely be worth every penny.