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Owning A Vintage BMW Isn’t For Everyone, But Once You Have The Bug…

If you are reading this story you are likely already a big fan of BMW’s. You probably own at least one. So, let me ask you a question. What brought you to the brand? What was the match that lit that fire? For me it is easy to answer, though to do it, I have to go back to the mid 70’s.

I was in High School in Milwaukee WI and was already car crazy. But I was into American muscle. I read Hot Rod and Car Craft. I doodled cars that Rat Fink would drive. I loved movies like Vanishing Point (white ’70 Challenger) and Two-Lane Blacktop (’55 Chevy / GTO). Other than James Bond movies, I had never really noticed European cars. That changed dramatically one afternoon. I was hanging around downtown when up drives one of the Milwaukee Bucks in THE coolest, sexiest, fastest looking car I had ever seen. To this day I cannot remember who the player was (Bobby Dandridge?), but I remember that car.  It was a silver BMW 3.0CS (e9) and I was gob smacked.  And apparently, I was not the only one who felt that way. Car and Driver wrote “By any standard in the world it rates as a truly great automobile – an automobile that yields enormous dividends in driving pleasure… excellence, competence and a car that’s nearly impossible to match anywhere in the automotive world.”

Searching For The Right One

Predictably, it was many years before I began my e9 buying search. By nature, I am methodical and try hard to resist buying the first shiny object that looks good. This is particularly useful in the case of the e9 because the body, which was built by Karmann, rusts from the inside out. To make things worse, you cannot easily see the most vulnerable areas.

In 2006 I initiated my search. At the time we were living in Des Moines IA. After more than 2 years I had considered some 20 cars, traveled as far as Seattle to look in person, and still had not pulled the trigger. Everything I looked at seemed to fall into one of two categories – either a) outrageously expensive, properly sorted, “generally” rust free, or b) great from 10 feet but needing serious (and very expensive) rust work (and often a lot more).

I could not do the work myself. I was terrified of a blank check restoration…having heard horror story after horror story. And I certainly could not afford to bailout someone else out who had been swamped with restoration costs. I was beginning to feel like I was wasting my time.

Enter technology. During my search I used the internet as one source of listings. When I stumbled onto a website devoted to the model (e9coupe.com) I was intrigued. I read post after post after post. It is an absolute treasure trove of information on every aspect of the e9. Crowd sourced knowledge from highly enthusiastic fans of the model. It was oxygen to keep my search alive. After several months lurking on the site l read a series of posts about a forum member’s car in the process of selling. It seemed like exactly the car I was looking for, but I was too late. Or was I? I fired off a private message to the seller and got back a glimmer of hope. The two parties had agreed on a price, but the seller had not been paid yet. It sounded like the seller was worried, so I arranged for a call.

When we connected, I learned the buyer had failed to show up to pay for and pick up the car the prior weekend. Sensing an opening, I asked for more detail and learned:

  • It was a 1972 3.0 CSI (the euro version of the US 3.0 CS that included 20 additional HP courtesy of fuel injection and higher compression) – a gray market car likely imported sometime in the 1980’s
  • VIN 2260505 was manufactured 9/27/71 and delivered on 9/30/71 to BMW Italia S.P.A. in Palazzolo/Verona, Italy. It came from the factory painted Polaris metallic (paint code 060), which is silver
  • Numbers matching vehicle with 4 speed and air conditioning.
  • The owner had hired Horsepower Enterprises in Lancaster PA to recondition the car. The 3.0 spent 11 months there where they stripped the body to bare metal, addressed the rust and prior repairs where needed (including both front fenders cut off and replaced, rebuilding the shock tower supports, etc.), applied anti corrosion treatment, then primed and a painted in a high quality, factory correct Polaris metallic, replaced rubber seals, polished or re-chromed all trim, grill, bumpers, door handles and tail light bezels, added Dynamat sound deadening, replaced carpet, recovered seats, and reconditioned the dash and door wood. The work was completed roughly 18 months prior.
  • The seller described it as in “extraordinary cosmetic condition and completely roadworthy mechanically”

I was more than encouraged so I asked for documentation. That included 200 photos of the restoration, which seemed to be completed to a high standard. I checked out Horsepower Enterprises and found nothing but positive reviews and praise. I called them and we talked in detail about the project. They confirmed what the seller described – what was addressed was done to a high standard, but this was not a full restoration. Mechanically, everything worked when it left their shop, but what was not addressed was 37 years old. Finally, I spoke to the head judge at a car show in VA (where it won Best-In-Show in a field of 140 classics) and got a glowing review.

Deciding I was very interested, I called the seller back and offered $500 more than he had accepted from the no-show buyer. He accepted on the condition that he had to be paid before the other buyer showed up for payment. Throwing caution to the wind I overnighted him a cashier check, arranged for shipping, and held my breath. A couple of days later he called and confirmed the sale. I had found my coupe.

When the car arrived (which was August of 2009) it was even better than I was expecting. I was over the moon…

Look for“Project 3.0 Part 2 in next Friday’s FSC eWeekly

About the Author

Chris, Margaret Schroeder and Schnoodle Odie.

The Schroeders have been BMW CCA members since June 2011. Chris is retired. In addition to BMWs other interests include fishing the Gulf, collecting vinyl records, cooking, and volunteering for the St Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol. He and his wife Margaret (& Odie) live in Port St Joe, Florida.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Many thoughts came to mind while reading about your appreciation for BMWs and your search for the best 3.0CS you could find. I remembered a similar search by me that ended with no apparent success, but I’m OK!

    In 1971 my wife and I were looking for a replacement for our totaled 1965 Buick Gran Sport, when I was transferred to Pittsfield, MA. We parked next to a 2002 and my wife thought it looked like a nice car. I gave her a positive review and we decided to drive to the nearest dealer in North Adams the following evening. There are four cars in the showroom – a 2002, a 2500, a 2800 and a 2800CS. I didn’t really like the 2002 that much, although that was the only one I could afford. They mentioned that they were (thanks to Max Hoffman) about to offer a combination of the 2500 and the 2800 which was a 2500 with the 2800 engine, called the Bavaria, at a lower price than the 2500. I noted that the 2800CS was about the most gorgeous car I’d ever seen but my wife was pregnant, so we needed the practicality of four doors for full family transportation.

    My next transfer took me to Philadelphia (my home town, incidentally) so we went down to Otto’s BMW, where we met Otto and his new son-in-law, Michael. They only had two cars in their showroom (their new place in West Chester is a little larger) but they had a 2800 in the used lot. I bought that car and the factory maintenance loose-leaf binder so I could learn to properly take care of things. My next transfer (every six months with the GE Technical Marketing Program) was to Somersworth, NH. I heard about a relatively new car club that had formed in Boston and figured that would be a good way to find the parts that I needed. The 2800 was a very nice car to learn on.

    The 2800 was followed by a 2002, which I sold after 41 years to a collector in upstate New York. I presently own a 2001 Z3 Coupe, 2011 Z4 Coupe/Convertible (essentially, my replacement for the 2800CS), a 2012 X3, a 1976 R60/6 and a 1978 R100/7..

    I am still a member of the BMWCCA, although I don’t make it to as many meetings as I used to (and It’s much easier to find needed parts on the internet. I do miss talking to Michael and Margo Potheau at Circle Tire.)

    1. Douglas,
      I’m pleased my story brought back fond memories for you. And thanks for sharing you BMW journey.

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