Gear Head Tuesday – The Legendary BMW E9 Coupes

Gear Head

BMW 3.0 CS - Surinam Red
This 1974 BMW 3.0CS is one of fewer than 400 examples delivered to the US for the model year with a manual gearbox. Finished in Surinam Red over bamboo leather, this beautiful example of an E9 sold on Bring-a-Trailer on 1 Oct 19 for $80,000. (Photo from the B-a-T listing.)

BMW logo
The BMW logo is derived from the company’s roots as a builder of aircraft engines – the logo represents a spinning propeller.

The company we know today as BMW – Bayerische Motorenwerke – Bavarian Motor Works – dates to 1913 when it was founded in Munich as Rapp Motorenwerke. The company’s first engine was a license-built version of Austro-Daimler’s V-12 aero engine, used in a variety of combat aircraft during the First World War. In 1916, the company was reorganized as Bayerische Motorenwerke GmbH, which went public (becoming an Aktiengesellschaft, or AG) in 1918. The founder, Rapp, had left the company by this time and Austrian engineer Franz Josef Popp was running the company.

In the aftermath of the 1918 Armistice, BMW branched out into motorcycles to offset the lack of aviation work.  BMW’s first motorcycle was introduced in 1923. The first BMW car came in 1928, when the company purchased a failing car builder called Dixi, which was building a licensed version of the British Austin Seven. BMW cars of its own design were introduced in 1933. Styled by Peter Schimanowski, these BMWs had sleek contemporary looks and offered great performance for the era. The 328 roadster dominated European sports car competition until Hitler instigated war in 1939.

BMW 328 roadster

328 Roadster (above); 327 Sport Coupe (below)


BMW’s factories were seized by the Allies in 1945 and it was not until 1947 that BMW president Kurt Donath (who had succeeded Popp in 1942) was allowed by the Allied Government to re-start motorcycle production. Production of cars did not resume until 1951.

The immediate post-war decade was difficult for BMW. Neither its motorcycles nor its cars sold in enough volume for the company to be viable. By the end of the 1950s, BMW was in serious danger of bankruptcy or of being absorbed by a larger company such as Daimler-Benz, a prospect that caused great angst among BMW stockholders and dealers.

Half-brothers Harald and Herbert Quandt began buying BMW stock in 1958. As a result of a 1960 stock reorganization, the Quandts owned 66% of BMW stock. They quickly set to work replacing key management personnel with their own people and recruits. They borrowed DM 50 million (about $12.5 million) from the government of Bavaria to fund BMW’s new direction.

The resulting car, launched in the fall of 1961, was the highly successful Neue Klasse line. The Neue Klasse became the template from which most future BMW products evolved.

BMW Neue Klasse

The Neue Klasse BMWs became the template upon which BMW built its success.

The success of the four cylinder Neue Klasse cars led Quandt-appointed Sales boss Paul Hahnemann and Marketing Director Helmut Bônsch to lobby for a bigger sedan cast from the Neue Klasse mold but powered by a new six-cylinder engine rather than the Neue Klasse four. This larger six cylinder model was intended to go against mid-size Mercedes-Benz models.

The new six cylinder engine was developed by newly-appointed Technical Director Bernhard Osswald who came to BMW from Ford-Werke. Introduced in 1968 in 2,494 cc (152 cu. in.) and 2,788 cc (170 cu. in.) versions, the six powered new 2500 and 2800 sedans. Known internally as E3, these sedans were scaled-up versions of the Neue Klasse with various mechanical refinements and detail changes. Predictably, the E3 sedans shared their predecessors’ road manners and enthusiasm for aggressive driving. BMW was carving a niche in the market as being a car for performance-oriented drivers.

The New Six sedans proved to be almost as popular as the Neue Klasse four cylinder cars. The road manners of the New Six made them popular with automotive writers and the buying public responded accordingly. More than 220,000 E3 sedans were sold between 1968 and 1977. These cars were stepping stones to BMW’s very successful 5 and 7-Series sedans.

The BMW E9 coupes evolved out of the Neue Klasse lineage with a helping of Giorgetto Giugiaro and Bertone thrown into the mix. While working at Bertone, Giugiaro styled the BMW 3200 CS which was powered by the last of the 1950s BMW V8 engines. This handsome coupe was quite expensive for the time and barely over 600 were built between 1961 and 1965.


Styled by Giugiaro (who also did the wonderful Alfa-Romeo GTV coupe), bodied by Bertone and powered by a BMW V8: the 3200 CS. Only 603 were built.

The 3200 CS was replaced in 1965 by a new coupe based on the Neue Klasse, sharing the sedan’s floorpan and some of its inner stampings. Styled by BMW’s in-house Stylist Wilhelm Hofmeister, the coupe was built by Karmann. The new coupe was (ahem) odd. It had an attractive roofline copped from the 3200 CS but it has peculiar proportions dictated by the components it shared with the sedan. Worse, Hofmeister used some very eccentric detailing in the front grille and headlights. The coupe was gawky-looking, particularly from the front and far less graceful than its Italian-styled forebear.


The (uh) eccentric front styling of the 2000 CS coupe manages
to ruin the rest of the car.

The Giugiaro-styled 3200 CS was V8 powered; the new 2000 CS had a four-cylinder engine, a bored-out 1,990 cc (121 cu. in.) version of the engine in the 1800 Neue Klasse sedan. The new coupe shared the suspension, brakes and transmissions with the four cylinder sedans.

In its original four-cylinder form, the 2000 CS did not make a good case for itself. It was a Bavarian equivalent of Ford’s Thunderbird: a personal luxury coupe that sacrificed a good deal of the Neue Klasse‘s no-nonsense practicality for very dubious styling flair. That said, the coupe shared many of the virtues of its sedan siblings including excellent road manners, good fuel economy and, for a coupe, these cars were roomy . Built at Karmann, the coupes suffered from an alarming lack of rust-prevention measures: they were well-loved by the infamous Tin Worm.

The 2000 CS wasn’t any faster than a comparably equipped BMW sedan and cost substantially more; $4,985 at U.S. POE in those days. It was hard to ignore the fact that the Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint was $800 cheaper, better-looking, and had features the BMW lacked (including a five-speed transmission and four-wheel disc brakes vs. the disc/drum setup on the BMW). For only $500  more than the Bimmer, you could buy an E-Type Jaguar, which was prettier and far faster, even acknowledging that the “cat” was more likely to be troublesome.

There was an easy answer to the failings of the 2000 CS: replace the four cylinder engine with the E3 sedan’s six, which BMW did in 1968, earning the coupe a new Type number: BMW E9. In the process, the coupe’s front end and wheelbase were both stretched, vastly improving its proportions and a minor facelift to the front added a more aggressive, shark-like nose. Gone was the strange headlamp treatment of the 2000 CS. The makeover turned the coupe into one of the most beautiful cars BMW has ever built; a beauty that has been unequaled in anything BMW has offered since.

Parts of this post are adapted from Ate Up With Motor

BMW E9 2.5 CS Garnet Red

A Garnet Red Euro-spec E9 once owned by an American automotive writer in front of the BMW headquarters in Munich. This Euro-spec car didn’t have power windows or air conditioning as did U.S. spec cars. The seats were covered in fabric rather than the leather U.S.-bound cars got. (Below) Back in the U.S., that same automotive writer owned this blue E9:

BMW E9 3.0 CS

BMW 3.0 CS - Ron Wakefield

BMW 3.0 CS - Silver



All I CouldaFORD

Government auto tracking device


Add yours →

  1. BMW has a long history of handsome cars going back at least to Goertz’s masterpiece, the 507.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The 507 is certainly one of the most beautiful cars ever built. Just as I didn’t include the 700 series cars in the story, I left out the 507. I did this mostly as a matter of space and also trying to keep the focus on the cars that led directly to the E9.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While the 1500 ‘New Class’ line contributed to the success of BMW in 1960’s it was not the car that saved them from near-bankruptcy in 1959. That car was the smaller rear-engine 700 series which became their volume seller, and immediately led BMW on their road to recovery. The New Class line came out some 18 months after the 700’s release in late 1959 which was perfect timing, as it quickly filled the void left by Borgward’s demise in 1961.

    As far as I know all E9’s had power rear windows with power front windows being optional on lower-spec models.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your visit and for adding this information. In the interest of keeping this post somewhat brief, I chose not to write about the 700 series, in no small part because I was under the impression that the 700 series was, at best, a lackluster contributor to BMW recovering from the ills that nearly bankrupted the company in the ’50s. (No doubt you also noticed I didn’t mention the beautiful 507.) • It’s sad that Borgward failed. They built a great car. • I see you came here from the Studebaker Drivers Club Forum and that you are from Canada. WELCOME! 😊👍


  3. Beautiful top-of-the-line automotive history!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Barry Hackney 09/01/2020 — 19:29

    Good article.


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