This is a story for post-80s born petrolheads. When I and my mates were teenagers we dreamt of 3 things: girls, beer and a Lamborghini Countach. Of course we had a clue our dreams would never come true, at least for the time to come. We dropped the Lambo in favour of a 6-series BMW. A 635 CSi to be precise. And here it is: time to meet my 80s hero.
Back in the day except for the Jaguar XJS there wasn’t a better looking GT coupe to be found. Today an E24 (1976–1989) still looks serious and mean. Exactly like teenagers want a crook’s car to look like.
Paul Bracq design mix
Just look at it. The CSi still looks the part, doesn’t it? The typical huge glass pillar-less side view, so characteristic of this Paul Bracq (Bordeaux, 1933) design, is closely related to the 3200 CS design Nuccio Bertone (1914-1997) did for BMW a decade earlier. This 1961 car is the first BMW with the famous and signature Hofmeister kink. BMW design chief Wilhelm Hofmeister (1912-1978) is in charge from 1955 to 1970 and allows the low forward bend at the C-pillar at the futuristic Bertone design. Well done.
Bertone did a fabulous job. The extremely elegant 60s 3200 CS V8 sports coupe clearly hides the cues which BMW chief designer Bracq follows in his 1976 E24-design and even slightly emphasized, notice the characteristic sharknose. If you look closer – as you do because you can’t resist this sheer beauty – the E24 is also a mix of Georg Bertrams 1965 2002 design and the 1968 Pietro Frua 2000ti design. OK, anorak mode off now.
The ultimate stylish sports coupe
BMW really is a name when we talk car styling and car design. A good look at the list of star designers who design for BMW show what the Bavarian car manufacturer (Bayerische Motoren Werke) has in mind when it starts to lift off in the mid sixties. At that time the appearance of every BMW car points in the direction where it is now famous for: being the ultimate in understated stylish sports sedans and coupes.
BMW is founded in 1916 and quickly makes a name producing engines for aeroplanes, indestructible motorcycles and as from 1927, cars. Although the Dixi – bloody hell – is not much more than a modest Seven produced under license of Austin.
The legend really kicks off in the early 60s, when a sporty though rather expensive family sedan simply named 1500 enters the market. In 1966 BMW really sets the pace with the attractive and boxy 2002 models. The rest is history.
Performance & looks
In 1968 another benchmark is set as BMW launches the large 2500 and 2800 sedans and even better, the 2.5 CS and 2800 CS coupes. Now hold on, we are almost there. In 1972 the Bertone designed 5-series hits the market, added with the ‘Dreier’ in 1975 and the 7-series in 1977. Voila, the classic Beemer formula sports sedan range is formed. In 1976 a coupe is added in the shape of the superb looking Karmann-bodied E24 6. Our car of today.
In my teens I like the Italian flair as well as the attention to detail that goes along with these apparently ordinary looking German cars. They just feel so special and everyone knows it. The cracking appearance is fed by a haunting soundbite. Like period Alfa Romeo cars, a BMW carries a raunchy, throathy and barking engine that stands out from the crowd and makes every 70s Ford, Opel and VeeDub seem superfluous. And not only do they sound great, they offer serious performance and in buckets. Actually they still do not dissapoint.
Fitted with the ‘racing only’ 3.5 litre engine design by BMW Motorsport supremo Paul Rosche (1934-2016), the 6 is considered to be one of the finest sports coupes of its time. Between 1979 and 1989 a total of 51,564 units leave the factory to mate with happy customers. The summum has to be the 286 brake double overhead cam 24 valve M-version which shares the M88/3 with the legendary M1. In flaming red please.
But hey, we all know the M30B34 215 brake 2 valver sounds just a tad better. And here it is, in Shadowline guise. So no chrome bits except for the characteristic Beemer kidneys. Bliss.
What about this car?
A quick walk around the car featured shows excellent Alpina wheels on a slightly lowered coupe-body, colour-coded bumpers, a so-80s rubber rear spoiler, Sebring big bore sports exhaust and a drivers door that won’t close proper due to worn rubbers. Mind you, we are looking at a near mint 1986 car. A new set will set the owner back about 400 euros btw. Doh!
The big six delivers 215 hp@5200 rpm as well as 304 Nm@4000 rpm. Enough to propel the low slung 1,470 kgs coupe to 140 mph and a nought to sixty in 7.4 secs.
So, how does this baby go? I did have a hunch. Or, for about 30 years I did. But this sunday afternoon it would be thumbs up or thumbs down. Because you’ll never know if dreams are shattered or become truth.
Roger to the rescue
A few months back my mate Roger called to ask and help out in search of his perfect 635. It was soon obvious there were quite a few about but only a handfull looked period original and unspoilt. Even fewer were in the price bracket Roger aimed for. It took a while but eventually he found a pukka Shadowline in understated – and very German – grey. The great thing about this ’86 car is the lack of – 40 bits! of – chrome which brings us to the essence of what Paul Bracq meant in terms of design. And what a great shape it is.
This big coupe has all the grace: the 103″ wheelbase on a total length of 187″ gives old skool overhang with a proper GT booty rear and the agressive nose job. You might think handling could be an issue but it is not.
More about that later. Let’s step into the Beemers office. Immediately I feel at home and I only have to adjust the hugging leather a slight bit to my – for most still awkward – Italian seating position. Just like a WRC-driver I like to drive with my elbows touching my body and my feet at tapping pedal position.
Perfection: two hung pedals and a comfortable sporty upright loud pedal. The steering wheel is really a flashback to 30 years ago and it grips allright. A pity an accurate view on the dials has gone.
What the heck, I trust my ears. After a brief photoshoot in a dead end lane it’s my time to turn the key, turn the car and head for some rural lanes. My God, does this car adapt or did I? This German feels like it is mine for days, months… Forever! And I have just covered a few hundred yards.
Driving the damn thing
I can’t help not to notice Roger who is now my passenger getting a bit nervous on how easy and swift I leave the scene to head for adventure. BMW made it just too easy for me. Both the precise steering and fantastic 5-box are Swiss watch-like and mechanical like I love so much. The clutch however is a bit bold but I didn’t manage to mess up one lift off or shift. And what a sound! Glorious.
The previous owner bought this car for his wife but she did not like the seats so he got her a period 7-series E23 car. Pah. No seating problems from where I am sitting. Steering through corners – brisk and on apex – there wasn’t a hint of me sliding in the seat.
No sliding and body roll as well. Roger’s CSi is slightly lowered and stiffend up and has beefy 225s all round. The rear only came out once or twice and only because I wanted to. What an amazing and controllable car! I can drive like I want to with ‘the one hand on the wheel and one hand on the shifter’ routine. Perfect.
Slamming gears when touching a tad over 4K I get used to the angry howl, the slick throttle response and the typical bark in between shifts. So addictive.
All that glass wrapped around me gives me the impression I am driving a much smaller car. It’s hard to believe a Grand Tourer this size is as agile as it is. It has to be the race bred heritage carefully hid away in each delicate part. Precision is the quality that comes to mind.
The overhead cam six is a miracle. It picks up at any rev and feels comfy to cruise in top gear at just 1,200 rpm. The bulk of torque hauls our 1.5 tonnes to everywhere and without any effort. Starting with a sonore purr, to a raunchy bark to a fierce howl every shift is a party and acceleration becomes an addiction. I draw my own redline at 5.5. You can’t help but fall in love with this car but with the owner sitting next to me I keep the 6,500 revs for another occasion.
To avoid any discomfort of my generous host I head home via the highways and dream about the twisties when I’m home. My choice does not dissapoint. Sweeping her through a cloverleaf in full anger felt easy where a regular modern car would struggle for grip. I am amazed. One hand at the wheel and the other at the stick and driving never felt more easy. An hour with this Dzjerman youngtimer and without my man Roger would have been interesting to say the least.
In other words: I’ve been bitten by the BeemerBug. Maybe one day. When I have proper shelter for a set of classic daily drivers. Not only does the 635 fit in my memorylane timeslot it also fits like a glove, feels like the perfect match with my ‘grace ‘n pace’-way I prefer to move about. Djees, who’d thought that.
On the highway there’s no need to scream the engine to top revs. In fith gear there’s all the torque you’ll need to pass anyone.
Roger tells me about his future updates which will be cosmetic. I’d like to see a standard exhaust on though. I’m not sure the current sports ‘zorst brings out the best of the 3,5 litre capacity. Throttle response is crisp but I feel there’s more in there. Everytime I stamp the loud pedal there’s a slight hiccup which could be down to the wrong choice op plumbing.
Anyways, great car, great drive, excellent choice. And a day well spent.
Choose wise and choose quick. Petrolheads young and old want these and soon there will be no proper BMW 635 CSi left.