American enthusiasts always seemed to get hosed. Unlike our European colleagues, we rarely get the really good special editions, and historically have settled for underpowered, detuned engines. Until BMW execs did something very rare-they listened to those who had been clamoring for a factory-built, track-ready BMW. In 1995, the company built a limited number of lightweight, race-ready versions of the recently released E36 M3 to be sold in the United States.
The legend of the M3 Coupe Sport Light, aka CSL, was born, and shrouded in mystery. There were rumors of a trunk full of motorsport parts; speculations of hand picked motors; the knowledge that the number of CSLs built was low, but the exact quantity unknown. Though they were rarely seen in public, the E36 CSL can be quickly identified by its Alpine White color and the colorful Motorsport racing flags on the front fender and rear quarter panel.
Sadly, the events of 1995 would not be replicated when BMW developed the E46 M3 CSL in 2003. An M3 Competition Package was offered, which included a few of the CSL's mechanical components, but none of its unique stylling components like the carbon fiber accented front and rear bumpers and the large integrated trunk spoiler.
The estimated release date for the E92 M3 CSL in Europe should be 2010 if history is any indicator, and whether or not BMW will offer the car in the States is unknown.
Unwilling to wait until 2010, Industry Distribution, IND for short, decided to create its own approximation of this lightweight, iconic, and track-ready BMW.
The E92 M3 has already benefited from weight-saving technology developed originally for the CSL, but still weighs in at a hefty 3,704 pounds. Weight is key to balanced performance, and the last thing you'd want to do is add more. IND carefully planned every aspect of the project build, from the body modification to the choice of wheels.
At first glance the car has a subtle factory look. IND felt, as did we, that the M3's styling, while more aggressive than an E90, lacked a certain aesthetic appeal. The decision to use Vorsteiner E46 M3 CSL inspired front spoiler and rear diffuser in natural carbon fiber blended nicely with the roof, eliminated the front "fangs," and accented the quartet of Le Mans-style tips of the new Eisenmann exhaust. The carbon trunk lid was color-matched to the body while leaving just a small strip of weave exposed.
Since the Eisenmann exhaust is only a rear section, IND decided to replace the rest of the system from the manifold back with custom pipes, eliminating the front catalytic convertors, resonators, and whatever else was left of the restrictive factory piping.
This exhaust is not for the faint of heart and at full wail sounds something like a devilish version of a cathedral organ. From idle to the 8400 rpm redline, it makes a sound that you could spend hours, if not days, recreating. It's the sound you heard as a kid that made you fall in love with cars. The one flaw is a drone that occurs at 2500 rpm under light load-likely caused by the removal of the catalysts and resonators.
Beneath, the somewhat lofty factory ride height has been addressed with H&R sport springs, which leave all EDC functions intact. The rolling stock has been swapped for 20-inch HRE P43 monoblock alloy wheels wrapped in 30-series Nitto Invo tires.
After arriving at our destination and getting the pictures out of the way, it was time to see what these changes translate into on the type of roads BMWs are designed for. The only thing that forced me to end my spirited drive was the low fuel indicator. If it weren't for the lack of petrol, I would have probably kept pushing until I found the limit of the car or my own. I have always been a fan the performance aspects of BMW, but not much of a BMW fan. But after a day behind the wheel of the IND M3, I have a better understanding of the much-touted Ultimate Driving Machine.
2008 BMW M3
Longitudinal front engine, rear-wheel drive
4.0-liter V8, dohc, 32-valveEisenmann exhaust system with quad 83mm "Le Mans-style" tips, custom 2.5-inch non-resonated X- pipe with catalytic converter delete
H&R sport lowering springs with factory Electronic Damper Control (EDC)
*Wheels and Tires
HRE Forged Monoblock P43,9x20 (f), 10x20 (r)Nitto Invo, 255/30 (f), 285/30 (r)
Euro-spec front bumper, CA Automotive carbon grille, Vorsteiner dry carbon fiber front lip, rear diffuser, trunk assembly
From the driver's seat
*One thing we all found surprising about the stock E92 M3 was the modest exhaust note-for some, a little too understated. The Eisenmann system and custom IND pipes give the car what most enthusiasts want to hear from their high-performance V8. At full song it sounds downright vicious, a proper roaring V8 bellow with a hint of Lamborghini Gallardo fanfare at higher revolutions. The downside is the drone that appears out of nowhere between 2500 and 3000 rpm, your normal cruising comfort zone. It's actually more comfortable to downshift and let the needle nudge past 4000, but we cringe to think of what that does to your fuel economy.
In spite of the addition of the lowering springs and 20-inch wheels, ride quality doesn't seem to have suffered. This may have something to do with the Nittos, which in our experience have softer sidewalls and allow for a more comfortable ride than standard factory fare. EDC remains functional in all three modes. Another issue we had with the stock car was that it seemed to sit too high above its wheels, but the springs and plus-one wheel and tire package close the fender gaps nicely and give the car a much more convincing stance overall. Even with the larger tires we detected no rubbing issues.
Handling, too, seems to have been largely unaffected by the modifications. Normally, tires with a more compliant sidewall like the Nittos would sacrifice turn-in to some degree, but with the E92's laser-guided (figuratively speaking) steering any compromise is hardly detectable. With stability control switched entirely off the car is still completely tossable and totally catchable. The new tires do give up a little earlier than the stock Michelins might, particularly when flinging the tail out on throttle or under heavy straight-line braking. But then again, that makes it all the easier to go sideways in the turns. -Karl Funke