Car Feature >> Bmw E46 M3 Csl

Since I started contributing to Speedhunters, my main area of focus has always centred around drifting and with that, predominantly its been about the Prodrift Series. Of course I have no complaints about this area of work, but I often find myself wanting outside of these tight JDM orientated circles. When Rod dropped me the line to say that September was to be BMW Month, I knew, I just knew I had to find an M3. I don't know a whole lot about the history of BMW but I do know what I like. With big thanks to the guys at for helping me source this particularly awesome example, I present to you, arguably the greatest M3 of all time, the E46 CSL.

The CSL (Coupe Sport Lightweight) was limited to under 1400 units in 2003, making this hardcore M3 rare by any standards. I can't even begin to imagine what it would feel like to have something like this sat in my garage, but strangely, it's one of those cars (much like the Porsche GT3 RS) that would be very difficult to improve upon from the factory spec.

The owner of this CSL has only made some small changes to the factory specification. One is this Angel Eyes conversion which just perfectly accentuates the shape of the front of the car. Imagine being sat at the traffic lights and these roll up behind you, you just know that something serious is behind you.

One of the things I learned on this shoot, on how-to-spot-a-CSL, is the intake in the front bumper. The front bumper is of course an entire carbon fibre piece, with the front splitters left unpainted, as perhaps a cue to the purpose of the car.

 The profile remains identical to the standard E46 M3, except for the longer boot spoiler. I just have to say, for a standard (ish) car on standard wheels and standard suspension, BMW really nailed the stance of the car. Although BMWs definition of 'standard' may be higher than yours or mine.

The other changes that were made was powdercoating the original CSL wheels black. With the rims painted black, they perfectly frame the uprated AP Racing brake calipers and discs. The tires are the factory recommended, almost semi-slick, Michelin Pilot Sport Cups.

The carbon fibre theme continues at the rear, with the bootlid and rear diffuser being composed of the black weave.

 The weight saving continues to the inside, with one-piece bucket seats …

… and more carbon fibre on the door cards.

 Under the bonnet / hood, your greeted by this carbon fibre air intake and a strut-top located body brace to help reduce flex during hard cornering.

I have to admit, to giggling like a little girl when I spotted how large the intake butterfly is. You could honestly lose a small animal in there. Awesome.

During my reading on the CSL for this I did learn a few things that I thought might be of interest to some of you. I never knew that the car was never exported to the USA, mostly due to not meeting DOT and EPA standards, so this is a Euro only car. To be honest, its a little bit of a shame. I know earlier that I said its a hard car to improve upon from standard, but the US tuning scene has produced some awesome M3's, so it really would of being interesting to see what you guys across the pond could of come up with.

 One of the CSL's party pieces is its unpainted carbon roof. Although the E90 M3 comes with this as standard, I still think the original was best.

BMW's attention to detail is simply exquisite. What normally would be treated as 'just' a vent, BMW used it as another opportunity to reduce weight. The standard M3 has four chrome bars, where the CSL has four carbon fibre ones. The weight saved must surely of being minimal, but it just shows how every detail was looked at whilst overhauling the standard M3.

 A stone chipped front bumper, just a small indication that this car is being used as BMW intended it to be.

The E46 CSL also holds the M3 production record around the Nordschliefe at 7 minutes and 50 seconds, a testament to the focus BMW had whilst creating this, what has to be the ultimate M3. Even by that other industry standard, the CSL was faster on a very wet day than an SL63 Black was in the dry around the Top Gear test track. It has also scalped a 996 GT3 RS, a Lotus Exige and a Lamborghini Murcielago to name but a few around the Dunsfold Park venue. With the E90 M3 CSL in the pipeline, BMW have set themselves what seems a very high standard to succeed the E46 CSL. I for one, will be waiting to see how they manage to improve upon this, but have no doubt that they will.

- Paddy M

BMW Month special features




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Paddy, I've fallen in love with your work. Fantastic stuff!!


One word. BADASS!!!!


the car has aftermark led taillight's. i like them, cause they look nearly like the factory one's. if i'm not blind, it's not standing in the article.

ps. a m3 csl ist fairly easy to improve. just go for bilstein pss10 coilcover and a drexler differential (fully adjustable) and you end up with somethink seriously fast on the track. and anyway. sort of like a m3csl with a v8 instead of a inline6.


OMG! Perfect machine!


Angel eyes: not too expinsive, and hot damn do they look good


Gorgeous car.


I love this car and this gen in every way. That being said I have to comment on those carbon fiber fender gills. Yes they did pay attention to every detail; but no they did not use it as another opportunity to save weight. It has been my thought and I am sure many other people's that BMW cars have been very overweight since the E46 gen. I think those gills are definitely cooler than the chrome units and I can't hate on them but to me it just kind of puts me off how BMW wants people to think that instead of removing hundreds of pounds of the useless tech that is stuffed in the modern BMW, they should try saving weight with things like carbon fiber gill bars.


great read. better photos! nice work


my favourite EURO car! nothing fancy. straight BID-NESS!


great photos, they could wall be desktop, specialy the third picture. please make it desktop...


wallpaper please :-)


Yeah that picture of the intake referencing the throttle body butterfly isn't right. That is the Mass air flow meter, the engine has Individual Throttle bodies on it from the factory as does the standard E46 M3.


I agree, 3rd pic make wallpaper! :)


PS: i love m3's <3


Need that Angel Eyes photo as a desktop, PLEASE!!


@ sb, the CSL did come with LED tail lights.

@ F3INT and article author.

The M3 CSL never came with carbon fiber side gills, along with CF kidney surrounds that are featured on this lightly modded CSL. The CSL came with the same side gills as the standard M3, but with "CSL" replacing the "M3" badge.

BMW isn't like Honda, with their mesh shift boot on the NA2 NSX-R that Top Gear made a point to poke fun at.

Why point out an aftermarket add-on like the side gills, and not the OEM carbon fiber center console or specially made Racaro bucket seats?


See following link for a nice film with Paul vlasblom testing the normal M3 sedan for a dutch car site:


The perfect one. Beautiful pics.


@Piner : The CSL does not have a MAF and instead runs MAP. That is a butterfly (or flap as usually refered to) in the intake but you are correct in stating it also has 6 individual ones on the throttle bodies.


A film from Paul vlasblom ( testing the M3 sedan in order of a dutch carblog.


This is an image of my CSL just after I paid for it ;) and the guy I bought it from used to have this and a Porsche 996 GT3RS sitting beside it in the garage!

Unfortunately the CSL has been sold over a year ago but it was a quick car I can tell you!

If you're eagle-eyed you'd spot that these are not the Michelin Pilot Cup Sport but some Dunlops, the Michelins were in the boot though (and mounted afterwards)



amazing photos, great article!!


Awesome speedhunting Paddy! First one as wallpaper please!


Out of all the bmws you feature a almost stock m3 csl?


Pure unadulterated driving pleasure! No superfluous rubbish and enhanced with style and performance as only M Sport can. This is the best M3 since the E30 EVO, but eagerly looking forward to the E90 CSL!

The only thing that let's the E46 down is the SMG transmission, maybe it's just a matter of getting used to, but I much preffered the manual H6 in the M3. You mention that CSL was Euro only due to not meeting EPA but there was a few brought into Australia too ;')


I didn't know that the CSL version had a carbon fiber hood; I thought that only the GTR version had it. Really a wicked car, that's why it's one of my favourite M3 generation, as somebody said already.


Great Feature of a future classic.


Amazing post


Wow...)) Amazing! Really!

've never heard about CLS BMW tuning, but like it yet)))

And one question: how can I get photo in high quality? uh?)


Fair play Paddy , thats a top notch feature


I fair like cars lad


Do them chips come with fish?

Sweet car.


i thought the m3 csl had a plastic bootlid?


Wow purely amazing car...awesome photos Paddy.


Building a replica of your favorite car is all about getting details right. You could consider the E46