Remember when race cars were cool?
The fast and flashy decades leading up to the turn of the century brought us some of the most lairy, dangerous and exciting cars we’ve ever seen, and will probably ever see in our lifetimes. At this point I should probably reference Group B rallying, right? Well yes, Group B was a defining era in extreme motorsport engineering so it’s rightly revered; but for me some of the most aesthetically-pleasing racing didn’t take place on stages, but rather on track.
Group 5 was to tarmac what Group B was to dirt. These wide and wild fire-breathing brutish homologations of regular road cars captured the minds and hearts of racing fans of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s.
The cars were relatable – the connection between winning on Sunday and selling on Monday was easy to see. And indeed still to this day the legends of Group 5 and the like continue to fascinate and inspire petrolheads who stumble upon old footage online, or faded pictures in handed down annuals.
In the early days of Group 5, a ridiculously low homologation count meant that manufacturers could really go to town developing competitive machines. Arguably the pinnacle of Group 5 was towards its demise, when homologation was scrapped, leaving manufacturers open to experiment with crazy space-framed machines that left only a cursory nod to their road-going counterparts.
This was a magical time in race car design; I’m talking insanely wide box arches, large angular rear wings and deep and aggressive front air dams. It was this period that ultimately inspired and informed the Japanese kaido racer style that we now know and love.
I’d like to extend a personal thank you to the Group 5 era. It made possible some of my favourite race cars ever – unmistakable silhouette racers such as the Zakspeed Capri, BMW M1, BMW 2002 Turbo, Porsche 935, Mazda RX-7, and the monster that inspired the build in front of you – the BMW E9 CSL ‘Batmobile’.
I wasn’t the only one smitten with BMW’s creation. Way over the other side of the world in Guatemala, a young and impressionable Willy Izaguirre had seen his first love in the form of a poster on the wall of a BMW repair shop next to his home – he couldn’t shake the E9 CSL from his mind. When a friend made the choice to sell his 1973 E9 3.0CS, it didn’t take Willy long to formulate a crazy plan.
We feature some truly insane-looking cars on Speedhunters, but Willy’s 1973 BMW E9 is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
“My friend wanted to sell it due to amount of rust the car had,” Willy says. “It needed a lot work and he didn’t want to do it. The floor pans were rotted straight through – you could see the road. His advice when I got in was not to do anything over 50mph in the car the way it was!”
At this point the E9 was stock-bodied, but had a 3.5-litre manual swap. It wasn’t enough, however. Having previously built an SR20DET-powered Datsun Roadster, Willy was feeling the need for speed once more, and his thoughts turned to that CSL Batmobile poster he recalled as a child.Built For The Street
First thing first, he needed more power. The engine of choice was the 3.2-litre S52 inline six from an E36 M3: “It’s a proven platform to make safe and affordable power,” he explains.
The project hit rough waters right off the bat, when the shop doing the engine swap made a total mess of the job. Willy took the car back and handed it over to Redline Restorations in Bridgeport, Connecticut for them to complete the swap properly, reworking all of the engine and transmission mounts using Revshift polyurethane items.
The BMW’s floorpan needed a complete renovation too, so Redline hand-made a new floor for the car. The pillarless E9 platform has a habit of sagging in the middle once the metal starts to weaken, so while they were at it, they reinforced the chassis with box section, new sills and stitch-welded the engine bay. The BMW was back and stronger than ever.
Not content with the roar of the naturally aspirated power plant, a Precision 6266 turbocharger was added into the mix, complete with OCD Works T51R modification. An aftermarket head gasket was also installed to cope with the boost.
With the engine now finally in place, Jason Schmuck at Schmuck Built created the custom intercooler piping and straight-out-of-bonnet exhaust dump from Vibrant Performance titanium pie cuts.
Willy tells me that the combination of six-cylinder engine, exaggerated turbo whistle and open dump pipe makes the car sound as true to its Group 5 heritage as it looks.
While the car wasn’t running for its debut at the SEMA Show last month due to yet another shop not delivering on promises, the motor has since been wired in by BMW specialists VAC Motorsports in Philadelphia. RK Tunes flashed the stock ECU and the result is a potent 503hp and 421tq.
The rear-mounted cooling setup was created by Schmuck Built using a Vibrant Performance core radiator. With the mechanics and structure up to speed, it was time for the E9 to take on its final form.Enjoyed By The Masses
The inspiration for the exterior came by way of automotive design genius Jon Sibal. Willy saw a CSL render that Jon posted online and promptly contacted him to ask if he could use it as a reference to build his car. Jon gladly agreed, and here we are.
“I think that Jon thought that I was just another guy talking the talk, Willy says. “When I met him this year in Vegas, he said to me: ‘Excuse my lack of faith I had in you – you actually built the car!’”
Willy opted for a full widebody CSL-inspired kit for the E9, comprising of front and rear bumpers, front and rear box fenders and that iconic rear wing. However, when it came to lining the kit up with the car, the kit wasn’t exactly up to par. “The front bumper was six-inches too narrow, and the overall fitment was so bad that we chopped it all up and re did everything,” he tells me.
Willy and his friends did the fibreglass work, adding the gigantic fenders to the E9’s comparatively slender stock metalwork before the lot was shipped to Lance Medina at Clason Point Collision for a coat of paint.
The colour of choice was originally going to be Yas Marina Blue, as found on the latest M3 and M4, however a last-minute change of heart saw Willy opt for a custom PPG blend.
I think he’s made a good call – the subtle duck-egg blue suits the E9‘s retro styling perfectly while contrasting with the bodywork’s aggressive lines. I love how he’s retained the iconic air guides atop the front fenders, too.
Carbon fibre additions in the form of the roof spoiler and rear fender vents accent the pale paintwork well. Adding to this, the E9 has sacrificed two of its four eyes to let more cool air into the engine bay, and the other two are blanked by carbon fibre pods, boosting its aggressive stance from the front.
Finding rolling stock to fit fenders of this magnitude isn’t easy, but I can’t think of a more fitting wheel than these ever-so-pornographic vintage BBS magnesium centre-locks. Willy sourced the centres overseas before scouring the internet for the right genuine BBS lips and barrels to create the correct sizes one at a time.
Because the kit was customised to fit the car, that made obtaining the right fitment easier. Measuring in at 17×10.5-inches up front and a ridiculous 17×15.5-inches at the back, I’m not sure I’ve seen anything quite like these on a road car before.
It takes this rear angle, looking through the rear fenders at the huge Toyo Proxes R888R 315-section tyres to appreciate just how wide they are in relation to the stock bodywork. I definitely approve.
CAtuned came up with the goods when it came to the suspension for the build, specifying a set of custom coilovers with 30-way damper adjustment. Willy is fully determined to make this car usable and fun to drive.
Can you even imagine seeing this arrive in your rear-view mirror on the street?
Inside the E9’s cabin, Carbon Fiber Element created a custom carbon dashboard, adorned with custom Speedhut gauges to rely the important information back to the driver. It’s a nice balance of retro cool meets new materials.
A pair of carbon fibre-shelled seats have been re-trimmed in classic M fabric to give the interior a period correct vibe.
Willy’s company Nostalgic Grains makes these custom shifters from a range of different materials, hand-turning them into tactile accessories for petrolheads.
The one in the E9 is made from shredded US moolah. Willy tells me that destroying the currency is against the law, so he sources pre-shredded notes from the US Treasury. I need to get me one of these!
With the rush to get the BMW done for the 2017 SEMA Show now in the past, Willy can concentrate on applying the few finishing touches that unfortunately didn’t get done in time. A full rollcage is currently being installed, along with uprated Wilwood brakes. He’s also planning to swap the 5-speed transmission to a 6-speed item too.
The reaction to the car at SEMA was better than Willy could’ve ever anticipated. I remember seeing it myself on Instagram on the first day of the show and it instantly resonated. In my eyes, it’s the perfect street restomod take on a Bavarian motorsport legend.
The car bagged the Best Euro title and was in the running for the coveted Gran Turismo Award at the event. Willy’s obliviously surprised with the reaction that car’s had; with no grand intentions of creating a show-stopper, he’s done exactly that.
“I love the fact that a small circle of friends and I built it,” he reveals. “That proves that if you surround yourself with the right people you can reach your goals.”
Photos by Larry Chen
Editor’s Note: Sadly, just as this feature was published, Willy unfortunately had a death within his family. All of us at Speedhunters would like to express our sincere condolences to Willy and his family at this time. Stay Strong.