Car Lust--BMW 635CSi
"CSi," she commented thoughtfully. "CSI? Like the CBS show? That's just weird."
I'd never associated that BMW model number suffix with the CBS criminal procedural drama before, and to be honest it's an association that annoys me. Yes, CSI is a hit TV show, but the BMW 635CSi was first and, to my eye, more timeless. I know which I'd prefer to spend more time with. BMW doesn't use the CSi suffix on its new 6-series--now I'm left to wonder if that's just coincidence.
Anyway, on to the post.
To modern eyes, accustomed to an aura of great BMW performance, handling, and styling, BMW's position in the late 1970s was a little odd. Thanks to the spirited 2002tii and the more muscular 3.0CS/CSL, BMW had moved its American reputation beyond that of a motorcycle manufacturer, and even past the "funny little foreign car" status that still plagued future sports-luxury competitors Volvo, Audi, and Saab.
Still, BMWs hadn't quite grown into its current fame. BMWs weren't exactly known as luxury cars; at the time both BMW and Mercedes were actually fairly spartan, certainly not the rolling boudoirs like the contemporary Lincolns and Cadillacs. Nor, despite the 2002tii and 3.0CSL, were most BMWs really all that fast. When the light and nimble 2002 was replaced by the heavier, more sedate 320, the pulse rate fell even farther. It sounds strange to consider today, but even in a depressed automotive world in the mid-to-late 1970s BMWs were more purposeful than quick.
Especially curious was the case of the 6-series, which replaced the lovely 3.0CS in 1976. The 6-series was undeniably handsome, with its chiseled good looks, and lean, greyhound-like stance, but the American versions, strangled by emissions constraints, weren't luxurious or quick. Automotive journalists at the time easily contained their enthusiasm.
Now, let's leap forward by a decade. By this point, BMW was beginning to build its performance reputation. The M1 supercar had come and gone as briefly and spectacularly as a shooting star. The 3-series was beginning to find its performance legs, and American enthusiasts were beginning to drool over the possibility of getting the European M3 and M5 high-performance sedans. What's more, in the form of the 635CSi, which finally came to the U.S. in 1985, the 6-series had finally grown into its potential.
Still lean and handsome, the 635CSi now had the athletic moves to live up to its looks. Comfortable, stylish, buttoned-down, and with 208 horsepower and 225 lb-ft of torque, the 635CSi was a more polished, faster competitor than its mid-1980 sports-luxury competition.
The much-ballyhooed BMW M635CSi never officially came to the United States--though I think quite a few gray-market cars made the trip--but the 635CSi is still a pretty compelling car. With 0-60 runs in the 7-second range, it was as quick as a Camaro or Mustang, but much more refined and stylish. The 635CSi was pretty at the time, but if anything, its aggressively elegant shape has grown more beautiful with age.
One of my high school teachers drove one of these; he had an unfortunate predilection for wearing sweaters tied around his neck and loafers without socks. We all both ridiculed him and admired him as the typical 1980s sleazy womanizer type, and at the time the fact that he drove a 635CSi just added to his mystique. It's taken me a fair amount of time to rid the 635CSi of that association, but, after all, you can't blame the car for its driver. I'd still drive one.
All of these photos come from BigCoupe.com, a fantastic site discussing the E24 6-series BMWs. The first photo is of a 1989 635CSi owned by Andrew Chua; the second is a 1986 635Csi owned by Bill Campbell, the third is another '86 635CSi owned by Gregory Fragano, and the fourth is a Euro-spec '86 635CSi owned by James Sohl.