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BMW M3 CSL Lightweight

The most collectible M3 of the '90s is an E36 M3 specially prepared by race!



To be a heavyweight on the racetrack, you must first be a lightweight.

Did you ever see a racer with a back seat or a spare tire? These items add weight, so they are removed.

In 1995, BMW produced a limited number of lightweight M3's. The factory started with an E36 M3 and then removed practically everything not needed for competition. True to their sporting past, these M3's were dubbed CSL's - for Coupe Sport Light - and they were reminiscent of the famous racing CSL's of the '70s.

click for a larger image

The M3 Lightweights were reduced weight vehicles, yet they were fully equipped for the road. They were only made in Alpine White, with colorful Motorsport racing flags on the front and rear. Today, the Lightweights are the rarest of the late model M3's.

BMW M3 Lightweight


"The Original"

The 1995 BMW M3 Lightweight was an E36 M3 designed for performance enthusiasts and racing teams. This M3 was modified and specially equipped to be a base production car for drivers and teams competing in motorsport events. Yet the car had to be capable of being driven on the road.

arrow Here's what was eliminated:

  • air conditioning
  • leather seats
  • sunroof
  • radio
  • took kit
  • interior noise reduction mats
  • underhood insulation
  • trunk panel insulation
  • forged wheels
  • spare tire and jack

arrow Here's what was retained:

  • dashboard
  • heater
  • power windows

The power windows were kept since they were necessary for BMW's unique door glass sealing system.

arrow Here's what was added to the vehicle:

  • aluminum doors
  • special carpeting
  • carbon fiber trim
  • sport suspension
  • revised rear axle ratio of 3.23:1
  • a large strut brace connecting the front shock towers
  • an X-brace assembly to hold the entire front end together

The underbody X-Brace and Motorsport strut brace were included to stiffen the front chassis to counteract the body flex that can occur during cornering.

The weight savings was about 200 to 300 pounds over a stock M3. The savings varied depending on which of the performance options were added by the customer.

M3 engine

BMW took other steps to improve the performance and handling of the car:

  1. To improve performance, the M50 B30 3.0-liter engine was hand picked by BMW engineers. Reportedly, production engines were tested, and only those with the best performance numbers found their way into the M3 Lightweight.
  2. The top speed limit was removed from the ECU.
  3. The rear differential was increased to 3.23 over the 3.15 found on the stock M3. This increase improved the low-end torque, providing quicker acceleration.
  4. To improve the handling, stiffer springs were standard and a strut brace was installed. A common add-on for BMW's, the brace connects the front shock towers to make the car more rigid. An adjustable air dam in conjunction with a rear spoiler was also included to increase down force.

rear spoiler

BMW placed several options in the trunk, which the user could install if desired. Why did they put them in the trunk? Because if BMW found out they were installed, it would void your warranty!


Designed for racing only, the performance options were:

  • An oil pan with a dual pickup. The dual pickup helped ensure constant oil flow in hard cornering.
  • A non-DOT spoiler to increase down force. The spoiler does have a penalty of a few mph at high speeds.
  • The spoiler included an upper GT Race wing with two spacers. The spacers could be used to raise the upper wing further into the air stream if desired, like in the above picture.

The M3 Lightweight also had several lesser-known standard features including:

  • An oil vapor separator to reclaim oil that would otherwise burn off under high temperatures.
  • A unique set of lightweight, forged 17" alloy wheels.
  • Firmer springs than the stock M3.
notes In the 1995 model year, BMW only produced 120 to 125 of these cars. Only 85 cars made it to the USA. It is only recently that enthusiasts have recognized these cars for what they're worth, and today they are in high demand and quite collectible. Rarely do you see one for sale.


M3 Lightweight Links


BMW World M3 links:

External Links:

M3 Lightweight Homepage was created to help owners come together and help form a registry. There are high resolution pictures of the owner's car.

Racepad has M3 Lightweight info, tuning tips, and specifications.

BMW CCA Boston club has several photos of M3 Lightweight's in autocross, rally and other events.

Turner Motorsport has featured pages on M3 Lightweight's and they have parts and accessories.

If you like the M3 Lightweight decals, you can get them for your car from Rocky Mountain Motorworks

Lightweight Seeks Thinner Air article from the Roundel.

CLS S3 is A.C. Schnitzer's answer to the M3 Lightweight.

R&R Front Splitter on an M3 Lightweight text and photos. Click here for service information.

iSPEED has a few pictures.

Grand Am PDF is an excellent source of M3 Lightweight specifications.

M3 LTW Specs is an email with facts and figures about the M3 Lightweight.

General Info on M3 Lightweight with specifications.

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