I suppose before I get into the ins and outs of the conversion, I should summarise my last 5 1/2 years with the car.
Overall, it’s been great. The car I bought was the cheapest, highest-mileage example in the country but was still in very good condition at 114,000 miles. Since then it’s done another 28,000 in various conditions; it’s been round Europe, round the Nurburgring, on a couple of trackdays, done the North Coast 500 and seen all parts of Wales.
During the past 5 years there haven’t been any big issues, mainly just maintenance. I’ve had one unfortunate occurrence of cam lobe wear, which took a while to sort but other than that it’s really just had the usual M3 things happen. It is, after all, a 16-year-old 3 Series when you strip all the fancy parts away.
My job as an engineer / dynamicist has made me a little over-sensitive to certain things such as damper/bush wear, steering wear, tyres etc so I’ve kept on top of these. Whenever something needs to be replaced it’s done as I would at work, so all parts of the dampers have been refreshed from top to bottom rather than just the bits that actually wore out. With that in mind, I would say that after 28,000 miles and a lot of adventures, the car is actually in better condition than when I bought it 5 years ago.
The proof, as they say, is in the pudding. PUDDING IT ROUND THE NURBURGRING. Ha.
No, but 28,000 miles in a ‘weekend car’ in 5 years, and even to keep a car for 5 years, you’ve got to have enjoyed it. I haven’t regretted buying the car, even with some fairly large bills along the way. I love driving long distance, I love the way it can tackle all sorts of driving so competently. In my ownership I’ve been camping a number of times, done 170mph on an autobahn and thrown the car round the Nurburgring. 14 times. I’ve also been to the garden centre with the in-laws.
I just love the way the CSL, or indeed any M3 has the performance to worry a supercar and yet can swallow 4 people and a lot of luggage or even a couple of bikes (if you’re careful).
Finally, the SMG system. It’s fairly obvious that I’ve not hated if I’ve lived with it for so long. For many it was a deal breaker but I can actually see a lot of appeal and advantages to the system. It is of course a little archaic now and I think that was one of the main reasons I wanted to change - a manual gearbox is always a manual gearbox, shifts are always up to you. The SMG however has been thoroughly shown up by the invention of dual-clutch systems. As I write this, I’m in Spain with a Mini Cooper rental car. It has a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox which completely tramples all over the SMG’s ability to shift gears smoothly and consistently and yet it was the cheapest thing Hertz could give me. Times have moved on and it hasn’t been kind to the SMG.
Despite its age, SMG is still a lot of fun on track or twisty roads. You always have both hands on the wheel and there’s a definite satisfaction of grabbing another gear when you’re tearing up a motorway sliproad or just generally being a bit of a hooligan. The down-shifts are lovely too, it always rev-matched beautifully and combined with the bark of the airbox, something that pretty much defines the CSL experience, it’s a rare car where deceleration can be just as intoxicating as acceleration.
5 1/2 years was enough though. I realised in April this year that I hadn’t taken a picture of my car, my pride and joy, for 6 months. I was beginning to fall out of love and get an itch to change to something different. But what can replace a CSL? For me the next step in the ladder is the GT3RS but that required I find another £50-60,000 from somewhere, which I just didn’t have and nor could I justify.
And that’s when I met Darragh…