With it’s unusual plexi-glass covered headlights, long coupe profile and crisp detailing, the BMW 2000CS coupe looks more like a concept car than a production vehicle. And while this model belongs to the same family as the more commonly seen the examples of the E9 coupe (2800CS, CSi and CSL), it’s far more rare. It’s also a pretty polarizing BMW, with styling that inspires admiration or downright dislike.
Southern California architect John Barlow falls squarely in the former category, having owned six different examples of the unusual coupe. “I love the 2000CS,” explains Barlow. “I love the controversial front end, the clean, crisp lines and all the glass. The cars just make you feel good when you drive them.” The 2000CS maybe a somewhat overlooked vintage BMW, but I’s styling paved the way for all E9 coupes that came after. Introduced in 1965 and made until 1969, the 2000CS was powered by a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder M10 engine. The earlier C model utilized a single carburetor, while the later CS was upgraded to dual-carb fuel delivery.
Barlow is one of those enthusiasts who, when he sees a BMW like his 2000CS, he merely considers it a starting point for further performance and development. When he first acquires them, most of his BMWs are merely blank canvases, ready to be transformed into something that the original engineers could probably even have scarcely imagined when they were first produced. Barlow is one of the organizers of the SoCal Vintage BMW gathering, an annual car show that brings together a terrific mix of stock and modified vintage BMWs, with an emphasis on modified. So its really not surprising that he's so into building improved versions of classic cars. High octane fuel seems to pump through his blood.
The upgraded 2000CS pictured here is a perfect illustration of Barlow’s philosophy when it comes to classic car tuning. Keep it looking understated in appearance, but add a lot more performance. When he first found the clean, Polaris Silver example on eBay, it had been upgraded with a 5-speed conversion and sweet-looking Recaro seats.
The first upgrade was a pair of 15x7 and 15x8-inch Alpina wheels, an upgrade that required some careful fender rolling. Awhile after acquiring it though, Barlow had the BMW thoroughly gone through by Mano Aguilan, a good friend of his who at the time happened to be the owner of Groma Fabrication, a California shop known for turning out some pretty impressive machinery.
The aftermarket is pretty limited when it comes to performance upgrades for a model as rare as the 2000CS, which lead to some creative approaches to upgrading the old bimmer. Agulian began by replacing the original suspension with custom-built, adjustable coilovers at all four corners, consisting of Bilstein Sport shocks paired with 480-lb springs at the front and 320-lb springs at the back. Front and rear camber and toe settings are adjustable and to further control bodyroll around corners, custom 25-mm front and 24-mm rear swaybars with adjustable mounts. As Barlow notes, the change in hanlding was dramatic, considering that the 2000 had no swaybars at all when it left the factory.
The suspension changes were merely a foreshadowing of what was to come. “We wanted to build a car that would have been the continuation of the model, if it had continued on as a four-cylinder,” says Barlow. “If the car had continued to be built, how would it have evolved?”
In Barlow’s view, that evolution might have included a reinforced 2002tii subframe in lieu of the original one, Tii brakes were, E30 3 Series axles and an Alpina 4.10 limited slip differential, all of which were added to the car. With the suspension and chassis now far more capable than it was originally, all the car was lacking now was more horsepower. In keeping with the 4-cylinder packaging that BMW originally designed the car around, Barlow and Aguilan elected to install an S14 engine from an E30 M3. A 4-cylinder as well, the S14 is considered practically holy by devout BMW fans.
Barlow just happened to have a freshly rebuilt S14 that was slated for another project. The Rick Haner-built motor was installed into the 2000’s engine bay with the help of custom fabricated engine mounts. A 5-speed E30 M3 gearbox was also installed and which benefits from a lighter flywheel and stronger 228-mm clutch.
“Mano, being the creative guy that he is, decided to fit, quite nicely it seems, exactly one half of an E39 M5 intake manifold to the S14,” adds Barlow. The manifold is a cast piece with angled intake stacks. “This kept the engine from looking too modern and gave it a hint of the open, side-draught carb look.” The S14 engine’s stock fuel injection was next replaced with a fully programmable, stand alone system. The system evolved over a few years, with a setup from Electromotive finally doing the trick.
Aquilan fabricated a custom 4-into-1, stainless steel header that bolts to a 3-inch stainless steel exhaust with mandrel bends. “The S14 is otherwise pretty stock, but it breathes really well and makes some great sounds,” says Barlow. “With a bit over 200-hp at the wheels, it scoots along in E30 M3 style as well. I’m not sure if that 1967 chassis needs much more!” The cooling system consists of a larger but lighter 2002tii aluminum radiator from Ireland Engineering, while silicone hoses ensure that the cooling system remains reliable when things heat up.
“I have found no rust on at all on this car, which is very odd for a Karmann bodied coupe,” notes Barlow of the BMW’s cosmetics. He attributes that to the low miles the car has been driven. Even the paint on the car is largely original, which is rare indeed. The chrome front bumper was deleted for a cleaner look, an alteration that accentuates the coupe’s distinctive front end styling, with its glass covered headlights, tall kidney grill and row of vents in the sheet metal that aid engine cooling.
The BMW’s interior has been mildly upgraded to enhance the driving experience while staying true to the original aesthetic. The unbolstered original seats were replaced with generously bolstered Recaros by the original owner and the rear bench seat was recovered to match the front seats. A Nardi wood steering wheel compliments the original wood trim that still adorns the BMW’s interior. Besides the seats though, the biggest tipoff that the car has been modified is a small row of gauges that was installed in the CS’s distinctive vertical center console, including a water temperature gauge, oil temperature gauge and a volt meter.
Outward visibility is terrific, with the generous glass of the coupe’s greenhouse and the thin pillars providing a near fish-bowl like view out in all directions. The driving position afforded by the Recaros is upright and alert, the Nardi and Motorsport-colored shift knob falling naturally to hand. With a twist of the key, the S14 under the hood lights up with far more authority than the original motor fitted to this car. The open ended E39 M5 intake runners, capped off with simple screen filters, suck in copious quantities of air when the throttle is blipped. In fact, the intake snort means that the fuel injected motor sounds more like a carbureted car.
The CS has a firm, sporty ride on the road. It may lack the refinement of newer cars, but it provides plenty of feedback of from the road surface. Handling and grip around corners is far better than a stock coupe, the coilovers and fat tires gripping the road impressively. An Alpina limited slip makes the rear end easy to control around faster corners and the upgraded brakes work great as well, slowing the old Bimmer with impressive authority.
In a straight line the CS is certainly quick enough. It’s not a rocket by any means, but it bolts down the road with an eagerness that belies its year. The S14 revs quickly, making a terrific, throaty growl throughout the rev range. The M3 gearbox is easy to shift, the gear lever slotting quickly and confidently up and down through the gears with short, direct throws.
“The car is a blast to drive,” Barlow says of his reborn 2000CS. “Everything is new, but it retains that vintage car feel. It is a really interesting balance of old and new. The ride is firm but not jarring, it corners extremely well and has plenty of reliable power.” A 2000CS evolved for the modern world? I’d say Barlow pretty much hit his target right in the bullseye.