There are only two things not to like about the E46 M3 CSL: It wasn’t sold the in the U.S., and it was available exclusively with an SMG automated manual transmission. If you look into the details of the car and what BMW had in mind during its creation, the choice of a fast-shifting transmission that can be operated by steering wheel-mounted paddles only makes sense. The M3 CSL was about lightweight performance, and extracting every every last bit through skipping sound deadening, using carbon-fiber for the roof, and fitting a transmission that could shift faster than any human can (among other changes the CSL packs over a standard M3) were all part of achieving that end.
Of course, some two decades after the introduction of the E46 M3, more than a few that originally left the factory with two pedals and an SMG gearbox have been converted to run the Getrag six-speed manual that has always seemed preferable. The number of swaps grows every year, leading one to wonder just how long it would be until a coveted CSL was given the treatment. Making the transition is relatively noninvasive, and that’s because SMG cars rely on hydraulic actuation for changing gears and operating the clutch. The underlying fundamentals are generally the same, meaning the swap itself isn’t particularly complex.
Last year, an operation out of the UK called Everything M3s announced they had developed a process to convert M3 CSLs from using SMG to a six-speed manual, and in the time since, the reviews have been accumulating. Harry Metcalfe, previously of Evo magazine and now of Harry’s Garage on YouTube recently got his hands on what must be one of the first (if not the very first) six-speed-converted CSL, and in his review, he asks one of the questions many of us have been pondering: Is a manual CSL peak M3?
In recent years, we’ve referred to BMW’s so-called golden age, which many believe was about twenty years ago, when the automaker was producing models like the E39 M5, Z3 M, first-generation X5, and E38 7 Series. That list isn’t complete without mention of the E46 M3, because both dimensionally speaking and in terms of performance, more than a few BMW enthusiasts feel that it was the peak. With an “induction sound second only to the McLaren F1” thanks to its model-specific carbon-fiber intake according to Metcalfe, the M3 CSL is the pinnacle of the E46 range and perhaps the entire lineage of M3s, and a traditional six-speed might just make it perfect.—Alex Tock
[Photo courtesy BMW AG. Video courtesy Harry’s Garage on YouTube.]