• Barney

Readers Drive - The Lesser Known Lightweight

The 3.0 CSL is famous for its lightweight alloy panels but there was another lesser known lightweight produced in South Africa. This is a short story from Peter who was lucky enough to enjoy one of the rare cars long before it was considered a classic. During the early nineties I was working as a consultant on projects across South Africa and Zimbabwe. Having left a Delta Integrale in London, I was disturbed to find that South Africa applied very high import duties to anything interesting. But local production was defined in terms of mass rather than value, so it was possible to add imported engines, running gear and electrics to local sheet metal and end up with a vehicle classed as ‘locally produced’. This suited BMW at the time, since they were locked in a battle with GM for the country’s Group N saloon class.

That’s how a 325i came to get an Alpina 2.7 block and as many M3 components as they could squeeze in. Add aluminium doors and bonnet and a body kit with a dangerously deep from spoiler and you got a limited production homologation special called the 325iS. Power was 200bhp, which together with pretty good chassis balance and brakes made this one of fastest things on the road. You can find some period footage on YouTube showing a Kyalami grid almost exclusively filled by the 325iS and its deadly rival the FWD Opel Kadett ’Superboss’.

One of my colleagues had one, and once I’d tried it I was straight off to the dealer. Many of my projects were at mines and power plants in remote locations across the country, and back then the roads were in a mostly good state and quite empty outside the cities. The result was some epic long distance drives through equally amazing scenery accompanied by a creamy straight-six soundtrack. I managed to enjoy nearly 30,000 km in less than a year before unexpectedly having to leave, passing on what came to be a cult car to another local enthusiast. I currently drive a 1M, and although the two cars are nearly twenty years and 150hp apart, I think in concept and spirit they are surprisingly similar.