The first MKO car I tested was the V8-powered 1602. While this V8 conversion to the classic compact BMW was impressive, the car that really turned me on was still a work in progress at the time.
Although it was sitting at the back of the workshop, the immaculate, silver BMW 3.0CS caught my eye straight away. Still looking as elegant today as it did in its heyday four decades ago, the CS is one of my favourite coupes of all time.
As I came closer, I noticed that the car was far from standard. Its wide wheels and lower, more purposeful stance gave it a modern air of confidence, and as I walked around it, I saw that its rear wheel arches had been subtly extended. On closer inspection, it became obvious that the sill area just before the rear arches had also been neatly and sympathetically flared out.
Noting my unbridled enthusiasm for his new baby, MKO’s boss, Michael Oberhauser, explained that the 3.0CS bodywork had to be modified this way to accommodate the shortened floorpan and mechanicals of an E39 M5.
I call such cars ‘Frankenstein’ conversions, as the engineering challenge to make such a car is almost akin to having the head of one person transplanted onto the body of another. But unlike Mary Shelley’s scream inducing original, I hasten to add that I use this description in the nicest possible way.
Michael raised the hydraulic lift and showed me how perfectly the 1970s Coupe body had been grafted on to the late 1999s M5 chassis. This is the kind of engineering that I appreciate when it is done well, so I asked him to let me know when the car was finished and ready to drive.
The e-mail I was waiting for arrived a few months later, I found myself back at MKO, in the village of Wörth, about an hour east of Munich, examining the finished CS M5 before we headed out in search of good driving roads and a suitable photo location.
As we waited for the strong afternoon sun to abate, Michael verbally took me down the long road he had travelled in the previous year or so to get his beautiful chimera to its finished condition.
“The MKO concept is a carefully considered and professionally executed marriage of modern BMW engines and chassis with classic BMW coupe body shells, explained Michael. “The CS M5 is the second car to benefit from this technology transfer”.
“This prototype involved three donor cars; one E39 M5 and two E9 CS coupes,” Michael explained. “I already had the first CS before I bought the M5, but then found I needed another for parts”.
“The second CS was a metallic green 2800CS originally owned by the famous Bavarian TV chef, Alfons Schuhbeck. Like the first one, it had a lot of rust, but I was able to use most of the body shell parts”.
“It was important that an MKO car should literally be like new,” he explained. “So I spent a further 8,000 euros buying new lights and chrome. I had to get most of these bits from BMW Classic, and they are not cheap. A light unit costs 400 euros, and a complete bumper is 1,000 euros, for instance”.
Because of the high cost of labour in Germany, the bodywork is done by a specialist body shop in Romania. Thus, despite the 3,000 man-hours it takes to build, the turnkey CS M5 costs just 150,000 euros.
“The labour cost in Romania is one third that of Germany, otherwise the car would have to sell for over 200,000 euros,” said Michael. “I would like to sell two or three CS M5s, and then I will start work on a similar conversion for the 635CSi coupe, which you can see over there,” he said pointing to a nice, clean example of BMW’s 1980s Coupe sitting in the corner.
“The Romanian body shop we use have some of the best metal craftsmen in their country, and they hand-made some body parts to such a high standard that once the car was painted you simply cannot believe that it did not leave the factory that way”, he explained.
“We used to have craftsmen like that in Germany in years gone by, but they are now very hard to find as people think it is easier and more cost effective to simply replace broken or rusty part with a new one,” he continued. “Under the communist regime, Romanians did not have access to new parts, and they had to re-furbish or even make anything they could not get hold of”.
“The M5 and the first CS went to Romania on a trailer, but as the green CS was driveable after I had fixed its seized brakes, I drove it there myself”, said Michael.
The Romanian workshop separated the M5 shell from its floorpan, and repaired and replaced all the rusty panels on the CS body. Then they shortened the M5 floorpan, propshaft and exhaust system by 210mm to fit the CS’s wheelbase.
Next came the arduous process of adapting and welding the CS body to the M5 platform, which has 60mm wider front and 100mm wider rear tracks. The rear arches and surrounding metal as well as the sills all had to be modified, with many new parts made up from sheet metal. The high standard of work that is obvious when you look closely is a tribute to their craftsmanship.
The front spoiler looks period because it is an original CSL part, although the new rear valance had to be made up from scratch to match the wider rear bodywork. It looks very good though, as it sits lower than the original and hides the big M5 rear silencer boxes, leaving only the four bespoke exhaust end pipes exposed at the business end.