Euro Low: Cole Foster's 1971 E9 BMW 2800 CS
Interview: Luke Ray Photography: Sean Klingelhoefer
For Cole's latest personal project, he took on something that had been at the back of his mind for some time. When the right example came up, he got stuck in to what must be the coolest BMW on the streets of California right now. Here's what he had to say about it:
Where did this interest in doing a CS project come from?
When I was younger, in my early 20s, I had a couple of 2002s. I used to have a lot of fun with those cars, doing pretty simple but cool mods to them. Whenever I’d go to a shop to get some parts, they’d often have CSs there. I always liked them but back then they were out of my price range. A few years after that we were customising a CS for a customer. Just a few tasteful mods, mild things. That project got me even more into them and I’ve talked about having one ever since. It was only about three or four years ago that I seriously started looking for one.
Where did you find this particular one?
About two years ago there was this CS in body primer under a sheet in a buddy’s body shop. He said it was for sale, and the deal was done. It was pretty rough, not really a nice body. So I stripped it to bare metal and that was going to be the project that I’d been wanting to do. I was almost done with the body, and another friend says “I know where there’s one of those. An old lady’s had one outside her house for the last ten years”. Sure enough, we go check it out and it was a silver car, complete and looking pretty good but had obviously been standing for a while. The lady stuck her head out the window, at which point I was expecting her to tell us to get lost, and she just said: “Do you want to buy it?” I asked her what she wanted and she said “A thousand dollars.” So that was it, I got it back to the shop and discovered that the body was really good, so I switched my energy to that one. I took anything good from the first one, like the interior and left the rest of it. Both cars ran well, so the engine and transmissions were both good candidates. I just ran with what was already in the first car to keep things simple.
What was the first step in customising the CS?
I pretty much knew (as with all my builds) what I wanted from the beginning. The first step was to get the thing to sit right. With the factory suspension setup and wheels, there’s just no room under these cars to get them down without adjusting the bodywork, plus my car was to have bigger wheels. I ended up cutting the spindle off and fitting smaller coilovers. I think they were from a Scirocco. I cut the bottom A-arms and shortened the steering arms a little bit, and it worked out well. The towers were good, and I was able to move everything in enough to get a height drop and have the wheels tuck under nicely. I put 2 ½” springs in there, adjustable so I can get the ride height and camber just as I want it.
At the rear, I took the wishbones out, dropped the subframe out and moved the centre section up as high as I could without butchering it too bad. I sectioned the box where the wishbones sit to move things up a couple of inches. When the wishbones were out, I took 2 ½ inches out of those and welded everything back in. I just had to notch the floor slightly in two spots under the back seats to get rid of a lot of the camber. This helped it to sit really nice. Otherwise it would have had that clapped-out over-cambered look that so many lowered cars have, and just isn’t right.
Had you seen another CS done well to use as a guide?
No, I’ve never seen one that sits nice and low. I’ve seen ones with flared arches, or to give the look of the CSL model, but nothing that sits bitchin under standard guards.
What was next?
Next we attacked the chassis. I say we as I have a young guy, Aaron working in my shop. He works on chassis a lot, airbagging, that kinda stuff. In methodology, I’m Country and he’s Rock’n’Roll. He’s like “Fuck this… let’s just build a tube chassis from scratch! Why are you trying to fudge all this stuff to get everything to fit?” He gets pretty excited about that kind of stuff. I prefer to be patient, sit back and look at something for a while.
The towers were good on this car, so I didn’t want to mess with them so I decided to stick with the chassis that was there. Although, the floorpan was messed up, so I made a new floor for it, leaving the stock transmission tunnel alone. Whilst I was doing that, I made the floor flatter. The standard floor has a raised area for the front seats. Making the floor flat either side of the tunnel allowed me to drop the seats right down.
Which wheels did you go for?
I wanted an Alpina looking wheel. These ones aren’t Alpina, they’re BMW 5-series ‘Style 32’ wheels but they have the look that I wanted. 17x8 at the front and 17x9 at the back. I bead blasted them and then polished them up.
Did you need to fix up the body or was it good?
It was really good. I just focused on deliberate customisations. I shaved the whole thing. The door handles are shaved, I deleted the aluminium trim that goes around the beltline, I deleted the ariel and all the numbers and the badge from the back. The BMW badges on the C-pillars are really nice, much nicer than the ones on the trunk and the nose. So I took the big front one off, and used an extra one of these instead and set it in just right. I made an aluminium spoiler for the front. I actually made a mould off the aluminium one just incase I need another. I made some covers for the side rocker panels. They make the car look even lower than it is, so that was a neat little trick. I didn’t flare the guards at all. The skill in lowering a car is making it sit right without resorting to flaring or messing with the body. I don’t like the bolt-on flares or extreme camber approach.
I brushed-finished the aluminum grille. For the rear bumper, I modified one from an earlier car, a BMW 2000. They had a much nicer, smoother bumper. So I modified that to fit, smoothed it all out and chromed it. I took it up to a guy not far from here and he sprayed it with aluminium metal spray, which I brushed. I brushed the trim around the windscreen too, for a consistent look.
The tail light lenses I all made from scratch using ¼ inch perspex sheet that comes with the diamond pattern moulded in. I had to make a mould the right shape to go around the back corner of the car, cut the sheet, warm it in the oven and lay it in the mould to fit just right. It was a big job, but worth it to get that clean, all-red look to the lenses.
At the front I deleted some little running lights that the car had, and set in the turn signals, as from factory they stick out pretty far.
You said the interior was pretty good already. Did you modify it much?
I have a guy near me who worked on the wood. It’s cedar, which he re-veneered. The dash was pretty shot through. I fixed up the metal structure and then fiberglassed the whole thing, smoothed it all out and then painted it semi-flat black. I was thinking of covering it in leather, but the black finish looked so good, I left it. I made new aluminium door panels.
I fitted later model seats, I think they’re from a 320i coupe. The whole interior has had Dynomat laid out for sound deadening and new carpet was fitted throughout. I fitted a black suede headliner.The steering wheel was pretty messed up, so it was totally restored.
What about the engine compartment?
It’s all pretty stock in there. I just tidied it up so it looks like a nice standard engine, but restored. I did move the battery to the trunk, which cleaned things up a bit. The wiring is all tidied up. The top surface of the shock mounts now have custom made aluminium covers and exposed bolts instead of the ugly rubber parts. The engine does have an aftermarket carb kit on it. I forget the name right now, but it’s a neat little kit and was popular when these cars were new.
And the paint colours is…?
The paint is a modern BMW colour; Marrakesh Brown. I saw it on an X6 whilst I was in Rome but when I came home it wasn’t released in the US yet. So, I had my guys at PPG here mix it up based on the European paint code.
How long did the whole project take?
A year. I was working on it every day after work. I was excited about this build, and when that happens I can move through things pretty fast.
What was the biggest challenge through the build?
It wasn’t a particularly difficult project as such, but it just took some time to get familiar with the car. When you’ve not worked on a certain model before it takes a while to get to know it, and to figure out how it all works and where everything goes. The hardest part was probably when I was just about done with that first body. I had done a lot of work on it, then the second car showed up and I made the switch. That was tough.
You know, this was quite a cheap build. I bought the first car for $2500, the second one for $1000. Along the way I sold around $1000 -$1500 worth of parts, and I still have at least that amount left to sell, so the project doesn’t owe me too much.
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 20.
Follow Cole: @thesalinasboy.