Manual BMW M3 (E46) CSL for sale

The SMG arguably holds the E46 back from true greatness. Here's what could have been

By Cam Tait / Sunday, 3 December 2023 / Loading comments

A few months ago, PH’s own Matt Bird pitched the new, manual BMW M2 against the SMG-equipped E46 M3 CSL to see if Munich’s latest (and last) combustion-only M-car could topple the mighty Coupe Sport Lightweight. Both straight-six-powered, both occupying a similar footprint, both representing the end of their respective eras. But (boot-lip spoiler alert) the M2 got Matt’s vote, which naturally prompted a, er, healthy discussion in the comments. 

There’s a multitude of reasons as to why the M2 got the nod over the CSL, so it’s definitely worth giving the twin test a read if you’re seriously contemplating between the two, but the main factor that held the CSL back – and always has – was its semi-automated manual gearbox. BMW’s SMG-II was far from stellar when it arrived on the E46 generation, and its fitment on the CSL, the pinnacle of what many consider to be the greatest M car of all time, was highly controversial both then and now. While flicking paddles to change gear was in line with the CSL’s track-honed intent, slow, dimwitted shifts were not. If only it had been offered with a manual ‘box…

So too thought Darragh Doyle: founder of Everything M3s and the master of E46 M3 manual conversions. Turns out it isn’t an entirely outlandish idea, given that an SMG uses the same transmission as the manual M3, only with a hydraulic pump to shift gears and a computer to tell it when to do so. That doesn’t mean it’s easy (or cheap) to switch from paddles to a knob, especially if you want to go the whole hog and install the correct steering wheel, but given the rave reviews manual-converted CSLs have garnered, it certainly sounds like a job worth doing.

Or, Even better, find a car that’s already had a manual swap done, like this one here. Not only does this 2004 car benefit from an Everything M3s manual conversion, it’s also been fitted with the specialist’s 4.1 differential – a hugely popular upgrade that shortens the final drive, meaning more time spent basking in that glorious carbon intake noise. Power from the S54 in-line six remains unchanged, so that’s 360hp at 7,900rpm pushing along just 1,385kg. This one might be a touch heavier, as it’s been fitted with the optional Bose sound system and air con, but you’ll be using your left leg and shifting gears yourself to notice. Or care.

But wait, there’s more. During its conversion, the car underwent ‘light restoration work’, mainly around reinforcing the rear-axle carrier panel: notoriously problematic on E46 M3s and, if left untreated, can be a mighty expensive fix. The rest of the car looks utterly sublime in the pictures provided, and if you needed any proof that it drives well, this very CSL was the star of Harry Metcalfe’s review of the Everything M3s manual conversion kit. Safe to say, he wasn’t disappointed.

Nor will you be when you have a peek at the asking price. It’s £86,995, which actually makes it the cheapest CSL currently for sale on PH. It’s the only manual one, too (no surprise as only 19 of the 422 UK cars are said to have been converted), and it’s not like it’s been driven to the Moon and back either; the dash reads 40,500 miles, though the ad claims that it’s only covered 500 miles since the conversion. So not only is it on the cheaper end of the CSL spectrum, it’s covered relatively few miles and shouldn’t suffer from the big issue that afflicts so many E46s. Oh, and it’ll probably be the best-driving M car there’s ever been. Quick, before others cotton on… 


Engine: 3,246cc in-line six
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 360@7,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 273@4,900rpm
MPG: 23.7 (stock)
CO2: 287g/km (stock)
Year registered: 2004
Recorded mileage: 40,500
Price new: £58,455
Yours for: £86,995

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