If there’s one car that deserves to be called the Holy Grail of BMW 3 Series, it’s the 2004 BMW M3 CSL. The rare, lightweight coupe isn’t the kind of car you’d expect to be forgotten for years in a parking garage, but just such a scenario is going down in a wealthy neighborhood of London. The car’s backstory is murky, and only gets more confusing the deeper you dive. One thing’s still clear, though: This CSL hasn’t moved in many years, and it’s not going anywhere any time soon.
The M3 CSL was the ultimate production version of the E46, the last M3 powered by a naturally aspirated inline-six. Already considered the pinnacle of BMWs by some, the CSL improved on the E46 M3 by slashing 243 pounds and using retuned suspension to take full advantage of the weight savings. It had 19-inch wheels, bucket seats, a quick-shifting six-speed automated manual, and to top it all off, a sprinkling of extra horsepower. Just 1,383 were built, so they sometimes sell for over $100,000 today.
Yet none of this—not the car’s driving experience, nor its cash value—has stopped one owner from letting their BMW rot away.
Photos of the car began circulating social media in August, starting with a post from Instagram user @Mildlyinterestingcarsoflondon. The CSL is visibly in sad shape, with scrapes on the paint, driver-side mirror, and front wheel, while the rear fender is hanging off from someone hitting it. Its tires are flat, and there are clamps on both driver-side wheels. This car clearly hasn’t moved in a long time.
The account that posted the pictures had an explanation, which they told me they’d heard from a friend of the owner. Supposedly, the BMW was bought in August 2004 by a businessman, who drove the car 37 miles back to a private parking garage and just… left it there. Never inspected, never serviced.
But dispute over that account arose immediately, with commenters pointing out parts of the story that independent sources didn’t support. Others claimed to know the real story, but couldn’t cough up anything believable in messages. (One claimed an ownership dispute between brothers, but was unable to substantiate their claim.) In a comment, the original poster said they’d heard more than a half-dozen completely different narratives; this CSL is a magnet for misinformation. So far, the prevailing rumor has been the original version.
However, by gathering up all public documentation on the car, and speaking to sources who proved they have access to the CSL, I’ve put together a more complete history.
To start with, I pulled vehicle history reports from Britain’s free Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and paid reports by HPIcheck.com, and uk.vin-info.com. This allowed cross-reference of reports associated with the plate and one specific to the VIN (which I was asked not to publish). All sources agreed that the CSL was registered in August 2004, but didn’t undergo MOT inspection, leading to its plates expiring in March 2006.
They also confirmed the CSL received a new Vehicle Registration Certificate in July 2013, which could indicate an ownership change according to Auto Express. But they can also be reissued for even a change of address, so this doesn’t indicate the car was sold. All it tells us is that the CSL hadn’t been totally forgotten as of that time. What happened between 2006 and 2013, however, is where the timelines start to clash.
According to a vehicle history report obtained from HPIcheck.com, the CSL’s odometer was recorded at 9,060 miles by a dealer service in March 2005. Speaking to @m635bmw on Instagram, who told me they spoke to BMW customer service about the CSL’s service history, the car allegedly continued to be serviced at a BMW dealer in London until November 2006, by which point it had supposedly exceeded 15,000 miles. During that period however, the car’s odometer seemed to turn back between services. This begins a conundrum concerning the car’s odometer—more on that later.
The trail goes dark here for several years, before one of the reports shows a “manufacturer” reporting mileage to be 49,016 miles in August 2013. There are some issues with this, though. Either the BMW was driven 34,000 miles without registration (unlikely), or the mileage history is wrong. It’s around this time that something else major happened, too.
In October 2012, the U.K. outlawed installing parking clamps on cars stored on private property. A photo of the CSL from November 2010 shared by a source shows it in seemingly the same position it is today, sans clamp. That leaves a roughly two-year window for it to have been immobilized. What’s more, the date stamps on the tires all read 2003 or 2004, and their vent spews haven’t been worn off. They’re almost certainly the original rubber. Things just don’t add up, and it doesn’t get any better when the car’s trail picks back up in August 2023.
The day the car began to go viral last month, three more odometer discrepancies appeared on the history report. It first plummeted to 37 miles, then back up to 38, then 100 as indicated by the National Mileage Register. Because E46 odometers can’t be read with their ignition off though, this is likely information submitted by people who just saw the social media post.
But it adds yet another confusing dimension to a story that seems to get less clear at each turn. A professionally sourced vehicle history report says it traveled tens of thousands of miles, and word of mouth from BMW’s service network supposedly backs that up. But the CSL’s tires seem to be almost unused originals, it hasn’t been registered in 17 years, and as of 2010, it was likely already sitting where it is today. By then it may have already been there for half a decade, as a source indicates the car started parking there in 2005.
It’d be easier to clear this all up if I could reach the owner, but the closest I got was to people who park in the same private garage where the BMW is stored. It was described by one as a “very high security” facility by one source, who asked to be attributed as a member of @_drivecollective, and who proved they had access to the CSL. By combining their testimony with that of others, I’ve been able to gather a rough idea of what might be up with the owner.
Multiple sources claiming to be a “friend of a friend” of the owner say that they have an apartment nearby, but spend much of their time abroad. They’re characterized as reclusive, not wanting attention about the car, rebuffing multiple offers to buy it and even a prior media inquiry. There was a rumor that they also owned a similarly neglected low-mileage 1M coupe that was parked next to the CSL for a time, but that car turned out to belong to someone else (and has reportedly been sold).
But why this individual still owns a desirable performance car they don’t use, couldn’t fire up and drive, and could still turn a quick buck on remains unknown. One of my sources doesn’t believe the CSL is being treated as an investment though, as the profit the owner would turn from flipping it was described as “peanuts” compared to the rest of their wealth.
Despite all the conflicting info, the initial story—or something close to it—seems sound. The CSL by all accounts seems not to have been moved since at least 2010, maybe as far back as 2005. Whether it really has 37 miles seems to be speculative, though flaws with the history reports leave more mileage in doubt too.
By the looks of things, this is one of those Dubai-like cases of someone with so much wealth that a car rarer and more valuable than most people ever own is an insignificant piece of property that gathers dust. If anything, the attention the CSL draws might be a nuisance, as they could evidently afford to have someone else whip it back into shape with a phone call or two.
Maybe they’re holding on for sentimental reasons. Maybe there really is some odometer screwiness that’d make registering a headache. In any case, it’s probably still fair to call this M3 abandoned. It’s not worth wasting breath chastising the owner about it; no amount of indignant clacking of keyboards will make them change their ways. As sad as it is, it’s likely this unloved CSL will continue to decay until it’s hauled away. Whether that’s as scrap—or to be restored to its former glory—is still in the owner’s power, if they ever decide to use it.
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