BMW will never build anything like it again.
It was in 1995 when BMW launched the original Z3 roadster, the same year it made a brief cameo in the James Bond film Golden Eye. In some ways, the Z3 was an unusual car for BMW at the time, despite its history with roadsters. The automaker was keen to advance its luxury brand status taking the fight to Mercedes-Benz. The Z3 would have made more market sense if it had been launched, say, a decade earlier when BMW was still more focused on enthusiast driving.
But development for the Z3 actually got underway in 1991, not long after a certain other roadster hit the market, the first-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata. Before its arrival, few would have guessed the Miata would find the smashing success it did. BMW took note and figured it was worth a shot.
Fortunately, it also had the right tooling. The Z3 was based on the same rear-wheel-drive platform that underpinned the E36 3 Series. Even some components of its rear suspension design came from the already discontinued E30 3 Series.
While the Z3 Roadster managed to gain plenty of attention for its looks, one area where it needed some help was under the hood. Originally launched with an inline-four with 114 hp and 124 lb-ft of torque, not only was the base engine later upgraded with additional power but an optional inline-six was also added in 1996 that boosted output 148 hp and 140 lb-ft. Better but not outstanding. And then came the Z4 M the following year. US-spec models were powered by a 3.2-liter inline-six with 240 hp and 225 lb-ft and paired to a five-speed manual.
Compared to the regular Z3, the M version also had a limited-slip differential, wider rear track, redesigned front and rear bumpers, larger 17-inch wheels, quad exhausts, and nifty engine and oil temperature gauges relocated to the center console. It also had the E36 M3’s brakes. But in addition to the Z3 M Roadster, there was also the coupe body style. Instead of playing it safe with a fixed roof bolted in place of the soft top, BMW went with a hatchback design. It’s a love or hate type of thing. But the Z3 M Coupe, launched in 1998, did not become the sales success BMW had hoped to see.
Fortunately, the hatchback design was also cost-effective because most of its body panels were shared with the M roadster. Everything from the A-pillars forward are the same. Even the doors are identical. Engineers basically wanted to increase the M roadster’s structural rigidity because, well, they knew it could be done.
But these improvements, coupled with the funky design, didn’t translate to strong sales. Enthusiasts, the primary sales target, even mocked the Z3 M Coupe’s styling with names like "clown shoe.” But time has worked in favor of the Z3 M Coupe. Today, 17 years after its discontinuation, the Z3 M Coupe has earned something of a cult following and because few examples were built, they typically get bought fairly quickly. We found this 2000 model year Z3 M Coupe up for sale on Craigslist San Francisco with 154,000 easy miles on its odo. It’s also bone stock.
The seller and second owner has performed regular maintenance and in the last 10,000 miles it has received a new alternator, water pump, front rotor brakes and pads, and a new brake caliper and assembly on the front driver’s side. In the last 500 miles it has gained new coils in a couple of cylinders, and a new radiator. More recently, a new battery and plugs have been installed. Overall condition is said to be excellent and the asking price is $19,000, or best offer. We particularly dig the factory roof racks, too. The BMW Z3 M Coupe may not appeal to everyone, but it’s also something the company would never even consider building today, and that’s a real shame.