There have been much faster BMW’s, those who push the limits of what is sane to stuff into a family sedan, such as the V10 E60 M5, and there have been much more luxurious cars too, such as the 7 and 8-Series. But, what about the cars that weren’t meant to make it to the front row of the dealership, the cars that most BMW owners would never consider buying, what about the BMW Z3 Coupe? The E36/8 Z3 Coupe is often forgotten in the fast-moving world of cars, and so I’ll get straight to it. Here are 8 reasons why it should be commemorated as the best enthusiast car out there.
It was not created to sell big numbers, it was created for enthusiasts. The truth is that the E36/8 is hated by car dealers. To most people, it is seen as ugly and impractical. For those reasons, there are crazy petrolheads like myself that have absolutely fallen in love with this car, and for all the reasons that everyone else hates it. If you removed the BMW badges, my guess is that most people wouldn’t guess that it is in fact a BMW, it has the lines of something much more aggressive with a track pedigree.
The only four engines were available in the E36/8 which were the M52 (2.8L), the M54 (3.0L), the S52 (3.2L), and the almighty 3.2L S54 engine from the E46 M3 which originally produced 333 HP, but in the Z3M, (the only Z3 it was offered in) the S54 has been tuned down to 315 HP, because an ugly shooting brake couldn’t have more power than the flagship M3 right? Although the E36/8 was developed during the time of the E36, the E30 trailing arms were carried over in order to reduce production cost. It is quite easy to tell the difference between a M Coupe and a regular Z3 Coupe, other than just the badges. Like all other M3’s, there were changes done to the M Coupe to make it different, such as wider fenders and quad exhausts. All Z3’s were offered with either a 4-speed auto or a 5-speed manual, and still maintained an average of 24.5 mpg combined.
The BMW aftermarket has been steadily growing due to the increased amount of high schoolers with 328i’s that want go-fast parts. And so the E36/8 has a variety of companies that make both exterior and interior modifications of high quality. Being a powerful car that weighs less than the E46 M3, the Z3M can often be found on racetracks around the world, passing new BMW’s and Porsches. Many parts from other M3’s can also be transferred onto the Z3 Coupe, such as newer trailing arms to replace those of the E30.
The roadster version (E36/7) is generally more popular for the public and can be described as the “BMW Miata,” which attributes to its lower popularity among petrolheads. I have personally seen this car get mixed opinions about it’s body shape and practicality. Nonetheless, you will break necks for sure with all of the great colors that BMW offered on the E36/8, including my personal favorite of Laguna Seca Blue.
If you don’t know, the Z in Z3 stands for “Zukunft,” or future. In my opinion, this car is better than a wide variety of “Z” cars that BMW offers This includes not only the Z4, but also the Z8 and the Z1. With a larger carrying capacity than most minivans, the Z3 is also practical and can be used as a daily driver that won’t cost as much as a Z4 or a Z8, where you have to worry about how many miles you put in each day.
The Z3 roadster is a car you might end up seeing with almost 300,000 examples on the road, while the coupe has under 20,000 examples ever produced, with most of them being hoarded by collectors. With most being in collections, it is not usually very difficult to find one with low miles in good condition. Compared to an E46 M3 in good condition, a Z3 coupe will run you anywhere between $16-$60K US, depending in what you’re looking for.
Due to the fact that the E36/8 was designed for enthusiasts, it has a very large fanbase, including a website just for the Z3M coupe! It is very rare that you will actually see a Z3 coupe in the wild, as most owners keep them comfy in their garage or they are out running them hard at the track or on open roads. In fact, all three Z3’s (red, yellow, silver) on this post were all seen on the same day at two separate shows, so there’s your proof. The M Coupe is also less famous than the E46 M3, which is known to have such a large community that it’s difficult to fit in without dumping tons of money into your M3 just to stand out. If you own an M Coupe, you already stand out, but you won’t always be noticed.
As I have been reinstating throughout this post, the Z3 Coupe was never designed to be a fan favorite. For that reason, it won’t always be liked at car shows, and you might not always be the fastest BMW around. But for some of us, that isn’t what owning a car is about. Owning a BMW M Coupe is like pissing your pants in public: for you its an enjoyable and warm feeling, but everyone else just gives you strange looks. And that concludes my thoughts about the Z3 Coupe and why you should love it like I do.