With the values of cars like E36 M3s and Z3 M Coupes launching into the stratosphere, it’s becoming very difficult to get hold of a modern classic performance BMW without paying mega bucks. One exception does spring to mind, though: the ordinary Z3, specifically one with a six-cylinder engine.
While most Z3s aren’t of interest to us, sling a six-cylinder engine under that long bonnet and we’re happy to take notice. Of the six-pot cars it’s the 2.8 and 3.0-litre ones you should investigate. The 2.8 cars have the old 190bhp M52 units fitted, and if you bag one of the pre-facelift single-vanos models, you’ll be able to do the classic M50 intake manifold swap to unlock a little more power.
If you go too early and grab a 1997 model though, you might be lumbered with an example without a limited-slip differential, as these didn’t become standard until 1998.
The 3.0-litre cars have the newer M54 engine fitted with a more useful 231bhp, making 0-60mph possible in six seconds dead. Curiously, many of the later 3.0-litre Z3s are hovering around the same price region as the 2.8s, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for both on your hunt.
The Z3 wasn’t exactly a handling high point for BMW - it uses the E36’s platform but with the E30’s trailing arm rear suspension - but there are a few things you can do to improve drivability and kill off the dreaded scuttle shake. The priority should be stiffening measures: strut braces are a common mod for these cars, and thicker anti-roll bars are worth a look too.
Want one? The cheapest 2.8 we saw in our trawl of the classifieds was a 1997 model for £2300, and this tempting 3.0-litre example is up for £3600, albeit with a reasonably high 124,000 miles on the clock. ‘But that’s almost as much as a 3.0-litre Z4!’ I hear you shout. That’s true, but before you pick up your pitchforks, it’s important to note that not so long ago it was possible to pick up a tatty, early 2.8 for as little as a grand, but those days are gone. For that money, you’ll only get a humdrum four-pot Z3 these days - if you’re lucky - because it looks as though prices are on the rise while the car goes from unloved roadster to modern classic.
So, buy now and you’ll have a car that at worst you won’t lose money on, and at best might turn out to be a wise investment in an entertaining and sweet-sounding package.