Dubbed the ‘clown shoe’ because of, well, it’s awkward clown shoe shape, the BMW Z3 M Coupe built a serious reputation at the turn of the century. The base Z3 was seen as somewhat of a Mazda Miata with luxury tax slapped on it, but that’s not entirely a bad thing. Like the Miata, the Z3 found a near perfect balance between power, weight and handling. Using the confident foundation of the base Z3, the M Coupe dialed the power up to 11; BMW bolted in the inline-six engine from the E36 M3 up front — making the car a tiny, funny-shaped hot rod.
What We Like: Benefiting from the much larger engine from its bigger family member, the M3, the Z3 coupe got the power Miata fans wish Mazda would give their little roadster. The engine was good for 315 horsepower — in a short, two-seater sports car that weighs a touch over 3,000-lbs. Rear tires, presumably, might be the biggest expense of ownership with one of these. Aside from the M coupe’s ridiculous power output, its scaled down shooting brake silhouette made it incredibly unique at the time and still does today. What that translates to, however, is a sort of practical car: I can have a 300-plus horsepower two-seaterand have a place to put my bags? Sign me up.
From the Seller: “The car has 91k miles and is powered by a 3.2-liter S52 inline-six and paired with a five-speed manual transmission. Modifications include a KW V2 adjustable suspension, Dinan cold air intake, and an update to the cooling system with components from Zionsville Autosport. Work performed by the seller includes a scheduled overhaul of the cooling system in 2015 utilizing an aluminum radiator from Zionsville Autosport, aluminum thermostat housing, a Stewart water pump featuring a metal impeller and new hoses. Recent work includes a coolant flush and oil service last year.”
Watch Out For: Unfortunately, the Z3 M and M Coupe suffered from the same famous problem as the rest of the BMWs of the same era: VANOS. When you go to check one of these out, it is imperative that you make sure the previous owner or selling party sorted out all the issues surrounding the car’s variable valve timing system, as they are very prone to failure.
Original Review: “But leave the precise-shifting five-speed manual (the only available transmission) in each gear for a little longer, and you find the beauty of this engine. In the upper reaches, there is more thrust than automotive nannies would like you to have. It’s the kind of thrust that feels fluid, inevitable, addictive and corrupting.” … “The M coupe requires more of its driver than do most other sports cars. It doesn’t have the lithe, balanced feel of the Honda S2000 or Porsche’s Boxster S. Instead, you feel the weight of the engine up front. You feel the enormous juice flowing rearward to tires that, despite their impressive girth, want nothing more than to howl and slide.” — Daniel Pund, Car and Driver
Alternatives: Back in the early-aughts, while the standard Z3 was kept honest by the Mazda Miata, the Z3 M and M coupe were in a different league. The Porsche Boxster and Honda S2000 were both also in their infancy but were stiff competition for the Bimmer. All three were pint-sized apex predators, but while the BMW had them beat oh power at 315 horses, it also outweighed the other two at a shade over 3,000 lbs. They were an eclectic group for sure, but they lit up the sports car scene at the turn of the century.