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Thursday 22nd December 2011

PH buying guide: BMW Z3 M Coupe

Mad looks, lairy handling and rare with it, the Z3 M is an acquired but tempting choice

Contemporary cult classic or quirky oddball, the BMW Z3 M Coupe divides opinion. Whatever your view, there’s no doubt this M car provided a shot in the arm for BMW fans when it was revealed at the 1997 Frankfurt motor show. As BMW’s M Division pushed its cars ever further upmarket, the Z3 M Coupe and its Roadster sister model put scintillating performance first, foremost and fully at the top of the agenda.

While the Z3 M Roadster was an obvious development, the Coupe was straight out of the left field. Burkhard Goschel was lead engineer and champion of the Coupe and he argued the fixed roof was necessary to make the chassis sufficiently stiff to deliver the desired handling for an M car. After much wrangling with the BMW board, Goschel got his way, though only by building the Coupe so it shared as many body parts as possible with the Roadster. So, everything from the windscreen forward is interchangeable between open and closed versions, and the Coupe’s doors are also identical to the soft-top’s.

Sales started in 1998, with a UK list price of £40,595, and production was completed at BMW’s factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, making the Z3 M the first M car to be built outside of Germany. However, the engines and gearboxes were assembled in Germany and shipped as a whole to the USA for final assembly.

A revised version of the Z3 M arrived in 2001, swapping the E36 M3’s S50 321hp six-cylinder engine for the new S54 325hp unit from the then-new E46 M3. Each has its followers and fans, though performance is very much the same against the clock and both have a top speed limited to 155mph. The USA had its own version of the Z3 M using an S52 engine with 240hp, but this was not offered in Europe.

As the last Z3 M Coupe rolled off the line in 2002, this rare coupe is now at least a decade old and its popularity is undiminished among the faithful. This has kept values of the Coupe strong, with high mileage examples selling from around £9,000 and the best achieving £20,000. Roadsters start at £6,500 and top out at £13,000. With only 821 of the earlier Z3 M Coupe made in right-hand drive and a mere 168 of the later S54-engined model, rarity will only see Z3 M Coupe values increase.

(Editor's note: We hope this new Z3 M Coupe 'knowledge bank' will attract contributions from current and past owners, and anyone who knows these cars well. If you have something to say that will help fellow PHers, please add your comments to the forum thread in the relevant section below.

Buying Guide contents
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Rolling Chassis



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Original Poster:

406 posts

47 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Ran a 321hp convertible and it was a lovely car in some ways - felt very old school, but didn't excite me as much as I thought it would. Watch the bills and the VANOS on the early engine cars, mine had been replaced but was starting to sound a bit odd again; while be prepared for bills comparable with a £40k car even though you may only pay 12.


10,319 posts

120 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Lovely machines especially the M coupe's, my first Z3 was a M roadster but always wanted the M coupe but that one was out of reach then...then after that I bought a black M coupe then after that another black M coupe then after that another M coupe but that was a 2001 S54 with DSC M coupe 281 were build LHD the 325hp was because of missing 500rpm compared to the E46 M3.
on the moment I have the big daddy the Hartge Z3 coupe 5.0 wich is awesome biggrin


4,565 posts

112 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
ph said:
Editor's note: We hope this new Porsche 911 'knowledge bank'
Eh? Should read BMW Z3 M Coupe 'knowledge bank' perhaps?

Edited by bmthnick1981 on Thursday 22 December 16:56


10,319 posts

120 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
here the list of the M coupe's

Z3 M coupe, how many of each version were produced?
ECE S50 (LHD): 2,178 built from 04/98 thru 06/2000
>>>UK ECE S50 (RHD): 821 built from 08/98 thru 06/2000
>>>>>USA andere motor, minder vermogen >> NA S52 (LHD): 2,180 built from 07/98 thru 06/2000
ECE S54 (LHD): 281 built from 02/2001 thru 05/2002
>>>UK ECE S54 (RHD): 168 built from 02/2001 thru 05/2002
>>>>>USA NA S54 (LHD): 690 built from 02/2001 thru 05/2002

I have to say though, they drive better (more rigid/stiff) then the M roadster
but sadly they used (all Z3) the old type rear suspension and the diff hanging on one ear on the left side, so its never in good balance roughly speaking, its pulling a bit harder on that side at the chassis and spring( when you look at it clearly), but the ride is very good, best M car, classic looks timeless and rare.

I've had many cars, this car (M coupe) is the best all rounder (when you don't have a family biggrin) and money wise spoken ofcorse.

secondhand rear lights red/white are sadly very hard to find...they are completely different then those from the roadster.


429 posts

157 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Love these, been tempted many times to get one, never quite made it though, one day...


44,838 posts

117 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
I think this is the last car that BMW made that I have any real interest in owning.

Dan Trent

1,278 posts

64 months

PH Editor Bloke

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
bmthnick1981 said:
Eh? Should read BMW Z3 M Couple 'knowledge bank' perhaps?
Cough, and it does now... wink



655 posts

84 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Love them. Very cool! Had about 3 of them pass me at the ring; mostly sideways!

Z4MC is a good evolution to the 3MC. I like both.


180 posts

52 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
bmthnick1981 said:
Eh? Should read BMW Z3 M Couple? 'knowledge bank' perhaps?
Maybe Coupe.


5,994 posts

87 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Love these so much and becoming a rare sight on the roads now.


130 posts

76 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Prospective buyers should be sure to visit www.z3mcoupe.com. Friendly and active community and searches on the forum will provide answers to most of the questions you have (and many you didn't realise you had as well) I did all my research there before buying both the examples I've owned.

The S54 bugbear that's much discussed is the bearing shell issue - Z3 M Coupe weren't subject to the service bulletin that refitted the questionable parts on early E46 M3s - bought the kit and had my independent do the work for me for piece of mind along with the camshaft bolts (which are starting to appear as an issue on some S54s) as I'm keeping the car long term.

Mine was an absolute hoot around the Highlands earlier this year. I have no idea what I'd buy to replace it for the same rarity and performance at the same same sort of price tag.

Edited by 'Yadi on Thursday 22 December 13:23


3,484 posts

89 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
You can get into a decent Z4MC for around 17k


242 posts

106 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Had 2 of these and 1 z4mc as well.

The z3mc is starting to really show its age now, which is fine if you like the classic thing but it's well beaten on point to point performance by many cheaper modern cars. Those rear arches are superb and a great piece of engineering design though. Don't buy if you think an M car should be effortless and supreme a la M5, only buy if you want to grab it by the neck and ring it to get the best from it.

Personally, the z4mc is a worthy successor and a much much better all round machine, whilst also managing to remain raw and aggressive.

z3mc for keeping as an investment (s54 please, with sunroof and HK stereo).
z4mc for using day to day (sat nav is the main must have, no matter what the "a tomtom is better" brigade say).


603 posts

102 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Had one from new beween 2000 and 2002. Best car I ever owned.

As a mix of e30 and e36 mechanicals, they're pretty much bulletproof. S50 engined cars have a rattling engine note at exactly 70mph in 5th, but other than that, it's a true legend of an engine.

Traction control only showed up with the S54 lump, but the handling is surprisingly benign - in the dry at least. Understeer then leery oversteer on demand. Springs are quite soft, so the ride is truly exceptional; all four wheels also tend to be constantly in contact with the tarmac no matter how spirited the driving.

The interior, though back-to-basics is well built, and the load space huge for a two-seater. The incorporated luggage net means dogs or stuffed loads are no problem.

Any downsides? Only two I can think of:

1. No 6th gear.
2. The steering wheel - though M had yet to inherit the obesity epidemic which blighted all subsequent cars, the diameter is huge and rather vertical.

I was (and still am) devastated when my dealership totalled my car a week after production ended. The subsequent e46 M3 was nowhere near as characterful, though my 1M is proving close(r).


2 posts

74 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
I can't add a lot to the buying guide but I can give a wholehearted endorsement to this motor. My dad used to have one and at the age of 21 he put me on his insurance and let me drive it to Wales (from Birmingham) on my own for the weekend with my mates.

Yes, he was mad but I made it there and back in one piece...very quickly.

I remember getting in for the first time and turning the key, I could hear the blood pumping through my ears with excitement. The engine/exhaust combo produced a glorious sound, so much so that I drove most of the way there with the window down so that I could listen to it.

Needless to say it was brilliant on the Welsh roads, a hard ride but so well planted in the corners. The heavy clutch and short throw shift just added to the enjoyment. It felt like I was piloting the Flying Scotsman.

This car will become a classic in years to come.


23,480 posts

65 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Toyed with the idea of getting a late S54 for ages, had a 2.2 Sport roadster for 5 years - so I love the way the Z3s drive. Certain future classic, although probably not big money territory - later rare ones will hold very well.

Bought a TVR instead, but I still keep my eyes open for one. Maybe I'll buy one on the cheap end and run it for a year. Great looking machine, see nothing like it really now!


1,875 posts

61 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
urban_alchemist said:
I was (and still am) devastated when my dealership totalled my car a week after production ended.


617 posts

71 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all

Probably the nearest thing to the Cheetah, but easier to get hold of!


191 posts

126 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
I had the S54 for a while following 993 ownership.
I swear it was quicker than the 993 wink
Sitting effectively over the rear wheels gave a great feeling of direct contact with the tarmac.
I always felt it wanted to kill me though, threatening snap oversteer especially in the wet, fantastic....a likely case of too much speed and not enough talent spinyikes
Swapped for an integrale evo 1 which I still have and adore yes


4,762 posts

107 months

Thursday 22nd December 2011 quote quote all
Got a S50, and yes, it is quicker than my 993.

Great cars, scary though!
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