SOTW: BMW Z3 2.8

Lest anyone should doubt the selling power of the James Bond franchise, consider this: the entire first year’s production of the Z3 was sold out pre-release, thanks to its fleeting use by Pierce Brosnan in Goldeneye.

2.8-litre engine gives this Z3 some credibility
2.8-litre engine gives this Z3 some credibility
It’s a fair distance from a sun-kissed Bond island to a damp back street in Gorton, Manchester, but that’s where we find this enticingly-priced reminder of glories past, this final transfer of a marketing man’s dream to the greedy paws of the gimlet-eyed Shedman.

Yes, we know there’s little to recommend the basic 140hp 1.9 Z3, but this one has leather in the cabin, some service history and a long MOT in the glovebox, and – most importantly – a 2.8 six-cylinder motor under the bonnet.  

Hmm, yes, the bonnet. The Z3 is not the most elegant BMW. To pinpoint its stylistic awkwardness, simply use your hand, credit card or sandwich to conceal the area directly ahead of the front wheels.

0-60 in 6.7s means this Z is no slouch
0-60 in 6.7s means this Z is no slouch
The Z3 (and the E36 3 Series, from which it was developed) was penned by Tokyo-born BMW designer Joji Nagashima. Here’s something. Motorcyclists of a certain age may remember how unremittingly ugly Japanese custom bikes of the 80s and 90s were. A British custom bike designer told me that this was because of a curious cultural difference between Japan and the West in terms of our perception of beauty in a line. The Japanese like reducing-radius curves, he told me, whereas Europeans don’t.

He may well have been tugging my chain, and that cultural variance has certainly gone now, but the designer’s provenance might give us an insight into the Z3’s ‘interesting’ styling. At least this Shed’s silver paint hides its blobbiness better than darker colours, and the 2.8’s wider rear track adds a sense of purpose.

Black interior looks right with the silver paint
Black interior looks right with the silver paint
But is it a sports car? In 2.8 format, most definitely. Our Shed dates from 1997, the first year of the M52 2.8-litre engine (all-aluminium, in Z3 guise). That gives it 190hp, which with 1,360kg to push makes it good for 0-60 in 6.7 seconds, with a 140mph top end. 30mpg is well within reach. Better yet, it’s single VANOS, which opens up more tuning options above and beyond the usual remapping and throttle body/manifold upgrades (identify 98-onwards dual-VANOS cars by their slightly squashed tailpipes).

You can supercharge 2.8s up to 400hp-plus, but you’ll be well out of Shed territory there. Why bother? The standard torque will take it from 80 to 100mph in top gear in under 10 seconds – more than three seconds quicker than the same exercise will take in a Boxster.

Yes, the Z3 does use the E30’s semi-trailing rear suspension rather than the E36’s multilink setup, but it’s still a proper performance convertible from one of the world’s best auto makers. In its day it was the ‘Editor’s Most Wanted Vehicle’ at respected US buyers’ guide

A grand for all this... doesn't seem such a bad shout!
A grand for all this... doesn't seem such a bad shout!
Nasties to look out for? Not the dreaded Nikasil bores: they weren’t part of the six-pot Z3 package. Air-con was, but its presence at this stage of the game may be more notional than real. Coil springs snap. BMW timing is by chain, not belt, so that should last a lifetime, but camshaft position sensors can fail. Manual 2.8s like this one can also experience problems with the gearlever failing to centre itself: a bush repair kit should sort it.

We can see a scuff on our Shed’s rear wing, but the hood (which should be power operated) and plastic rear window both look to be split-free. We can’t see the state of consumables like tyres and brakes, or the proximity of the next service. Such startup costs are in the lap of the Bavarian gods. Place your bets.

Original ad reproduced below.

  • 1997 (R reg)
  • Convertible
  • 124,319 miles
  • Manual
  • 2.8L
  • Petrol

2 Doors, Manual, Petrol, 124,319 miles, Metallic Silver, MOT-08-2013, 4 Owners. ROAD TAX, SERVICE HISTORY, DRIVE AWAY INSURANCE, 07864635455,, VISIT OUR WEBSITE, AROUND 200 CARS INSTOCK, ABS, Alloy wheels, Central locking, Immobiliser, Passenger airbag, Radio/Cassette, Traction control, Electric door mirrors, Alarm, PAS, Trip computer, Drivers airbag, Front electric windows, Electrically adjustable drivers seat, Service indicator, Electrically adjustable passenger seat, Front fog lights. Insurance Group:16, DRIVE AWAY INSURANCE AVALIABLE. £999 +VAT

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (201) Join the discussion on the forum

  • legalknievel 07 Dec 2012

    Good shed.

  • Roadster25 07 Dec 2012

    £999 + VAT? So £1200 then?

  • EarlOfHazard 07 Dec 2012

    ooh i like. Would be great for next summer!

  • kambites 07 Dec 2012

    No thanks. No matter how good the engine is, the woeful chassis still dominates these things if you try to drive them hard, in my experience.

  • legalknievel 07 Dec 2012

    legalknievel said:
    Good shed.
    I suppose not reading the article and just posting something vaguely positive and non-descript just to be first is not really in the spirit of a forum, but I'm slightly chuffed to be there. I think I might need to get out more.

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