Back in 1997 when BMW shoehorned the S50 straight-six from its E39 M3 into the Z3, it turned the car’s reputation on its head. The Z3, even in 192hp 2.8 form, had never come close to a fair fight with the Porsche Boxster and Lotus Elise for open-air excitement. But the Z3M put that right in an instant, thanks to the presence of the rev-hungry 3.2-litre motor and a no less substantial upgrade to the running gear around it – the extent of which was hinted at via suitably beefy looks.
BMW’s four-metre-long Z3M produced 321hp at 7,500rpm, numbers that do a pretty good job of illustrating the two-seater’s top-end explosiveness on paper. Other parts of the E36 platform were enhanced to match, with bespoke running gear resulting in wider tracks, firmer suspension and bigger brakes. But was nothing in the way of electronic stability control, so placing the S50’s peaky performance onto the road in anything less than ideal conditions was said to be a little on the challenging side.
Some revelled in the car’s thrilling resulting character, which contrasted the car’s compact dimensions, while others complained BMW’s 1.4-tonne drop-top lacked the overall dynamic talent required to meet its rivals head-on. Few could deny the excitement on offer, though, and with a five-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential part of the fun, driving one quickly was undeniably an involving experience. It couldn’t get close to the Elise for finesse, of course, but the South Carolina-built Z3M was burly in ways the Lotus could never be.
Still, it was made slightly more forgiving at the turn of the millennium, with the addition of driver safety aids coupled to the introduction of BMW’s more tractable S54 straight-six. But the basics that had made the Z3M so appealing in the first instance remained; power, addictive noise and brooding looks crammed into a footprint barely bigger than a Mk4 Fiesta. Only now there was less of a chance it’d all end up backwards in the hedgerows. Probably by no coincidence, the survival rate of Z3Ms from the post-update run seem to be a lot higher than those before it.
Remarkably, today’s Spotted isn’t part of that pile. It’s a 1999 build, so a late example from that “you’re on your own mate” period, although with only 6,000 miles on the clock it’s not had much opportunity to embarrass its custodians yet. The result, though, is quite possibly the best-kept Z3M in the UK, with an exterior and interior that – in the pictures at least – looks as fresh as the day it rolled out of BMW’s Deep South plant. It’s got bags of investment potential to go with the excitement as a result, and at £34,990, it’s about as attainable as a plus-300hp hot hatch with the same number of seats. And more instrument cluster warning symbols.
SPECIFICATION | BMW Z3M ROADSTER
Engine: 3,201cc, inline six
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 321@7,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 258@3,250rpm
First registered: 1999
Recorded mileage: 6,094
Price new: £40,570
Yours for: £34,990
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