1998-2002 BMW Z3 Coupe E36/8
In many ways the M Coupe is the odd one out in this group of BMW icons. It has no motorsport pedigree, production was short-lived and objectively it was neither a commercial nor even critical success. So, why is it here? Because above all, this car is a brilliant demonstration of the M division’s vision and craft, transforming unpromising base materials into something arresting, unique and – as time goes on – highly sought after.
BREADVAN-TASTIC M COUPE E36/8 (1998-2002) BMW M at 50: the icons
The so-so starting point was the Z3 M Roadster E36/7, into which was shoehorned the E36 M3’s 3.2-litre straight-six. The Coupe needed more structural rigidity to improve the droptop’s sloppy dynamics, so the chassis was stiffened and the roofline stretched all the way over squat rear haunches to meet a puckering tail. These days you would call it a strong look: back then, the Coupe was swiftly dubbed ‘Clownshoe’ as a term of both endearment and derision.
A combination of 317bhp (initially), a short wheelbase and minimal driver aids made driving one similarly uncompromising. At a time when BMW was wrestling with the illfated acquisition of Rover, it had ironically created a throwback in the tradition of oldschool British sports cars: meaty, memorable and not to be messed with.
The M Coupe was launched at the 1997 Frankfurt motor show, where it was eclipsed by the announcement of BMW’s return to F 1. This set the tone for what was to follow as the Coupe was overshadowed by more illustrious siblings throughout its short lifetime. Since then, it has acquired cult status among aficionados, because there is so much to love here: a sumptuous interior that wraps itself around you, the bum-on-the-floor driving position directly aft of the engine, and that visceral, thrilling driving experience. Post-2000 facelift models, featuring the more powerful and torquey S54 engine from the E46 M3, are simply brilliant cars: polished, capable and massively desirable to those in the know.
And here is the rub if, like me, you have fallen for the M Coupe’s charms. Fewer than 1000 right-hand-drive cars were made, and as the number of survivors has dwindled their values have shot up. Remarkably so, in the case of the very best S54-engined examples: at the time of writing, specialist Munich Legends is listing a peachy low-miler for a cool £75,000. There is better value to be had among older, higher-mileage cars, but the direction of travel is clear, and I have yet to find a bargain to beat the careworn left-hooker that I let slip at just £8k a few years back. So if you see the oddball M car as an itch still to be scratched, it’s best not to hang about. You won’t regret it.
THE STORY OF THE DECADE
M kicks open the new millennium with the stellar E46 M3, an instant modern classic (albeit one with a penchant for cracking its own boot floor, to be revealed in a couple of years’ time). The GTR (V8) racing version cleans up in the American Le Mans Series before being outlawed, so goes and wins the Nürburgring 24 Hours instead (twice). BMW returns to F1, powering Williams from 2000 to 2005 before buying Sauber then bowing out at the end of 2009. Apart from Williams F1 cars, BMW also slots a V10 (right) into the M5 in 2004, creating a four-door supercar in the truest sense of the term. The new 2007 M3 is a V8, and helps M reach its 300,000th production car milestone in 2008.
TECHNICAL DATA BMW Z3 M COUPE (E36/8)
Flamboyant looks plus old-school thrills make for cult-classic status
- POWERTRAIN 3246cc 24v straight-six, six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
- PERFORMANCE 317bhp @ 7400rpm, 258lb ft @ 4900rpm,
- 5.3sec 0-62mph
- MAX SPEED 155mph (limited)
- LEGACY The more conservative, less charismatic Z4 M Coupe
Like Hanson and bucket hats, it could only be from the ’90s