Future Classics: BMW M Coupé
Photos from BMW
BMW’s Z3 and Z4 have always been soft roadsters better left relegated to navigating suburban megamall parking lots and boulevards than conquering the Tail of the Dragon. Like the Mazda Miata, the original Z3 was a small, compact two-seater that made do with a small 4-cylinder that produced a bit less than 140hp. After BMW owners made it clear that they were not in the market for a modern adaptation of sparsely appointed classic British roadsters, the manufacturer borrowed the 6-cylinder offerings from the 3 Series, and the Z3, along with its Mercedes SLK competitor, became the sedate choices for buyers not looking for the enthusiasm and prestige of a Porsche Boxster.
A few years into the product cycle, BMW’s M division got their hands on the Z3 and decided that it could use a few more ponies under the hood. The 2.8L I6 was thrown out and replaced by the 3.2L from the E36 M3, resulting in a horsepower bump from 189hp to 240hp. In 2001, the engine was changed again, and this time it was the aggressive 3.0L from the new E46 M3. The engine output was lowered from 333hp to 315hp as the redline was lowered (connecting rod bearings were destroying M3 engines, and BMW went for a cheap and easy fix), but the Z3M was transformed from an underpowered roadster to the certifiably insane M Coupé shooting brake you see here.
The shooting brake body style was introduced in 1999, and only the top engines drove the newly hatchbacked Z3 Coupé. Because the front and back end of convertibles are only joined by the floor panel, reduced body stiffness is often a major tradeoff when lopping the top off of any car. With a solid roof in place, the Coupé rolled around a hell of a lot less than the donor car, and M engineers could focus on beefing up the suspension and tires to make the M Coupé a serious sports car like the M3. At just over 1 1/2 tons, the 315hp moved the Z3M coupe from 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds.
So the M Coupé has the performance chops of a Future Classic, but how about the awe-inspiring sheetmetal that strikes fear into the hearts of lesser, pretend racers? Well…the car is affectionately referred to as the “clown shoe” by its fans. Even with the massive rear tires that barely control the beast under the hood, the M Coupé is not a tough-looking or menacing car. To judge the car on its outward appearance would be to fundamentally misunderstand what makes the car so great. The car was greenlighted by BMW provided that the engineers could cut costs as much as possible on the exterior, and I would bet my life that without that limitation, the M guys would have created something that looked completely different. What they did, though, was do the best they could under the circumstances, and the result was one of the craziest, most unique vehicles BMW ever made.
The 2001-02 M Coupé, with its E46-sourced 6-cylinder, is the one to get. In the US, just under 700 were produced, and European markets got even less (although they were blessed with the more powerful engines). Because many M Coupé owners understand the reputation that their cars have earned, there are plenty of low mileage examples on the marketplace. Prices usually hover around the $20,000 mark for well-kept Coupés, which isn’t fantastic news for people looking for a collector’s item that will appreciate in value in 6 months; as the cars are roughly a decade old, the prices won’t likely fall anytime soon. As BMW continues to make their cars bigger, heavier, and more complicated, however, the prices may rise as enthusiasts flock to the brand’s classic sports models. And I figure that the M Coupé will be pretty high up on those wish lists.