BMW z3, an authentic roadster

The BMW Z3 hogged all the limelight alongside Pierce Brosnan in the 1996 James Bond film Golden. This introduction to the public, combined with the fact that the car was BMW’s first modern roadster for the general public, gave the Z3 instant popularity, and meant that it sold out before the first model reached dealerships.

The Z3’s love affair with the public proved enduring. Although mounted on an outdated rear suspension from the E30 Series, the BMW Z3 was nevertheless a stylish and fun roadster that revitalised the market for affordable sports cars. Initially offered with just 1.9 litres of 138 horsepower, a 190 horsepower 2.8-litre became available in 1997. (They could be differentiated by wider rear wings.) This engine, with its impeccably smooth power delivery and distinctive sound, brought the Z3 to life. The handling was impeccable. And from a buying and ownership standpoint, the Z3 sat perfectly between entry-level roadsters like the Mazda Miata MX-5 and more out-of-reach models like the 911.

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Still, the BMW Z3 had its shortcomings. Some interior materials were unsatisfactory and its cabin could appear small to larger drivers due to the large steering wheel and oversized rear-view mirror. Convertible models were also fitted with a plastic rear window, which tarnished the car’s luxury image by clouding over time.

The BMW Z3 was manufactured in the USA

As one of the first vehicles to be launched from BMW’s Spartanburg, South Carolina plant, the Z3 was built between 1996-2002. In its first year on the market, the Z3 came in a single model: a 1.9-litre inline-four convertible base model, powered by a 138bhp 1.9-litre inline-four. Standard features included an AM/FM/cassette player and cruise control.

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A five-speed manual transmission was also standard, but those looking for a slightly less sporty driving experience could choose a four-speed automatic. Leather seats and traction control were available options.

With the 1998 model year, the BMW Z3 became more easily adaptable to inclement weather, thanks to the introduction of a convertible roof, and in 1999, the Z3 coupé arrived. Equipped with the 2.8-litre engine alone, the hatchback design added extra rigidity and versatility to the body, but its odd rear end was not to everyone’s taste, provoking guffaws of disgust and bewilderment among those who felt it was erasing the beautiful image of the original Z3, although today its sale value has risen relative to the roadster, due to its lower production run.

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EngineCylinder capacityNo. of cylinders
M43 B181796 cm³4/885 kW (115 CV) a 5500 rpm168 Nm a 3900 rpm1996-1998
M43TU B191895 cm³4/887 kW (118 CV) a 5500 rpm180 Nm a 3900 rpm1998-2002
M44 B191895 cm³4/16103 kW (140 CV) a 6000 rpm180 Nm a 4300 rpm1995-1999
M52TU B201991 cm³6/24110 kW (150 CV) a 5900 rpm190 Nm a 4200 rpm1999-2000
M54 B222171 cm³6/24125 kW (170 CV) a 6100 rpm210 Nm a 3500 rpm2000-2002
M52 B282793 cm³6/24141 kW (192 CV) a 5300 rpm280 Nm a 3950 rpm1997-1998
M52TU B282793 cm³6/24142 kW (193 CV) a 5500 rpm280 Nm a 3500 rpm1998-2000
M54 B302979 cm³6/24170 kW (231 CV) a 5900 rpm300 Nm a 3500 rpm2000-2002
S50 B323201 cm³6/24236 kW (321 CV) a 7400 rpm350 Nm a 3250 rpm1997-2001
S54 B323246 cm³6/24239 kW (325 CV) a 7400 rpm354 Nm a 4900 rpm2001-2002

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BMW Z3 photo gallery