BMW Z3 M Coupé. Bahrain. Bread van rakes in the dough

Launched in 1995 as the company’s first mass produced two-seater sportscar since the 1950s, the BMW Z3 would become a legend when the Z3 M Coupé – the ‘bread van’ – was launched in 1999.

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The BMW Z3 M Coupé is a car that shouldn’t have worked. Built on the foundations of a rear-wheel drive convertible, a boxy hardtop roof was glued to an unaltered front end and a whopping amount of power poured under the bonnet. A recipe for disaster, surely. But this is BMW we’re talking about, and from this potential carnage rose one of the company’s most revered sportscars.

In 1995 – as Goldeneye fans will attest – BMW launched its follow-up to the Z1, the company’s first two-seater sportscar since the 1950s and the beginning of its ‘Z’ legacy. Though lacking the snazzy doors of its predecessor (which dropped down into the sills rather than opening out), the new Z3 marked a new era of BMW roadsters. Global marketing campaigns worked round the clock to spread the word, and successfully too, the Z3 selling out its initial production run before the roadster even hit showrooms.

Keen to make the most of the hype, new six-cylinder engine options were introduced for the roadster in 1997, the Z3 – based on the company’s E36 3-Series platform – receiving treatment from the company’s motorsport M division 1999, and a more powerful 3.2-litre unit to match. As popular as the Z3 roadster was though, kicking the ‘girl’s car’ reputation was proving tricky: curvaceous body panels were difficult to pull off if you were 250lb and boasted a five o’clock shadow. An answer to that though was in the works.

Keen to produce a purpose built driver’s car, BMW engineers banded together to design the Ultimate Driving Machine. Non-plussed BMW execs were keen to keep production costs down on its new M model (with little work being done to the front end, the roadster is almost identical to the Coupé from the A-pillars forward). First step was a stiffer chassis setup, the backbone of the S50 Z3 receiving a tweak or two and the Coupé eventually boasting torsional rigidity 2.7 higher than that of the roadster. Next up for the M was a new heart, the established unit being torn out to make way for a more powerful 3201cc six-cylinder – straight from the E36 M3 – that kicked out 321bhp and 258-lb ft of torque. As production of the S52 Z3 M Coupé neared its conclusion, a second S54 unit – this time from the E46 M3 – was developed, providing an additional 4bhp and a hardly shabby 0-100kph time of 5.1 seconds. New flared wheel arches were incorporated too for the Coupé, a response to the much wider tyres through which 321-plus brake-horsepower would rip. Not bad for a team on a budget.

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