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BMW Z3 Coupe

07/04/2013 06:02 |  Comments: 

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Self-appointed race-driver (whenever he gets a chance), avid car sports- and sports car-lover, manager of the mother site’s blog, Belsőség, he can always be found in the middle of the noisiest gathering. Steve has had a long-running habit of remodelling his facial hair bi-weekly. A Slovakian citizen but of Hungarian nationality, he lives in Budapest now. Has a wife, two small children and a dog.

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Midlife crisis knockin’ on your door? Buy a Z3 Roadster now. But when you want something better, then go for the Coupe. That one’s a completely different story.

Back in 1995 when BMW introduced the Z3 roadster (E36/7) it suddenly became a wanted piece. The successor of the less understood Z1 was a hit despite the fact that only the bigger of the small four pot engines (M43, M44) had enough power (140 PS) to give it more dynamism as a melting iceberg.

It was the shape and the build quality that sold the car which was often criticized for weak performance and a plastic back window. In those days, the Mazda MX-5 was simply a better, more handful and much more fun roadster.

Shortly after the Z3's launch BMW said that they don't plan to put the inline six under the bonnet. Nobody believed this.

It took two years ('til 1997) for the creamy M52-M54 to arrive under the long hood. Shortly after, the Z3 gained more power with the best engines ever made by BMW: the S50-S54 from their actual M3. Oh, and did you know, that the normal Z3 seatframe is the same as the Porsche Boxster's? Only with enough difference to made it horribly uncomfortable. After a few hundred made and a lots of angry phone calls, they had to redesign them.

On 28th of October 1997 they made the 100 000th Z3. The last one left the assembly line in Spartanburg on June 28th 2002. It was number 298 735 and the last one of the first BMW made outside Europe.

But we're not here to talk about a shiny little roadster with too firm suspension, weak body rigidity, choking four cylinders and owners in midlife crisis. No, the Z3 roadster is a forgettable car. But there's something that's gonna be cult like the Fender Stratocaster, a real, automotive sure shot of pure, driving joy in a flagrant body. It is ugly to our mother or girlfriend, but bear in mind that maybe this is the last chance to grab one of those raw, pure and lightweight BMW's which doesn't look boring or clueless.

The Z3 coupe is the real breadvan of the 21st century. But only for bakers with guts. This is not a peacock-roadster, this is a car to Drive. Yes, with a capital D.

The roof gives the body more strength, the suspension was revised and stiffened up for better handling and just after a few miles the car fulfilled us with that good old feeling, that no BMW of nowadays can: gosh, it's a nice car to drive. They made only 16 649 of it, plus 3926 of the nuke-dopped Z3M.

So there is a chance that you'll never see this car parking on the driveway of your ever annoying neighbor. Its outrageous styling with the shooting brake-like roofline and widened, massive body with a long nose-short deck made it look like a caricature of a small estate. They are not cheating with the body. It has a clear message: I am sharp, fast, not suitable for children under 30 years. The Z3M of old is now Jason Voorhees on wheels.

It looks flawless while parking on the street, at the mall but even so in the middle of a corner, drifting on those fat rear wheels. It has a special spec: the behind-the-wheel-smile-generator. There's no view angle from which we can't imagine the small tat as the accelerator reaches the floor. It's similar to something what Marquis de Sade could have felt (a stiffening in his nether regions) when the maid bent down before him to pick up the soap.

It's inexplicable where Marcus Syring and the whole BMW found the boldness to bring out a shape like this, but Mr. Syring deserves a life-sized statue for it. In Wolfsburg or Stuttgart.

This car – like 75 percent of the Z3 Coupes – wears typical, small signs of repaired crash'n'bumps. Well, forgiveness was never a trait of the Z3 Coupe, the owner needs some skills to handle it properly so be advised: nearly every one of them had some bodywork-history.

Gergő bought this 1997-made car back in time for 9000 USD. It wasn't a bad price then, considering the fact that the car covered only 112 000 kilometers from new. Of course there's still some work to do with the catastrophic state of the aftermarket parts (side vents, door handles), but from the mechanical side, the car is perfect. Okay, shortly after the purchase the clutch and the thermostat were replaced, but nothing else went to fritz, nothing fancy was needed except regular maintenance.

How much?

If you want one, you need to prepare about 50 percent more cash as for the Roadster. The best place for buying one is Germany, you can find really nice looking ones with leather upholstery and manual gearbox (forget the automatic) from about 6000 euros, and for seven grand you can have the more powerful Z3 3.0i. But if you want safety and good reliability, you need to go for those units they made a tad later, like this one. They cost a lot more too, somewhere around 13 000 euros.

The spares are not as pricey as we thought. Since the Z3 is based on the E36 BMW you can have almost anything for a bargain price. Except the body panels - they're pricey as hell.

The message BMW sent with the Coupe was clear from he get-go: only the strongest inline sixes made it under the hood, and the LSD was a standard for every car. If you are inclined to think that this basic engine lacks power or glare you cannot be farther from the truth. The M52B28 has variable valve timing (VANOS) at the inlet side (it was dismissed in 2000 by the three-litre M54 with double VANOS), and 193 PS. Just put this number together with fact that the weight is only 1300 kg's, add the LSD and consider that this car is only one inch longer than a Vauxhall (Opel) Corsa, well...I guess, you get the point.

The interior has Individual spec with the deep claret pornking-leather upholstery. The dashboard is covered with it too, the sewing is double-stiched, the material tense and soft all the way. It is provocative in a way that the car industry of late nearly forgot.

You cannot deny the age of the car when you look at the dashboard but the dials are perfectly placed and the steering wheel is stout enough. The knobs and switches look dated, but the pictograms are easy to read, and nothing looks worn out. I like the simpleness and especially the fact that I'm only a small ASC-T-switch away from a massive powerslide.

The seats are not those full racing buckets, but are capable to hold your sliding body when you starting to pull the beard of this leather-covered baseball bat.

It's a well-known fact that today every carmaker sells his product with the „driving pleasure”-sticker on it. The other fact is that 90 percent of them don't know what they are talking about. You cannot sell something having a "driving pleasure" sticker with facts, numbers or square meters of spoilers. Even horsepower or the top speed cannot achieve that. You need to feel it. With your fingertips and your butt. As soon as you slip behind the wheel of the Z3 Coupe, you'll KNOW, that you're on to something special here.

The gearlever sits on the drive shaft tunnel, your hand is directly connected to the five-speed box. The gearchange is precise, yet heavy, something between the Honda NSX and Mazda MX5, the pedals are far away, deeply buried under the long nose. The car slowly gets under your skin like a meaty, Bavarian parasite.

Then you fire up the engine and hot gases start their crazy run across the decatted exhaust pipes and they welcome their freedom with a glorious scream. It's revving like nothing else and you'll get goosebumps on your skin in a second.

The PR-manager of BMW must have been a very happy chap back in 1997. He didn't have to say anything about the car, just passed the keys to those with an interest.

Back in 2013 we just grab that long nose, push the pedal to the floor and notice, that 198hp and 280 newtonmeters of torque was something different 16 years ago. There was no emission-hysteria, no EURO VI and the 6,8 seconds from zero to sixty is just a blast through the first gear.

The engine's reaction is immediate, we can push the rev-counter only with the lightest of touches but as soon as we step on the hard clutch-pedal and switch back two gears, the big inline-six takes a deep breath and in a second we can lose our driving license. The noise it makes is just amazing. From under 3000 it has a sonorous bass base, which switches to a mechanical, high-frequency metallic-scream. And when the Bavarian Symphonic Orchestra is in full charge everybody knows that. Make way for the psychopat on wheels!

Only a naturally aspirated engine can do this. It sticks small needles made from fluid steel right into your brain, its power delivery is perfectly linear, the harder you push, the harder you go.

But when you believe that you can handle the whole car with ease, you're wrong and in the next minute you'll probably end up dead. It's unbelievably stable, sticks to the road way better than we thought, way above the fear-threshold of a normal, everyday driver. But it's like walking on a razorblade: when we cross the line, the action is sudden. The fat back tyres lose their grip fast and we need to catch that moment with the wheel. If we manage that, the reward is a perfectly controlled slide with waving taillights through the corner, but if we dont, it's over. We're gonna crash.

This car is not a toy. It's not an MX5 on light feet, tail-happy all the time. This has power to bring you out of trouble or contrary: throw you into it. Everything happens at speeds that are enough to send you to the hospital for a long time. Full-time concentration is the key if you want to go fast in a Z3 Coupe.

It needs a man. And that's the best in it.

The front MacPhersons and the A-arm rear suspension can handle the power. Its capability is way above the engine's power. Sir Colin Chapman's philosophy still lives on. The steering response is great, we sit in the gravity center of the car and know everything that happens on the road below us.

The brakes are strong, the balance is good, even under hard braking the car holds the line, and you can accelerate out of the corner immediately from the apex, not after it. The LSD is the second best thing money can buy.

Yes, it needs care, yes, its fuel consumption is high and yes, you're going to crash it once. But it has everything what a good sport car needs: beautifully balanced chassis, revvy and reliable engine with enough power, precise steering and good brakes.

If you want to buy one, don't forget to check the clutch, the bushings and the fixing stripes of the fuel tank. If you hear strange sounds from the diff, it means that somebody has forgot to change the oil in it. Try to find another car. There's plenty of them now, but grab one before it's too late. Because it's a future classic.

And you don't drive it because it's nice like a Ferrari.

You don't drive it to grab attention.

You drive it because it's good.

And that's it, driving pleasure served on a hot plate.

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