In the realm of unappealing BMWs, the Z3 might just take the cake. Sure, it’s partially rescued by unusual body styles or a big motor in the case of the Coupe or the M editions. But for a standard Z3, there seems to be little appeal. It was not the best built car from BMW, it was certainly not the best looking car they’ve made, and in the case of the four-cylinder models, you didn’t have much in terms of performance, either.
Here we have a ’98 Z3 1.9. Under the hood was the 138 horsepower M44, and since the Z3 wasn’t exactly the feather weight of the original Miata, it resulted in pretty average acceleration. It would wisk you to 60 mph in just a hair under 10 seconds, and hitting 100 would take the best part of half a minute. It did return nearly 30 mpg on the highway, but then my 135i does that too, and it has a bit over twice as much horsepower. Heck, go easy on the throttle and the M3 will return almost 30 on the highway.
But if you want a budget convertible, the Z3 is a solid German option. First, you could get a manual. Second, they’re cheap to fix and cheap to run. There were a lot of them, too, so used parts are available. And this one is presented in a pretty neat color – Violett-rot 2 (328) with some good options. Is there hope?
Let’s say you want to start a car collection, and for ease of argument’s sake, let’s say you’re really into BMWs. Which is the model you want? You could be a 507 enthusiast, love the classic 3.0 CSL or 2002, envy every E30 or lust over the modern muscle the company produces. But odds are if you’re reading these pages you, like me, gravitate towards BMW’s Motorsport models.
Within the Pantheon of classic models, there then comes the difficult decisions. How do you choose between the E30 M3 and the 1M, for example? Well, Enthusiast Auto Group has a suggestion. Why not have them both? Or, even better, why not assemble all of the greatest hits from BMW’s M division over the past 40 years and put them together into one curated, turn-key package?
The E36/7 M Roadster remains an interesting microcosm of not only BMW, but more specifically BMW M, products. Similar to the SLK and Boxster, the Roadster offers you a unique experience and expression of your favorite brand. But because “true enthusiasts” don’t value you them as much, these models often come to market below the value of similar models. While the E36 M3 Coupe is enjoying an uptick in value and the E36/8 M Coupe has been more highly prized, it’s possible to get a lower mileage and great condition Roadster for less money still though the experience is quite similar.
Today I’ve stitched together three interesting examples – one for every budget. From a very inexpensive example through an unusual low-mileage collector, which one grabs your eye?
Update 1/17/18: After not selling over the summer at $45,000 ask and bidding to only $31,500 on Bring a Trailer with the reserve unmet, the dealer has dropped the asking price to $38,900 today.
Recently I looked at both the E36/7 M Roadster and 36/8 M Coupe. Both have developed cult status, yet values vary dramatically within the short production range depending on configuration. Early S52 M Roadsters are the least expensive of the bunch, with the unique Evergreen/Evergreen example I took a peek at selling under $13,000 despite lower mileage and great condition. Compare that to the S52 Coupe, which sold at $16,100 with 260,000 miles on the clock.
So what does a late model, equipped with the more potent and more desirable S54 bring? Again, that depends on a lot of things. Let’s start with mileage – here, it’s a mere 8,600. Then color? Well, this Phoenix Yellow Metallic example is one of the most infrequently specified combinations, with only 14 produced in the 2001 model year. You can probably guess where the price is heading already…
The M Coupe has moved from cult legend into one of the most desirable M products produced. Late production S54 equipped models can top up to $60,000 asking prices. Add in a rare color and great combination, and they’re all the more desirable. While not quite a 1:1, the M Coupe is like the Porsche 964, and the S54 models are the RS America of the lineup.
For most of us, that means if you want a ‘Clownshoe’ you’ll need to look towards early production when they were equipped with the venerable S52. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as lower running costs and higher production numbers mean much lower asking prices. Still, it’s not unusual to see atmospheric asks, such as this 2000 M Coupe in Estoril with Estoril leather. With only 56,000 miles on the clock, the seller wants $39,900. While it’s not likely that number will be even close to realized, good luck convincing them of that.
Yet occasionally a nice one pops up in a no reserve auction format to give us plebeians a chance to own a legend. So here we go, with this ’99. It’s the same Estoril/Estoril combination as above, which is fairly desirable – one of just 313 imported in this pallet. Condition looks very good and there are some high quality modifications, but is there a catch?
So, you have to drop $40,000 for a unique M Roadster? Hardly. If you’re willing to forgo the additional grunt of the S54, S52-powered Roadsters are still very affordable. And, they can be plenty unique in their own right. Take today’s ’98 for example. Evergreen is probably a bit polarizing in tone, but it’s also quite distinctive. The total pool of Evergreen examples represents only 2% of overall production of M Roadsters, though. Out of the 10,501 produced, 201 were shipped in the bright green shade – and out of those, 176 were equipped with the equally distinctive two-tone Nappa leather interior color matched to the outside. I’ve looked at a few of these examples previously:
Evergreen Forest, Part II: 1998 BMW M Roadster
So you get an unusual color, a more unusual interior, and still quite a potent convertible in the early M Roadster. What is the price delta, though?
Let’s pretend for a second that you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years. Welcome back! Donald Trump is President of the United States, the Cubbies won the World Series and Kanye West has alienated the 50% of America that you wouldn’t have expected him to. A Castro is no longer in charge in Cuba, Facebook sells your information to make money and if Bill Cosby offers you a Jello pudding pop, I’d be suspicious.
While we’re on recent trends, have you checked out the pricing on Z3 Ms lately?
What used to be the cheapest foray into one of the most polarizing designs offered by BMW in modern times has become a cult classic and increasingly expensive, especially in Coupe form. But select the right options on a Roadster, and the price will still shock you. Take today’s, for example. Produced in August 2001, it’s a later example and that means something special is under the hood. That’s right, it’s a S54 cranking out 321 horsepower. Only ~1,600 were produced with that motor for North America, so that makes it pretty special. More special is the color; in total, only 39 E36/7 M Roadsters were specified in Phoenix Yellow Metallic. This is one of fourteen PYM/Black Nappa produced for 2001. As if that wasn’t outstanding enough, this particular M Roadster has turned only 19,760 miles since new. Guesses on the price?
Edit 11/3/2017 – I looked at this Dinan modified M Roadster last August, but there was little information and it hung around for quite a while at $25,000. It has now moved on to a new seller who has taken some more photos and raised the price $4,000. After last month claiming it was an ISR3, the seller has confirmed what our comment from Eric indicated – it’s “just” a S3 Roadster. It has about 1,000 more miles since last year but still looks relatively reasonably priced if you like the color combination and gutsy Dinan modifications – Ed
The other day I was talking with my friend about Turner Motorsports. I first met Will Turner when he was a BMWCCA instructor, just trying to establish his business of selling parts on the side. He and his compatriots all sported E30 M3s; this was, after all, the days before the launch of the U.S. E36 M3. Turner managed to parlay early success in a local modification scene outside of Boston into a countrywide business, and after some time in the club race scene he moved into the major leagues. Success against better funded teams was sometimes difficult, but today Turner is still alive and very much kicking, having become one of the two defacto factory-backed teams running the M6 GT3. To get to that point of factory involvement is an arduous journey to say the least, and few who start out make it.
One other who did was Steve Dinan, who took a niche tuning business from the 1980s into a factory option today. You can walk down to your dealer and order up a fully backed, Dinan modified car. That took a tremendous amount of work and is a testament to the quality of the products on offer from Dinan. They truly take the well-engineered BMWs to the next level, but modifying them to do so can be quite pricey. Take today’s M Roadster, for example. While it wasn’t exactly a cheap car to begin with, with entry level prices in 1998 starting around $42,000. This M Roadster, though, went on to get a further $36,000 in modifications from Dinan:
Last November, I took a look at what was to me a very eye-catching and interesting M Roadster. The E36/7 is still a fairly polarizing design, but as with many models there are signature colors which help to make it both stand out from the rest of the crowd and, in some ways, make it more desirable. For the M Roadster and Coupe, color-matched interior was available on Imola Red, Estoril Blue, and perhaps the most outlandish color – Evergreen Metallic. Finding one of the twin Evergreens can be difficult; only a claimed 176 of color 358 Evergreen Metallic with the Q6EV Evergreen/Black Nappa interior were produced for the U.S. market. I looked at one in November of last year:
Evergreen Forest: 1998 BMW M Roadster
While that example was quite clean and, as what was probably a former press vehicle, it had an interesting history, the asking price was close to top-dollar for a S52 equipped car. But today I have a comparative point; another ’98 Evergreen/Evergreen M Roadster. But under the hood lies something a bit more potent….
This past weekend I drove by the spot where I first encountered the M Coupe. The year was 1998, and to be honest the Z3 lineup had been pretty forgettable. In many ways, the car’s signature launch through the James Bond film Goldeneye summed up how most felt about the Z3:
“Hey, look, a new convertible BMW!” (moves on)
But that changed with the launch of the M-tuned models. The E36/7 and /8 suddenly had the performance to back up the hoopla associated with the launch when the S52 from the M3 found its way under the hood. Augmenting that were upgraded brakes, giant shadowline Roadstar wheels with massive (and awesome) lips, and wide flared fenders culminating in quad exahusts emerging from the rear middle of the car – what would become signature on the next round of BMW M models. It looked great, it drove great, and was available in some pretty wild colors. It was pretty much the instant recipe for a collectable, but values languished for some time before the Coupe models really started taking off a few years ago. But it’s still possible to get into a collector-condition Z M model for not an outrageous sum: