Like earlier’s Audi TT, BMW’s first successful foray into the roadster market came in the 1990s with the Z3. The Z3’s styling was less aggressive and more organic than the original “Future Roadster” – the Z1 – had been, but initially motivation wasn’t much better. However, when BMW decided to stuff the E36 chassis full of the higher-power M-product motors, they instantly created a hit. Rear drive only with a singing inline-6 and attached to a manual transmission, they were affordable sports cars that offered a very high fun quotient even if they were not the most refined product, style or substance-wise.
At the same time that the M Roadster and M Coupe debuted in North America, planning was already underway for the Z3’s replacement. The new E85 Roadster and E86 Coupe debuted as a fresh face to replace the 90s-era Z3 in the early 2000s, but almost immediately the styling was considered controversial. There were hard edges, curves and cuts integrated into the exterior, and the traditional driver-oriented dashboard was gone, replaced by a more modern flat-cockpit layout. Much like the original Z1, it didn’t look like anything else on the market at the time, and reception was mixed.
Dynamically, though, it was hard to argue that the Z4 wasn’t a vast improvement in refinement over the Z3. The rear suspension was updated with a new multi-link setup which handled power (and bumps) significantly better than the outgoing E36 chassis with E30 bits. A stiffer structure meant more overall composure. And though the interior remained plastic-heavy, the new generation of dashboards looked much more upscale and modern than the dated 90s pieces. Yet the biggest change lay at the end of the run, as it had with the Z3, as starting in 2006 BMW installed the legendary S54B32. Providing 330 horsepower to the rear wheels and trick M-differential via a 6-speed manual, the limited production M Roadster and M Coupe also corrected one of the perceived flaws of the normal Z4 lineup by retaining a hydraulic steering setup. More aggressive exterior styling was met by a refreshingly simple and less gimicky interior than the Z3 had. For some 3,041 original owners, this was Roadster perfection, and today on the used market they’re a steal relative to their exclusivity and performance:
The perfect counterpoint to the pristine Golf Cabriolet from earlier is this E85 M Roadster. Now, the M Roadster – in either guise – is not the favorite German convertible, nor is it the favorite M product. Heck, we barely have ever covered the model, either – I wrote one up 3 years ago, but this may be only the second time we’ve looked at an E85 M Roadster. Critics detest the Bangle-era styling among other things, and some will point out it wasn’t even built in Germany, as the final assembly point was the Spartanburg plant in South Carolina. Excuse that for a moment and let’s consider that the E85 M might be one of the best values going in the used performance BMW market. There’s the classic Roadster recipe; two seats, front engine, rear drive. There’s the legendary S54 inline-6 under the hood, and it’s mated to a 6-speed manual. They’re rare, too as they ran only two years with some 3,041 sold in the U.S., which makes it one of the least frequently seen Ms. While not a market darling at the moment, it wasn’t terribly long ago that buyers ignored the E36/7 so there’s a reasonable expectation that they’ll appreciate. Pick up one in a great color and with low miles and it’s just about a sure bet:
I’ve featured a few collectable coupes this week – the 2013 Audi TT RS and the modified M Coupe. But as much as I love the soundtrack of the Audi and the statistics on paper, and as hot as the E36 M Coupe market is, were it my money I was plunking down for a personal coupe it would be the second generation Z4-based M Coupe that would get my attention. And for my Christmas wish, this one would do quite nicely! Interlagos Blue is certainly one of my favorite colors, and the lower miles and pristine shape of this particular example would have me overlooking the all-black leather:
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 8 months since we looked at a E46 M3 Competition Package, but we spend so much time playing catch-up on popular models that sometimes we don’t look at the models that will be classics of tomorrow. Amongst those potential future classics, few shine quite as bright as the E46 M3. As a car that’s affordable and still fairly new, the E46 M3 offers performance levels few sports cars reach. It’s also one of the last BMWs mere mortals can work on, the last offering of the S54 motor before the M division switched to twin-turbocharged inline-6s and V8s. To some, the E46 was a mass-produced marketing tool; but to me, the E46 M3 corrected many of the perceived faults of the E36 M3. Of course, the motor was a large part, but outside the M3 was now really set off by flares, quad exhausts, bulges, gaping intakes and vents that really made it look as special as it was. Denied the CSL, for U.S. customers the most special of the breed were the late run ZCP “Competition Package” cars like today’s Interlagos Blue example: