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…
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….
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:
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:
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:
With all the hoopla surrounding the BMW M Coupe, it’s easy to forget about its sibling, the M Roadster. This wide-hipped roadster offers a lot of power in a very small package along with the ability to drop the top and listen to the noise of that straight six out the quad tailpipes. This Estoril Blue M Roadster is for sale from former GCFSB contributor Aaron Kraljev in Portland, Oregon. This M Roadster was his personal car and has been meticulously maintained. It also comes with a host of nice options and accessories, such as the hardtop, AC Schnitzer alloys and exhaust along with Dinan performance software. Looking to stand out a bit with your M Roadster? Read further…