At $12,999, Is This 1996 BMW Z3 'Aftermarket M' A Better Deal Than The Real Deal?

Nice Price or No Dice: 1996 BMW Z3 "M"
Photo: Craigslist
Nice Price Or No DiceIs this used car a good deal? You decide!

The seller of today’s Nice Price or No Dice Z3 claims its drivetrain was converted to M-spec by an aftermarket tuner that couldn’t wait for BMW to introduce the official M Roadster. Let’s see if this converted car can also command an M-like price.

Do you remember the mystery meat served at lunchtime in your middle school cafeteria? Eating that was always a roll of the dice. The best-case scenario was that it tasted OK and you suffered no ill side effects from its consumption. Alternatively, it could have been funky, turning fifth-period algebra into a race against the clock to get a hall pass and make it to the bathroom before you turned your Underoos into a Superfund site.

Yesterday’s 1977 Jeep Wagoneer wasn’t quite as personally challenging as all that, but there was enough that went unexplained about it that we all had a pretty hard time judging its $7,500 asking. In the end, the mystery simply overwhelmed the old Jeep, and it fell in a narrow 57 percent No Dice loss.

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Photo: Craigslist

Has anyone ever told you that patience is a virtue? How about the advice to “hold your horses” as a response to impatience? Sometimes you just have to ignore such sage advice and go with your gut. I mean, that’s how innovation happens. That lack of patience is also how this 1996 BMW Z3 “M Roadster” came into being.

As you probably recall, BMW released the Z3 in late 1995 with exclusively four-cylinder power. That was because it was initially seen as an upper-class alternative to Mazda’s popular MX-5 Miata. At the same time, BMW was selling the hot M version of the 3 Series featuring (in the States) the M52 inline-six. The Z3 was based on bits and pieces from the 3 Series, so many of those M parts — including the 240 horsepower engine — would pretty much bolt right in. That is, of course, as long as BMW also saw fit to bolt them in. That would take fully a year to officially happen, with the Z3 M Roadster arriving for the 1998 model year along with some less-powerful six cylinder engines to complete the range.

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In 1996, that 12-month wait must have been untenable for the tuners at Race Marque Systems in Van Nuys, California, as they took this standard Z3 and plugged in the drivetrain from an E36 M3. This car was the result, and that means it has the S52 engine, five-speed transmission and limited-slip differential that the 3 Series M employed.

That’s all bolted into the standard Z3 body, which lacks the later M Roadster’s wider hips and rear valance. It does wear custom front and rear bumpers and M badges throughout, so it’s not that much of a sleeper. Adding to the fun, the car also benefits from a full cat-back exhaust, Brembo big brake upgrade and Koni suspension pieces. This is one of three cars so modified.

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The seller claims the 56,000-mile car to be in excellent shape, exhibiting minor signs of wear in the paint but balanced by a clean top and interior. That cabin has reupholstered seats and a four-point rollbar. A Momo steering wheel replaces the standard — and airbag equipped — BMW unit and is matched with a Momo shifter for a consistent tactile experience.

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Photo: Craigslist

Outside, you get aftermarket AC Schnitzer wheels that have been chrome-plated, offering some bling against the car’s dark monochrome presentation.

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The seller claims all the work done in the car’s initial conversion to be better than that from the BMW factory. The fact that Race Marque Systems remains in business today lends a good bit of credence to the car not being a slap-dash job. The title is clean, and while the license plate is blurred in the photos, we can assume that the work still allows the car to be smogged and registered.

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The question is: Could this unique M-powered Z3 be a more interesting deal than a real M Roadster? Do you think this Z3 “M” is worth that $12,999 price? Or, does that price have you thinking you’d rather wait for the real deal?

You decide!

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Los Angeles Craigslist, or go here if the ad disappears.

H/T to RevUnlimiter for the hookup!

Help me out with NPOND. Hit me up at rob@jalopnik.com and send me a fixed-price tip. Remember to include your Kinja handle.

Rob Emslie is a contributing writer for Jalopnik. He has too many cars, and not enough time to work on them all.

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DISCUSSION

briangriffinsprius
BrianGriffin makes bad decisions

I’ve been sorta in the market for a (normal) Z3. Generally higher mileage, late 90s examples are selling for about $8k give or take.

I like the S52 engine. Seems like it was a reputable build. Low miles. I was soooo ready to click the NP button but then...

That interior. Hell to the no. Boy racer steering wheels only belong on clapped out Golfs. I’m buying this as a “slightly faster nice day cruiser”, not a racetrack car. I want an airbag, dammit.

ND at any price.