When the 1998-2002 clown shoe BMW Z3 M Coupe was first presented to management (the first prototype of the Z3 Coupe, rather), the executive was at a loss for words. He just stood there, silent, as Car Magazine reported at the time. That probably wasn’t a good thing.
There was a reason for it being ugly, and there’s a reason why it has become as beloved as it has, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Z3 M Coupe is an interesting car, maybe the most interesting car that BMW has developed in the last few decades.
Initial work started around 1992, as BMW notes. That’s just a few years after the Miata came out and shocked the world as a wildly successful, profitable roadster with a pretty basic mechanical design and retro style. The Z3 was part of a little baby boom after it, along with cars like the original Porsche Boxster.
But the guy running the program, a former Daimler engineer named Burkhard Goeschel (who had been poached to work at BMW motorcycles before taking on the Z3 project) wanted more than a floppy roadster with vintage styling. He wanted a car that was good to drive.
And to be good to drive, you want a rigid chassis. and to have a rigid chassis you don’t want a drop top, you want a stiff coupe.
So Goeschel and a handful of engineers squirreled away an early Z3 prototype, hacking it up in the basement, and melded it together into a coupe using foam and foil, as Car recounts.
I guess if you’ve ever looked at an M shoe and thought, hey, that looks like a bunch of engineers hacked it together in a basement, you would be right on the nose.
The reason for it wasn’t just that it made the car potentially better to drive, some 2.6-times stiffer than the roadster, as the BMW M Registry notes. (Nor was it to make the car particularly more practical, though the big hatchback trunk is a very nice bonus.) Normally coupes get their own fancy, sculpted bodies. Styling is key. Flowing low fastbacks, that sort of thing. The following Z4 coupe is just that kind of car.
The Z3 Coupe, however, was basically just a box stuck on the back of a Z3 roadster. And that was because, well, it was easy, and because it was as simple and affordable to do. Remember, Goeschel and his team made this car first and then asked permission to make it second. They wanted as easy a business case as possible. As we noted in our old induction of this car into the Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, even the rear fenders are the same on M and non-M versions of the Coupe, just to save the company some money on stamping parts.
And it all worked. The Z3 Coupe might be one of the ugliest cars to make it to production in the modern era, but made it it did.
Was all the effort worth it? Having driven the car, my short answer is yes. My long answer is in the video at the top of the post.