“Would you be okay taking my car for 10 or 11 days?”
I read the message from Ben and chuckled a bit. He was heading out of town on vacation and needed somewhere to keep his BMW Z3 coupe while he was gone. Ben is a flight attendant and can normally leave the car at the airport for free, but only for seven days or less. I was more than happy to take his spare key and slide back into BMW’s smallest 3-series variant.
I say “back into” because the first BMW I drove, in my learners-permit days, was a 1999 BMW Z3 roadster, with the 2.8L “M52” inline-six. We had some family friends who not only let us borrow the car so I could learn to drive a manual transmission, but later let me borrow the car for ten days while they were away on vacation.
So, nearly fifteen years later, I found myself behind the steering wheel of a BMW Z3 and staring out over the long, curvy hood – only this Z3 was the more unique Coupe variant.
[In a neat twist, I discovered photos of the 1999 Z3 2.8L roadster “British Traditional” edition that I drove in 2005/2006 in my Google Photos archives. The photos here are direct comparisons from then and now.]
In so many ways, the Z3 coupe is “just another E36 3-series.” If you’ve driven an E36 BMW, it will feel familiar enough. But, under the clownshoe-y body, there’s parts pulled from several of BMW’s bins. The front suspension is from an E36. The rear suspension is from an E30. The engine in Ben’s Z3 coupe is from an E46 330i, making nearly as much power (225 hp) as the early BMW M Coupes (S52, 240 hp).
Many roadsters present a packaging challenge for my 6’2″ frame, and the Z3 is no exception. However, the “slicktop” Z3 coupes (Ben’s included) provide just a bit more headroom. Between that extra inch of space and the comfortable sport seats, I enjoyed every mile behind the large, three-spoke wheel.
Most of my time with the Z3 was spent on fairly uninspiring roads as part of my commute. The tired suspension and worn-out bushings were happy enough on straight roads, but groaned when pushed through any sort of corner. Fortunately, Ben is preparing to replace everything after 178,000 miles of service, which will undoubtedly tighten things up again.
No matter the shocks and bushings, though, the Z3 coupe was a treat to have in my possession. I’ve been a gearhead practically since birth, but the time spent learning to row gears in the ’99 Z3 (and later, my mom’s 2005 Chrysler Crossfire roadster) really was my introduction to the act of driving being both engaging and fun.
Nearly 15 years later, the BMW Z3 is still similarly engaging and fun to drive. And it’s got a great butt.