The BMW Z3: From Movie Prop To Modern Classic

It seems like yesterday that the BMW Z3 pissed off purists with its cameo in 007 Goldeneye in place of the usual Aston Martin. Yet that was a quarter-century ago, meaning not only that the Z3 has aged rather better than Pierce Brosnan, but that it's now a coveted classic.



Development work on the Z3 began in 1991 as a consequence of the Mazda MX5 Miata's successful introduction a couple of years earlier and, as the BMW range was 100% rear-wheel drive at the time, there was no need to design a new platform. So the Z3 was based on the E36 3 Series underpinnings, albeit without its "Z-Axle" rear suspension, replaced by a more straightforward semi-trailer arm set-up to keep costs down, just like the controversial E36 compact. A decision that would come back to haunt the Z3 later on, as it went on receiving ever-more powerful engines over its career.

The Z3's calling card can certainly be considered its sexy exterior design, attributed to Japanese designer Joji Nagashima, who certainly took inspiration from the 507 from 1956 and other vintage roadsters.

It may have been born as a Mazda rival, but the Z3 soon became a very different proposition

The Z3 entered production in September 1995 at BMW's brand new South Carolina factory, making the new roadster the first BMW model to be solely manufactured outside of Germany.

The Z3 was initially conceived as a Mazda Miata competitor, hence its engine range limited to just two inline-four engines. But soon BMW's marketing department got its way, and from 1996 onwards, the Z3 went progressively upmarket with the adoption of the marque's signature straight-six engines.

The six-cylinder cars made between 1996 and 1998 had a more muscular look thanks to their widened wheel arches, and they looked bitchin', so much so that the restyling of the Z3 from 1998 extended the wide-body treatment to the whole range.

as sadly BMW has long stopped offering proper engines in its lineup, the enchanting melody of the old straight-sixes at full chat is even more of a treat.

In September of the same year, the controversial Coupé entered the frame, a car that divides opinions to this day. Despite having been mostly ridiculed at launch, it is now one of the most coveted Z3 variants, precisely because of its distinctive appearance, with the plus of having been offered exclusively with the most powerful engines.

It may have been born as a Mazda rival, but the Z3 soon became a very different proposition: heavier and less focused than the Japanese icon, it offered a wider, more comfortable cabin and the image boost associated with its snazzier badge. In another twist of automobile history, the six cylinders cars are now the most sought after ones, despite their lack of handling finesse.

But I can understand why, as sadly BMW has long stopped offering proper engines in its lineup, the enchanting melody of the old straight-sixes at full chat is even more of a treat.


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