Production of the Z3 Roadster began in 1995, but it was not launched in Germany until March 1996.
The Z3 was the first BMW model that was manufactured exclusively at a location outside of Bavaria. All Z3s around the world come from the newly built Spartanburg plant in the US state of South Carolina. BMW was the first non-American automobile manufacturer to build a large production plant on American soil. Sports and off-road vehicles are built in Spartanburg today and have a high share of sales in the North American market.
The Z3 is initially available in two engine variants. Both are four-cylinder engines, one with 115 hp and one with 140 hp. First speculations that there could also be a six-cylinder engine in the Z3 are officially denied.
The 1,8 Liter Motor with 115 Ps
The 1,9 Liter engine (IS engine) with 140 Ps
Contrary to popular belief, the Z3 was not the successor to the Z1. With its elaborately glued plastic body, the Z1 was an exceptional design that could not be manufactured in large numbers. Therefore, its selling price was set rather high. Its production ended after 8,000 copies in June 1991. In contrast, the intention behind the Z3 was fundamentally different around four years later. They wanted to build an inexpensive roadster based on the model of the Mazda MX5, which could also be produced in larger numbers in order to “rob” of the sales success of the MX5 in the segment of the previously underrated Rodster class and to win customers for their own BMW Rodster.
The Z3 with a six-cylinder engine
In 1996 the speculation came to an end: BMW announced that it would install the legendary six-cylinder in-line engine from the 3 Series in the Z3. In February 1997 the time had come when the Z3 2.8 was available from dealers. It is therefore clear that the expansion of the range of engines for the Z3 was planned from the outset.
The in-line six-cylinder offered from 1996 aim Z3
A closer look reveals that it wasn’t just the larger motor that was implanted. A whole series of modifications were necessary for the installation of the 192 hp engine. For example, the Z3 2.8 needs a larger cooling air opening in the front bumper. The fenders were also widened at almost 50mm to make room for a 67mm wider track at the rear. However, this created a minor problem. The main headlight, which must be located in a precisely defined area when viewed from the front, was now too far inside for approval in Germany. White marker lights had to be attached to the front bumper corners. In a similar form, but in an orange color, these position lights already existed on all American Z3s.
As early as March 1996, a concept study was shown at the Geneva Motor Show that caused a sensation. It was a variant of the Z3 that was built by M GmbH – the subsidiary of BMW, which is dedicated to the construction of roadworthy, civil motorsport vehicles. The heart of this “ancient thing”: the 321 hp six-cylinder engine from the then current BMW M3. Even if there was not yet any talk of series production, the enthusiasm that was shown for the study clearly indicated a certain success for this ultimate driving machine.
Exactly one year later, in March 1997, the M-Roadster was presented to a select group of journalists at a large live event in Andalusia. The M-Roadster went on sale at the same time as the Z3 2.8. The press literally went crazy with superlatives about this powerhouse of a car. At least 120 kg lighter than the M3 at the time, the enormous high-performance engine with a liter output of over 100 hp helped the M-Roadster achieve performance that was previously only reserved for the class of priceless super sports cars. The M-Roadster accelerates from 0 to 100 km / h in 5.4 seconds and accelerates from 80 to 120 km / h in fourth gear in just 5.3 seconds.
In addition to the technical changes compared to the normal Z3, which also include an elaborate chassis optimization, M GmbH has made many optical modifications. The M-Roadster features oval exterior and oval interior mirrors, the side gills have been replaced by a sporty variant, and the front and rear bumpers have been redesigned. The rear view, the view most other drivers see, received the biggest changes. The four large tailpipes of the exhaust system take up so much space that the license plate reverently gives way to the top between the taillights. The BMW emblem is displaced from its traditional place on the trunk lid. Exclusive aluminum rims, white indicator glasses and leather seats with a special design in the shoulder area were also part of the standard equipment of the M-Roadster.
The Z3 Coupe – the brother of the Z3 Roadster
In autumn 1997 BMW presented an offshoot of the Z3 Roadster, the Z3 Coupe, at the IAA in Frankfurt.
The provocative design divides the audience into two camps like hardly any other car. With an elongated roof line and a steeply sloping rear section, it is reminiscent of the shape of the famous Volvo P 1800 ES, also better known under the nickname “Snow White’s Coffin”, as the glass dome-like structure is reminiscent of the portrayal of this coffin in a Walt Disney film. The Z3 Coupe quickly received the nickname “Snow White’s Coffin”, and sometimes it is also called “sneaker” due to its silhouette.
From a technical point of view, the Z3 Coupe is extremely interesting, as – unlike most vehicles, which have an open and a closed variant – it was created after the open variant. If a convertible is derived from a coupe, it is usually necessary to apply additional stiffeners in the area of the floor pan due to the lower body rigidity due to the lack of a roof. This means that the convertible is generally heavier than the coupe, although the weight of the roof is missing. With the Z3 it is exactly the opposite. Because the floor pan of the roadster was adopted without any changes in the coupe, the curb weight of the coupe is 5 kg heavier than that of the roadster. The increased rigidity and the better aerodynamics of a fixed roof, however, benefit the performance of the coupe again.
The success of the coupe, to which the M variant was also delivered a little later, was moderate. With around 20,000 units produced worldwide, it remained an absolute niche model. It is reasonable to assume that the design met with more rejection than approval from potential buyers.
The summer of 1999 brought far-reaching innovations in the model range of the Z3. The production of the more powerful four-cylinder engine with 140 hp and four-valve technology was discontinued. A small six-cylinder engine with a displacement of 2.0 liters and 150 hp is now available as a replacement. The small four-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1.9 liters and meanwhile 118 hp remains the entry-level model.
The new models are clearly recognizable by extensive changes to the body, the Z3 received a fundamental facelift. At the rear, taillights with a curved edge towards the center of the vehicle were introduced. The fenders got small bumps to emphasize the rear. There is now only one width for the Z3, and the four-cylinder models are now the same width as the former six-cylinder models. You could almost think that it is “in” again to carry more pounds on your hips.
The rear of the M-Roadster was not changed. The new model can only be recognized from the outside by the chrome rings around the headlights, which were also introduced on all other Z3 models.
Some innovations can also be found in the interior. For example, the upper panel of the dashboard has changed and the arrangement of instruments and switches in the center console has been modernized. The chrome rings around the speedometer and rev counter, which used to be very popular, are now standard on all Z3s.
New six-cylinder engines
In the summer of 2000, the six-cylinder engines of the Z3 were fundamentally revised again. As a result, the model names also changed, which in the case of the six-cylinder always correspond to the actual cubic capacity of the engines. The Z3 2.0 with 150 hp was replaced by the Z3 2.2i with 170 hp, the Z3 2.8 with 193 hp by the Z3 3.0i with 231 hp.
The M-Roadster also got a new engine from the end of 2000, the 3.2 liter engine of the third generation of the M3. For the M-Roadster, this powerhouse, which in the M3 produces a whopping 343 hp, had to be tamed to 325 hp. Compared to the previous engine of the M-Roadster, the different engine characteristics of the new unit are striking. Maximum torque and maximum power are only available at higher speeds (torque: 4900 rpm instead of 3250 rpm, maximum output: 7900 rpm instead of 7400 rpm). But the maximum speed of this marvel of high-speed technology is over 8000 rpm.
The last Z3
On Friday, July 5th, 2002, the very last Z3 rolled off the line. This particular example is now in the possession of the “Mobile Tradition”, the historic BMW car collection. With almost 280,000 vehicles produced, the Z3 is a truly successful model for the Bavarian automotive group.
In Spartanburg, production continued with the Z4. Basically, the Z4 is not the successor to the Z3, which is also expressed by the different naming. The Z4 is bigger, it looks more mature and grown-up, and above all, it is initially only offered with six-cylinder engines. With this, BMW is making the clear claim of the new vehicle that it should be of a higher quality than the Z3. Competitors are now looking for more at the level of a Porsche Boxster and less in the league of a Mazda MX5.
BMW AG also came up with a few, let’s say “unusual” accessories for their owners for marketing purposes … here are 2 examples:
For those who still don’t believe it, here is the original BMW sales brochure:
The most famous Z3 is the star from the James Bond movie
In 1995 this press release came as a surprise. James Bond, a secret agent in Her Majesty’s service and at the same time the epitome of British understatement, leaves his original British Aston Martin and switches to a Bavarian sports car. What a sensation!
But what kind of classy car does it have to be to outperform an Aston Martin? – It is the new BMW Z3, a small two-seater roadster that impresses with its design as an uncompromising driving machine. And, strangely enough, you don’t have to be one of the super-rich circles in which James Bond usually does. At 43,700 DM (22,309 €) for the basic version, the price for the small sports car can definitely be described as affordable.
With its appearance in the James Bond film “Goldeneye”, the Z3 premiered on December 5th, 1995 in the German public. James Bond drove BMW vehicles in three other films, but the Atlantic-blue Z3 with the beige-brown interior went straight into retirement after the film “Goldeneye”. Incidentally, there were only two hand-made prototypes available for filming at that time, with which no dangerous stunts were allowed. One of the two vehicles is on display at the Spartanburg plant today.