It’s 26 years since the production of the first and last-ever BMW Z3 began at BMW’s plant in Spartanburg (USA), with this compact roadster becoming the brand’s first to be produced exclusively outside Germany.
Its history is full of successes, one of which is the total number of 297,087 units built. And the first man to drive a BMW Z3 model was the famous James Bond in “Golden Eye”, one of the movies that featured Agent 007 as the hero.
By the beginning of 1996, the entire annual production of the Z3 – 15,000 examples – had already been sold. Without a doubt, the BMW Z3 was a worthy successor in a compact size to the legendary BMW 507 of the 1950s and continued the story started by the BMW Z1. The latter was the first prototype created by the BMW Technik research company, and the Z stands for the German word “Zukunft” – future.
The design of the BMW Z3 seamlessly blends bold, modern shapes with classic details such as the side gills found on the BMW 507.
In April 1997 also saw the introduction of the memorable 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine offering 193 hp (M52B28) and, in addition, BMW M introduced the Z3 Roadster M with the 3.2-liter S50B32 engine developing 321 hp. With this engine, the same available in the BMW M3 (E36), the Z3 became a high-performance sports car.
By 1999, nearly 170,000 BMW Z3 units had been sold, and the model received a discreet facelift with a more muscular rear end, new taillights, and a front end that included headlights with a chrome surround.
Mechanically, the newcomers were the 1.9-liter engine (M43B19) developing 117 bhp and the 2.0-liter (M52B20) six-cylinder engine offering 150 bhp. A 2.2-liter (M52B22) six-cylinder engine with a maximum output of 170 bhp also made its way into the range. At the top of the range was the 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine (M52B30) with 231 hp and the M version (S54B32) with 325 hp.
You can’t talk about the history of the BMW Z3 without paying attention to the special chapter represented by the coupe version, which was launched on the market in the summer of 1998!
The special design of the rear end had a precedent in the legendary BMW 328 Touring Coupe, the car in which Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer won the famous Mille Miglia race in 1940, the most important inter-war victory in the brand’s history.
The BMW Z3 Coupe was only available with six-cylinder engines: the Z3 Coupe 2.8i developed 193 hp, the 3.0i had 231 hp and the M versions offered 321 and 325 hp respectively. The BMW Z3 M Coupe also fulfilled the role of Safety Car in the 2000 MotoGP season.
The BMW Z3 Coupe range also included a one-off model, the “Millenium Edition”, created on behalf of Germany’s “Auto Motor und Sport” magazine and awarded by lottery to one of its readers. Another unique model was the BMW Z3 M V12 version! It was equipped with a 326 hp V12 engine and was produced to test another way of delivering exceptional performance. The longitudinal engine arrangement also allowed the use of a 12-cylinder power plant in such a compact model.
More common were the Sport Edition versions, which can be found on BMW Z3 1.9i, 2.2i, and 3.0i engines. This special version was equipped with 17-inch wheels in Style 42 or Style 78 design, ground clearance lowered by 15 mm compared to a normal Z3, self-locking rear axle differential, and interior with sports seats and M details.
Today, the BMW Z3 Coupe is a car with cult status, with around 18,000 built!