In Your Face

EPIC TALES FROM OUR ARCHIVES

PETER ROBINSON’S Classic Wheels

FIRST PUBLISHED SEPTEMBER 1998

“THIS CAR IS NOT BUILT TO BE EVERYBODY’S DARLING,” BMW R&D BOSS WOLFGANG REITZLE TOLD ME AT THE 1998 LAUNCH OF THE Z3 M COUPE IN MUNICH. REITZLE WAS SPOT ON.

One M Division executive later added: “We see the buyers as real individualists who love the unusual styling. I don’t think any [buyers] will ask if the neighbours like the car.”

Z3 M project manager Burkhard Goschel, who later rose to become head of R&D, told Wheels: “If you didn’t love it at first sight, you hated it. In the end, we decided emancipated navigators would buy the car.”

I loved the Coupe for its cab-back proportions, the lovely exaggerated taper of the extended shooting-brake rear end with its bulging haunches, virtually no overhang, and a wider rear track that meant the 245/40 ZR17 rubber filled the wheelarches to overflowing.

It remains one BMW with no hint of the traditional hockey-stick kink in the C-pillar. There was nothing like it, and with right-hand-drive production totalling a mere 821 cars, it endures as the rarest of all BMWs outside limited-edition models.

BMW never admitted to a torsional stiffness figure, saying only that the coupe was 2.7 times stiffer than the roadster.

No wonder the handling was vastly superior to the open car; the coupe felt more agile and altogether more cohesive and less likely to suffer from bump-steer, body shimmying and steering-wheel shake.

The raw power of the 236kW 3.2-litre in-line six persisted and, without any kind of electronic interference, lighting up the rear tyres exiting a hairpin in second gear became an habitual driving style in the right conditions.

To introduce readers to the Z3 M Coupe, we decided to compare it with the also-new Porsche 911 in its first 996 water-cooled iteration. The Porsche’s new 3.4-litre flat-six made 221kW, though the two rivals both produced 350Nm, the BMW’s arriving at 3250rpm, the 911’s at 4600rpm, thus necessitating rather more gearchanging. Acceleration was virtually identical (13.9sec for the standing 400m in the BMW, only 0.1sec slower than the Porsche).

The 911 was lighter at the wheel, the handling more nimble, the steering more accurate. With higher levels of adhesion, it was faster and easier to drive quickly than the Z3 M Coupe. Still, how do you put a price on the BMW’s power oversteer?

No question, then, that the 911 was a far better car; more multi-talented and refined, complete with six rather than five forward ratios, 70kg less mass, while its 0.30 drag co-efficient was far slipperier than the BMW’s 0.37.

Yet the intense appeal of the Z3 M Coupe remained strong. Forget the lousy driving position and tiny 51-litre fuel tank, which provided a mere 200km range when driven seriously; this was a car you could love. I did.

“THIS IS BMW BEING CONTROVERSIAL, OUTRAGEOUS, DELIBERATELY SHOCKING. AND TOTALLY UNCONCERNED ABOUT YOUR REACTIONS” – PETER ROBINSON, 1998