25 Years of BMW Z3

James Bond got into this Roadster in 1995. Almost 300,000 customers worldwide followed suit. We’re of course talking about the BMW Z3. This two-seater sports car shocked not only movie fans, for whom the British secret agent naturally belonged in a British car. BMW fans also had to swallow hard, as the Z3 wasn’t produced in Germany but at the US plant in Spartanburg. It is true that there had already been a plant in South Africa for many years. However, largely identical cars were produced there as around Munich, at best with different engine configurations. The Z3, on the other hand, was the first independent model series that didn’t come from German production. More than 60 percent of the components were manufactured in North America.

Japanese design for American BMW

With the Z3, BMW wanted to revive the roadster tradition on the one hand and realize a worthy successor to the Z1 with lower production costs on the other. Work began in 1991 under the direction of Burkhard Göschel, with Joji Nagashima, who also designed the E36 3-Series, responsible for the body design. The platform and rear axle of the 3-Series Compact were taken over for the Z3. Some components of the dashboard and interior also came from this model. This is why the roadster is internally known as E36/7. After a few prototype images had already leaked out, the world public was given its first chance to take a look at the Z3 through videos in June 1995. Series production began in September of the same year.

A broader public first saw the BMW Z3 in the movie “GoldenEye”, the 17th big-screen adventure of British secret agent James Bond 007. In addition to the switch to a German vehicle, fans here also had to contend with the entry of Pierce Brosnan as Bond actor. According to Q, the two-seater roadster was equipped with various special internals – but with the exception of a tracking device, these were never used in the movie. In total, the Z3 is only in the picture for around 80 seconds, but that was already enough for high attention. BMW also provided new official cars for James Bond for the following two films. However, the Z3 didn’t roll into BMW dealerships in Europe until early 1996.

New versions at the IAA 1997

Initially, the BMW Z3 was only available with four-cylinder engines. These had 85 kW/115 hp from 1.8 liters of displacement and 103 kW/140 hp from 1.9 liters. Starting in 1996, BMW offered a 2.8-liter inline six-cylinder engine with 140 kW/190 hp as the new top engine. At the 1997 IAA (Frankfurt Motor Show), a whole series of new versions were introduced for the Z3. Firstly, a group of five BMW engineers around Burkhard Göschel had developed a Coupé variant with an estate rear in their spare time. This car was 2.7 times stiffer than the roadster, actually went into production as the Z3 Coupé (E36/8) and came to customers exclusively with six-cylinder engines. In addition, the Z3 went through the M division and was presented as a wider and more powerful Z3 M Roadster and Z3 M Coupé. A 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder engine with 236 kW/321 hp served as the powerplant in Europe. North America instead received only a three-liter unit with 176 kW/240 hp.

In the fall of 1998, a comprehensive model update was carried out. On the roadster, this provided for more pronounced rear fenders, new L-shaped taillights and a redesign of the trunk lid. The Coupé received a chrome strut around the trunk latch. At the same time, the 1.8 was dropped in favor of the 1.9i with 87 kW/118 hp. The previous 1.9 remained in the range for another six months before the new Z3 2.0 with 110 kW/150 hp took over this position in April 1999. This was offered until 2000 and was then dropped in favor of the Z3 2.2i with 125 kW/170 hp. For the US market, there was the Z3 2.3 (125 kW/170 hp) from 1998 to 2000 and then the Z3 2.5 (137 kW/184 hp). With the facelift, the output of the Z3 2.8 thanks to Double Vanos (two adjustable camshafts) increased to 141 kW/192 hp. It was also replaced in 2000 by the Z3 3.0i with 170 kW/231 hp. M Roadster and M Coupé received a new 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine (internally S54 instead of S50) with 239 kW/325 hp (slightly less in North America) for 2001 after a production break in the second half of 2000.

Good sales figures worldwide

A total of 297,088 units of the Z3 were built between 1995 and 2002. These included a number of special edition models, which were distinguished by special paint colors and high-quality equipment details. The first of these was the James Bond Edition, of which only 100 were produced for the US market in 1996. This special model visually corresponded to the agent’s service car in the color ‘Atlantic Blue’ and was exclusively available from the Christmas Catalogue if Nieman Marcus. By contrast, a prototype of a Z3 M Roadster produced by M GmbH in 1999 with the 5.4-liter V12 engine from the 750i didn’t go into production. Due to the extreme front-end load and the associated poor handling, this idea was discarded relatively quickly. Today, the one-off is part of the BMW Group Classic portfolio. The total number of units already mentioned above is divided into 279,273 roadsters and 17,815 Coupés. The facelifted variants of the M Roadster (344 for Europe/RoW, 1,565 for North America) and the M Coupé (434 for Europe/RoW, 678 for North America) remained particularly rare. In fall 2002, the Z3 was succeeded by the newly developed BMW Z4.

Images: BMW