Awhile back, I personally wished for BMW to go back to making silly cars, cars that made no sense on paper but all the sense in the world on the road. I said I wanted BMW to stop being so sensible and just make something fun for the sake of making something fun. The reason for that is the brand’s recent affinity for sensibility. But BMW wasn’t always so sensible. In fact, BMW used to make hilarious, ridiculous cars simple because they were fun. The BMW Z3 M is a good example.
Take one look at the BMW Z3 M (nicknamed the “Clown Shoe” and you’ll soon realize that it was not car BMW felt would make any money. It may very well be one of the ugliest cars to see production in the past few decades. It also makes no real sense and anyone outside of BMW enthusiasts would think you mad for buying one. However, it was, and still is, brilliant to drive.
Back in the early ’90s, when the Z3 was first being introduced, a skunkworks team deep in the bowels of BMW decided to take the little roadster and turn it into a proper driver’s car. While the standard Z3 was fun to drive, it wasn’t enough for the engineers at BMW M. So they took the car, fitted it with a fixed roof, stuffed a 3.2 liter inline-six under its hood, gave it a five-speed manual, a limited-slip differential and upgraded suspension.
They did this work on their own, without the supervisory board’s awareness. However, because it was a passion project, it was built well and built right. The end result was the BMW Z3 M Coupe
When the BMW Z3 M Coupe was first shown to the board, they were naturally displeased with what they saw. According to folk lore, it took driving the Z3 M before the board signed off on it in a limited-production capacity. Sure, it was an ugly thing but it’s still one of the most thrilling BMWs of the modern era. Its steering, chassis balance, suspension tuning and wonderful, free-revving inline-six all combine to make an incredible driver’s car.
The BMW Z3 M is the exact sort of car I was talking about when I wished for the Bavarians to make something dumb and fun again. On paper, the Z3 M is hopeless. It’s ugly, it’s small, it isn’t very practical and it’s too expensive (at least, it was back in the ’90s). Yet, on the road, where you can feel its driving brilliance, the Z3 M makes perfect sense.