We arrived at the BMW Z4 facelift drive event in Miami, expecting greatness. We didn’t expect to find a priceless 2001 Z3 M Coupe. Finished in exotic Laguna Seca Blue exterior paint, this is one of just around 678 S54-powered coupes produced for North America. Arguably the vehicle that set a precedent for BMW to stuff an S55 under the hood of the original M2, this desirable M vehicle of yesteryear packs the same legendary S54 under the hood as its contemporary, the E46 M3.

Well, kind of. While Z3 M Coupes and Roadsters produced for the 2001 model year featured the new (at the time) engine, it was slightly down on power. It produced 325 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque in the Z3. While an increase of 75 horsepower and 15 pound-feet over the old S52-powered models, it’s still down 13 horses and 18 torques from the E46 M3. Hardly something you’ll notice from the driver’s seat – especially with a curb weight of just 3121 pounds.

More Than Skin Deep

But BMW tweaked more than just the under-hood hardware on the Z3 M for 2001. A new final drive accompanied the five-speed manual transmission. Notably, it’s the only production BMW to pair the S54 engine with the slick ZF five-speed manual. This is a bit of a shame since it’s considerably crisper than the Getrag box found elsewhere. Steps forward in the electronics area include dynamic stability control and a tire pressure monitoring system. It used the wheel speed sensors to determine rotational speed differentials and, thus, tire pressure.

Inside, the 2001 and later Z3 M Coupes got slightly different gauges mirroring those of the E46 M3. Grey, M-badged backgrounds add a little bit more motorsport theater to the interior. A new rearview mirror, now self-dimming, was also added. A new interior option, Laguna Seca Blue and Black Nappa leather, was added.

(Forty) One of a Kind

An S54-powered Z3 M Coupe is pretty dang valuable these days, and for good reason. Though it’s undeniably a special color, almost every Z3 M Coupe is pretty special by default, with only 338 Z3 M Coupes making it through production for the 2001 model year and 340 for 2002. Of those, only 41 sported Laguna Seca Blue finishes.

Today, finding one of these clown shoes – named, fairly obviously, for their unique shape – for under $45,000 would be a challenge. Notable sales on online auction sites place the value of these anywhere from $50,000 to over $100,000. While that is more than a few sheckles above its original $46,000 MSRP, it’s undeniably hard to cross-shop. Sure, you could get yourself a lightly used Cayman GT4 or load up a brand new M4, but neither of those things tout an uncanny resemblance to the Ferrari Breadvan (look it up). Nor were they designed with a complete disregard for mainstream appeal.

BMW’s own website quotes a former board member who perhaps phrases it best. “This vehicle won’t be everybody’s darling, but it’s a BMW through and through: sporty, powerful, dynamic.” There’s something charmingly subversive about the Z3 M Coupe – and it’s a true testament to the oft-chanted “they don’t make them like they used to.”