In the 1990s, BMW quietly did something that no one else was really doing at the time. The classic two-seat roadster was already sort of dead in the U.S., with only the Mazda Miata keeping it alive. However, no one was really putting out big power, high-performance roadsters. There were some powerful two-seat convertibles, like the Corvette, but none of them had that classic British roadster feel. But the BMW Z3 M Roadster did and it was quietly one of the best cars of its generation.
The BMW Z3 M Roadster was sort of the combination of two different cars—the BMW Z3 and the E36 BMW M3. Its chassis was obviously the same as the standard Z3, just with some extra structural reinforcement from the M Division. Then, BMW M widened the rear track and fitted the suspension and powertrain from the E36 M3.
That meant that the BMW Z3 M Roadster used a 3.2-liter naturally aspirated inline-six, with 321 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. That was also paired with a five-speed manual transmission and, of course, it only powered the rear wheels. While 321 horsepower doesn’t seem like big power in today’s market, the Z3 M Roadster only weighed 1,425 kg (3,142 lbs). So it had almost as much power as B58-powered Bimmers of today just with almost 1,000 fewer pounds to lug around. BMW claims 0-60 mph happened in 5.4 seconds but that seems conservative, considering its power-to-weight ratio. However, none of that actually matters.
What does matter is the fact that the plucky little Z3, which was already a blast to drive, was give sharper suspension, a more charismatic engine, and better looks. Needless to say, the Z3 M Roadster was, and still likely is, a blast to drive.
In this photo gallery, the BMW Z3 M Roadster wears a lovely shade of Imola Red, with a two-tone red/black leather interior. The Z3 M is as German as schnitzel and a pint of Paulaner. However, its styling, proportions, and size make it like classic British roadsters of a bygone era (the irony of that is that BMW actually now owns most of the classic British roadster brands, after it bought Rover along with Mini). BMW eventually made the Z4 M Roadster, the followup to this car, so it wasn’t the end of the line for such Bimmers but it was the most memorable and it’s a car we do wish BMW would continue to make today. The new Z4 M40i is close but it’s a bit too soft, a bit less focused than the old Z3 M was.