Monday, 18 July 2011

The BMW Z3...


Now that's one good looking collection of curves - the car isn't too bad either (ha, see what we did there? The girls have curvy bits y'see, and we like curv....oh, never mind)!

Yup, say hello to the BMW Z3. We're willing to bet you didn't know you could get one for under £2000, did you? It's okay if you didn't. To be honest they're only just crossing into the N£2G threshold but rather than wait we thought we'd bring the Z3 to your attention now. It's summer after all (apparently) so it's a good time to make you all giddy about the prospect of some top-down fun!

That's a silly place to park, you'll fall right down those stairs when you get out...where there's a blame there's a claim!

Introduced in 1996, the Z3 was a new venture for BMW. Designed by the brilliantly named Joji Nagashima, it was a low-slung two-seater which was keen to snap at the successful heels of the seemingly unstoppable MX5. The fact the Z3 was roughly £14,000,026 more expensive than the Mazda was beside the point, and the E36/E30 adapted chassis was never going to be as good as the Mazda's tight monocoque either, but still BMW thought they'd have a pop!

It was also the first BMW to be built in America - South Carolina to be exact. You'd think the famed Bavarian build quality would suffer (no offence if you're from the USA, but come on, we are talking about the Germans here) but it didn't, well not much anyway. It still made all the reassuring 'thunks' and 'clunks' that a Beemer should when you shut the doors etc, and it still felt solid and tough. Well done to the Carolina workforce there, you did BMW proud. We'll ignore the horrific interior plastics though, just this once.

Horrid plastic aside, it's not a bad place to be, if you can fit in it...

Based on the E36 platform (though it dropped the E36's multi-link rear suspension in favour of the older E30's semi-trailing arm set up) the Z3 had, on paper, good underpinnings from the off. That platform was originally designed for a much bigger car, but a car that still handled well. Dropping the light and minimal Z3 shell onto it should have made for automotive magic. It didn't though, the rabbit pulled from this particular hat didn't have much life to it! It wasn't sporty, it wasn't tight and it wasn't all that involving. Poor show BMW, poor show. Still, it had a great engine when it was launched, right? Er, no, sorry...

"We're on the road to nowhere..." so on and so forth

The engine in the first run of cars was, er, useless. It was like an engine in every way, apart from one thing: it was hideously slow. Coming in at 1.9 litres and kicking out a measly 139hp, it had to work hard to move even the little Z3. In a saloon car you wouldn't mind, but people wanted the Z3 to feel sporty and fast, something the 1.9l engine didn't deliver. Sadly that's what your £2000 is more than likely going to get you at the moment, though after 1997 a 2.8 straight six with 189hp was available which had more grunt and made a better noise and we've seen a few go for less than the all-important figure of £2000 - you're just going to have to search long and hard! There were bigger engined versions after the 2.8 too, including the Z3M with a 315hp 3.2 straight six, but there's no point talking about that one yet - £2000 might buy you the wheels and the fancy front bumper but that's about it. Oh, and '99 saw a 2.0 and a 2.5, though much like the Z3M, they're still on the high side of £2000...for now.

This is a Z3M. You can't afford it yet. Buy the wheels and stick them on your 1.9 though, by all means

BMW had set their sights on the all-impressive MX5 and with the Z3 they smashed themselves on the thumb with the hammer, rather than hitting the nail on the head. Still, even though it was grossly more expensive than the Mazda, it didn't seem to stop people from buying the Z3 in their droves. Though looking back there might have been another reason for that... was only driven by (after being carefully and considerately placed in the movie some months prior to the car's launch so as to drum up interest and potential sales) James-chuffin-Bond in Goldeneye! It had rockets in the lights, gizmos in the dash and it could probably jump over the moon while outrunning a jet-fighter. James 'Brosnan' Bond saw to it that thousands of people bought one. Sadly though, they were slightly disappointed when they had no rockets, or gizmos, or the ability to go over 60mph in less than a week thanks to their 1.9 engine. Ah well, their loss.

Er, this isn't going as well as we thought it would. You're sitting there wondering why the hell you should buy one now, aren't you? Well, despite its failings the Z3 was still a blast. It looked great and it drove well, it was just nothing like a sports car. It handled adequately though, it just wasn't the most involving drive, but not everyone wants that, do they?

As we speak the used car market is filling up with these German beauties and for not -a-lot-of-cash you can have one too. Roll around in a BMW convertible of any kind and folk'll think it cost more than £2000, roll around in a two-seater Z3 and people'll think you're doing really rather well in life, despite the fact you live in a bedsit in Swanley and eat own-brand beans from the tin. Add some wheels and some slam into the mix too, and you'll be the coolest kid in town...

Okay, it's not fast and it doesn't handle too well, but so what? It drives just fine when not being driven on the limit and it still looks fantastic. You buy a Z3 to cruise around in, top down, system up, sun blazing. It's not a track day warrior, it's a country lane cruiser!

Yup, the once incredibly expensive and revered BMW Z3 is finally within our reach. If you want some classy, well-built (sort of) top-down motoring this summer for under £2000 you can't do much better! Just er, don't buy an automatic, honestly.