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Automotive Intelligence News

News of July 24, 2002


 


The BMW Z3 roadster makes its mark in film and company history

Z3 roadster

Photo: BMW

Munich - With a production volume of nearly 300,000 cars the BMW Z3 has been the most successful BMW roadster in the company's history. Now the success story of this classic car is drawing to an end. It has probably been the most "English" BMW ever produced, since the first person to drive the BMW Z3 was James Bond. This summer will see the end of the Z3's film career which began in November 1995, when it staged a final rehearsal three months before its official premiere supporting "007", Pierce Brosnan in "GoldenEye". Since then the Z3 has made nearly 300,000 "appearances" worldwide, this being the number of times the most popular and famous BMW roadster of all time has been built since its launch, including a good 18,000 "engagements" in the character role of the Z3 coupe.

Its design gives the BMW Z3 a typical English appearance, combining all the characteristics of a classic roadster: long hood, short rear end, hardly any overhangs at the front and rear ends as well as sweeping, low lines with prominent wheel arches. Of course, the powerful engine is located at the front. It almost goes without saying that the Z3 comes with rear wheel drive. The driver and passenger are seated almost directly above the rear axle just above the road at an almost unbelievably long distance from the car's stretched front end.

When the Z3 made its debut, a 4-cylinder version was presented featuring a powerful 1.9-liter four-valve power unit, which was derived from the BMW 318is. It had peak performance of 138 horsepower, and torque of 133 lb-ft, and last but not least a very sexy sound. This speedy sports car immediately won the hearts of fresh air aficionados!

The Z3 was the right type of car launched at the right time: from the start the distinctive Z3 has been in pole position ahead of other roadsters. In 1996 more than 46,000 of the uncompromising two-seaters were sold worldwide, and in September '99 the 200,000th Z3 came off the production line. Until then nobody had deemed this feasible in a market segment that had to that point been regarded as a tiny niche.

In no way does this mean that the Z3's design was undisputed in the course of its rapid rise. Whereas some people found the long hood, the slim waistline and the voluptuous curves at the wheel arches attractive, there were others who didn't like the combination of modern and nostalgic features. However, the difference of opinion vanishes as soon as the Z3 is in motion and the driver and the passenger feel the wind blowing in their faces. The cockpit's passengers experience pure driving pleasure when the roadster quickly takes tight bends in a predator-like manner, and virtually devours straight stretches already looking forward to the next bend.

The Z3 literally sticks to the road thanks to the sports suspension featuring firm springs, a low center of gravity and responsive steering. This is also attributable to the invisible guardian angels available on this speedy sports car. From the start ABS brakes have been standard in the US. For the 1997 model year All Season Traction, which counteracts any loss of traction at an early stage, also became standard. Later the Z3 was equipped with DSC (Dynamic Stability Control), the BMW safety system ensuring maximum driving stability.

In April 1997, one year after the Z3's debut, BMW lived up to what the Z3 aficionados were probably most eagerly awaiting: The 3 and 5 Series' 2.8-liter six-cylinder power unit producing 189-horsepower was added to the model range in the form of the Z3 roadster 2.8. On top of it, the model range was complemented by the M roadster featuring a 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine carried over from the M3 offering an ultimate peak power of 240-horsepower, a maximum torque of 236 lb-ft and a limited-slip differential. From the outside these top-of-the-range models can be recognized by their muscular rear end with more sharply contoured wheel arches for the reinforced rear axle and the even more elegant "gills" incorporated into the side panels. Moreover, the four exhaust tips make the M roadster stand out against the other models.

The successful launch of the Z3 roadster came as a surprise to the automobile world, but the presentation of the Z3 coupe in the summer of 1998 was an absolute thrill for all car aficionados, as it had been at least 50 years since BMW had produced a sports car of this caliber. In fact, the Z3 coupe is reminiscent of the BMW 328 sports coupe produced in the thirties and its derivatives destined for the race track such as the coupe in streamlined design which helped Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bšumer to win the famous Mille Miglia race in 1940. Other experts state that the Z3 reminds them of English cult coupes such as the Triumph GT6 or the Jaguar E-type. However, seldom has the design of a coupe caused more polarization among its fans than that of the Z3 coupe.

There is one thing, however, all fans agree upon: With the exceptional Z3 coupe BMW was successful in creating an alternative to the otherwise rather uniform and dull offerings in this segment: The delicate front end of the Z3 roadster is supplemented by a powerful and striking rear end of the passenger cell, the roof line stretching down to the rear bumper in one sweep. 245 size tires are needed to transfer the engine's peak power of 225-horsepower to the road as the Z3 coupe is only available with the 3.0-liter six-cylinder or the 3.2-liter M engine. Top speed is at 128 and 137 mph respectively (electronically governed); the 0-60 mph sprint takes just 5.9 and 5.0 seconds respectively. The kart-like driving behavior makes this compact and powerful driving machine a nimble rider on winding roads. The sports suspension featuring firm springs allows the driver to take bends at breathtaking speeds. The extremely low driving position behind the vehicle's center of rotation makes the coupe great fun to drive. One thing is for sure: Don't take a logical approach in tracking down the fascination sparked by the coupe. As soon as you drive it, you will turn into an ardent aficionado of this fantastic sports car.

Let's go back to the Z3 roadster. Almost 170,000 cars of this type had been sold the world over by the beginning of 1999: At that time also the smaller members of the Z3 family got the facelift the six-cylinder models had received the year before, most strikingly the widened track underneath the more muscular rear end. Again the upgraded 3 Series served as a role model for the design of the L-shaped rear lights. Also the Z3's drive was modeled on that of the 3 Series: the former 1.9-liter engine was replaced by the 2.5-liter four-valve engine featuring Double VANOS camshaft control, delivering 170- horsepower to the rear wheels of the Z3 roadster 2.3i. The Z3 roadster 2.8i was equipped with a new, high-torque, 193-horsepower 2.8-liter six-cylinder engine with Double VANOS.

The facelift also had its effects on the Z3's front end, which presented itself in a new outfit - slightly smoothed out and with chrome-edged headlights. Also the cockpit was upgraded with chrome and wood and now comes with a noise and cold resistant top.

Once again the newly styled Z3 took the lead in the sales statistics with the number of cars sold exceeding 43,000 worldwide. Having strengthened its position through the launch of the new 3.0i (replacing the 2.8i) and 2.5i (an increase in the 2.3i's cubic capacity) models in the middle of 2000 as well as providing the M roadster with the high-revving M3 motor at the beginning of 2001, the Z3 has managed to maintain its hold on the fiercely contested roadster market until today. But nevertheless the era of the Z3 is drawing to an end after seven successful years. This autumn the Z4, the successor to the Z3, will be introduced in the US.

So we have to say goodbye to the most successful BMW roadster ever: On June 28, 2002 the last Z3 roadster, number 297,087, came off the production line. The very last Z3 roadster will be displayed in the museum annexed to the Spartanburg Plant reminding all of us of the unique roadster whose most successful career started with a role in a blockbuster. The final curtain for the charismatic character actor Z3 that is now already deemed to be a classic car.

(July 23, 2002)

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