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Video | The BMW Z3 M Coupe Is the Weirdest Modern BMW

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author photo by Tyler Hoover May 2018

In convertible form, the BMW Z3 is fairly unloved. Its vague handling for a sporty roadster and higher maintenance costs have caused the Z3 to depreciate to values well below the Honda S2000 -- or similar money to the beloved second generation MX5. Of course, the BMW M performance version livens these cars up dramatically and increases the value -- but things go crazy when the rare coupe version of the Z3 comes into the picture. I never understood all the hype surrounding these, as well as the insane values -- until I got the chance to actually try on a pair.

Called the clown shoe by enthusiasts, these coupes produced from 1997-2002 got their nickname from their strange shoe (or shooting brake) shape, with a ridiculously wide rear end to make the proportions even stranger looking. The car was reportedly developed in secret by engineers wanting a stiffer coupe version of the Z3 with sharper handling -- and it was eventually begged into production. Obviously, the 3-series coupe was way more practical, and offered the same engines and M-performance versions, so these funky Z coupes didn't sell all that well.

Now that 15 years have passed since these were built, they are among the hottest collectible modern BMW cars you can buy. Currently on Autotrader, there are 24 of these M Coupes for sale, with an average asking price of $42,000. The most sought after cars are the final two model years with the more powerful S54 inline 6 -- and the most expensive one of those has an asking price of $64,900. That kind of money could buy you a brand new M2, or a nice certified pre-owned BMW M3. Usually, it takes a lot longer than 15 years for a collectible car to eclipse the prices of new offerings, if ever -- but somehow, these weird coupes are the exception.

Admittedly, the coupes I drove are the more affordable versions. One was a normal 2001 Z3 coupe with the standard 3.0-liter inline-6 -- a car that can easily be found for under $20,000 -- and the M-Coupe was a high mileage, heavily modified car that the current owner said he bought from a crazy man who was selling all of his possessions to live in a van. Typical for BMW cars of this era, both of them were kind of broken. The seat in the 3.0 coupe had half an inch of play, jiggling me around with every bump -- and after my test drive, smoke came billowing out from under the hood due to a failed valve cover gasket. The M coupe had a warning lamp illuminated for the brake pads, and the rear differential was howling at speed.

So I wasn't very impressed with these cars at first. The coupe offered zero extra cabin space over the convertible, as the seat backs up to what looks like the same rear panel -- except the coupe has an opening the size of a limousine partition to access the very small cargo area. Of course, both BMW inline-6 engines mated to their manual gearboxes were very satisfying -- but what really impressed me was how well the power stayed planted -- and none of the underwhelming handling characteristics of the roadster carried over to the coupe.

While the M3 of this era certainly delivers a similar driving experience, it rarely gets a second glance driving down the road. I was getting a lot of attention during my short drive with these cars, and found myself repeatedly beaming at the sight of the ridiculous rear fender flares mated to a hot hatch. There's no denying the intangible 'it' factor this car has -- and I actually found myself longing to purchase one. Of course, I'll buy just about anything, so that's not saying much ...

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Video | The BMW Z3 M Coupe Is the Weirdest Modern BMW - Autotrader