BMW Z3 (E36/4)

The BMW Z3 was the first modern mass-market roadster produced by BMW, as well as the first new BMW model assembled in the United States. The Z in Z3 originally stood for Zukunft (German for future). The Z3 was introduced via video press release by BMW North America on June 12, 1995, as a 1996 model year vehicle. It was later featured in the James Bond movie in November 1995, GoldenEye in which a blue prototype was provided for filming in late January 1995 at the Leavesden Aerodome. At that time Karen Sortito created the BMW campaign for the film GoldenEye. Afterwards, while the film was number one at the box office, sales of the car spiked. The entire 1996 BMW Z3 roadster production run, more than 15,000 roadsters, was sold out by the time the car was introduced.
There were a few variants of the car before its production run ended in 2002, including a coupé version for 1999. It was manufactured and assembled in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Z3 was replaced by the BMW Z4 introduced in late 2002 at the Paris Auto Show. The BMW Z Series are a line of roadsters considered to be successor to the BMW 507.
September 20, 1995–June 28, 2002
Greer, South Carolina, United States (BMW US Mfg. Comp.)
Body style
2-door convertible
2-door coupé
FR layout
1.8 L M43B18 I4
1.9 L M44B19 I4
2.0 L M52B20 T I6
2.2 L M54B22 I6
2.8 L M52B28 I6
3.2 L S52B32 I6 (NA only)
3.2 L S50B32 I6 (non-NA)
2.5 L M52TUB25 I6
2.5 L M54B25 I6
3.0 L M54B30 I6
3.2 L S54B32 I6
4-speed automatic
5-speed manual
2,446 mm (96.3 in)
4,026 mm (158.5 in)
1996-98: 1,692 mm (66.6 in)
1999-2002: 1,740 mm (68.5 in)
1996-98: 1,288 mm (50.7 in)
1999-2002 Roadster: 1,293 mm (50.9 in)
Coupé: 1,306 mm (51.4 in)
Curb weight
1,170-1,445 kg (2,590-3,186 lbs)
Duesen Bayern Mystar
Duesen Bayern Agnes
Joji Nagashima (1993)


The Z3 was designed by Joji Nagashima of the BMW design team into 1993 and developed from the E36 platform of the 3 Series. The resulting platform is sometimes referred to as the E36/7 (roadster) or E36/8 (coupé). The rear semi-trailing arm suspension from the E30 was used rather than the more sophisticated multilink suspension from the E36. At first, only the 1.9 L M44B19 straight-4 engine was offered, but its 138 hp (103 kW) was not up to buyers' expectations. Interior appointments too were not up to the standard of other BMW models, and the plastic rear window looked poor compared to the glass unit found on the much less expensive Mazda MX5 (Miata). Design patents were filed on April 2, 1994 in Germany and in September 27, 1994 in the US.
In 1997 a more powerful 6-cylinder engine was added. The 2.8 L engine (M52B28), similar to the BMW M52 straight-6 in the 328i except with an all aluminum block and head, was especially desirable with its 189 hp (141 kW). The M Roadster appeared in 1998 with a 3.2 L S52B32 engine (North America) or more powerful 3.2 L S50B32 engine (International). In 1999, the 1.9 L 4-cylinder engine was replaced with a 2.5 L straight-6 M52TUB25, producing 170 hp (130 kW) in North America. Due to marketing, BMW wanted to differentiate the 2.8 L engine from the 2.5 L engine, so it was badged 2.3 just like the 3-Series 323i, which also has a 2.5 L engine. Outside of North America, the 1.9 L 4-cylinder was replaced with a 2.0 L straight-6 in 1999, with 148 hp (110 kW).
There have been V8 engines fitted into the Z3 by German tuning companies AC Schnitzer (4.4L in roadster version, no series production) and Hartge (5.0L in Coupé version, titled Hartge Z3 MQP V8).
BMW Z3 Sideview with top down
All of the engines were replaced for 2000. The range consisted of the 2.2 L M54B22 (available outside North America), 2.5 L M54B25, 3.0 L M54B30, and (for the M Roadster) 3.2 L S54B32. All three of these straight-6 engines lasted through the end of the car's run in 2002. Also updated was the car's interior appointments, though the plastic window remained.

Year to year changes

1997 - Traction control became standard equipment. A 2.8-litre, 6-cylinder dual-cam engine joined the original 1.9-liter, 4-cylinder engine.
1998 - Hardware for rollover bars became standard equipment, while roll bars remained an option. More heavily bolstered sport seats joined the option list. Wood trim and the power top also were available as separate options. A high-performance M roadster was introduced which did not offer traction control.
1999 - Side airbags became standard equipment. The 4- cylinder engine was replaced by a 2.5-liter inline six. Coupe versions were introduced and M models produced after September of 1998 got ASC traction control. Airbags are upgraded to dual-stage systems. Central locking also locks gas cap from April '99 onwards.
2000 - Revised tail styling, an inner top liner and a new center console for roadsters. The M model remained the same in exterior and interior appearance, other than chrome slats and chrome headlight rings which were added to all models April 1999 for model year 2000. Non-M models now also got a 3-spoke steering wheel with the sport package. The Harman Kardon audio was also upgraded.
2001 - M52 based cars changed to M54 engines while the M model upgraded from the S52 to S54 - this ensured all models had more power. They also had redesigned wheels and BMW's Dynamic Stability Control which replaced the ASC traction control for 2001. M models also now included a low-tire-pressure warning system.
2002 - In-dash CD player became standard.
BMW Z3 Revised Tail Styling in Dakar Yellow


BMW Z3 Coupé
In addition to the roadster version of the Z3, BMW also released a coupé featuring a chassis-stiffening rear hatch area, though the Shooting-brake styling this gave was controversial. The coupé was available as the Z3 Coupé or as the BMW Motorsport-enhanced M Coupé from 1999 to 2002.
The Z3 coupés were only available with the largest 6-cylinder engine offered in the Z3 roadster: the 2.8 L in 1999 and 2000 and the 3.0 L in 2000 for Europe and in 2001 for the US.

M Roadster and M Coupé

Main article: BMW M Roadster
Main article: BMW M Coupé
From 1998 to 2002, the Motorsports division of BMW produced the M Roadster which included suspension upgrades and the engine from the BMW M3. The international 1998, 1999 and 2000 M roadster had the 3.2L S50 engine from the E36 M3 with quad exhausts. The North American models for this time frame had the less powerful S52 engine. The 2001 and 2002 models all had the S54 engine from the E46 M3. There were also interior upgrades with additional gauges in the center console, lighted "M" shift knob, various chrome bits throughout the cockpit and sport seats as standard equipment. Exterior changes were larger wheels spaced further apart and more aggressive fenders than were installed on the regular Z3. Hardtops were available as an option. The BMW M Coupé and M Roadster were succeeded by the BMW Z4 M.
The 1999 and 2000 M Coupé models were equipped with the 3.2 L S50 (S52 for North America) engine from the E36 BMW M3, while all the 2001 and 2002 models came with the S54 engine from the E46 BMW M3.


The Z3 is currently used in the KONI Challenge Series. In 2011 there was to be a new race series for BMW Z3s see 750 Motor Club website however this has failed to materialise and the single trial Vehicle at Rouge Motorsports is no longer being developed (as of May 2013).


    • The BMW Z3 won the "Super Reggie" award for the best promotional marketing campaign of 1995. The campaign was co-sponsored by the United Artist unit of Credit Lyonnais and by BMW of North America. Efforts included James Bond Edition Z3's sold through the Neiman Marcus catalogue.
    • The BMW Z3 2.8 made Editor's Most Wanted Vehicle for 1999
    • The M Coupe/M Roadster made Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1999.
    • The 2000 BMW Z3 2.3 made "The Best Overall Value of the Year" - "Base Sport" category winner by Intellichoice
    • AUTOMOBILE Magazine awarded the BMW M coupe its 1999 Design of the Year.
    • The BMW Z3 M Coupé became Top Gear's "Driver's Car of the Year" in 2000.
    • The 2002 BMW Z3 M Coupe became Top Gear Car of the Year
    Back to BMW Z Series
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    Last updated on 3 July 2013 at 13:16.


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