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Love It Or Hate It? BMW M Coupe

November 28, 2014 by Matt

BMW M Coupe Z3 Silver

It’s awkward. But is it awesome?

The 1998-2002 BMW M Coupe was the German automaker’s attempt to graft a roof onto their Z3 convertible, introduced in 1996. Eschewing a traditional fastback look, BMW graced its new coupe with a shooting-brake-style boxy profile, with a predominantly flat roof and a more upright backlight.

The automaker also offered a non-M Z3 Coupe concurrently with the top-of-the-line M model; the lesser car shared the M Coupe’s roofline without its swollen fender flares and other aero bits. For our purposes, I’d like to focus on the M Coupe, since it represents the fullest expression of BMW’s styling intentions.

BMW M Coupe Z3 Blue

Dynamically the car was a hoot. Powered by a 315-hp version of the M3’s S54 straight-6 for the last couple of years of its model run, the M Coupe’s compact wheelbase, muscular engine and warmed-over version of the then-15-year-old trailing arm rear suspension from the E30-generation 3-series made it quite a handful at the limit. While capable of a 4.8-second sprint to 60 mph, from a handling standpoint, Car and Driver noted “The M coupe provides the performance pieces and says, ‘Good luck.'”

BMW M Coupe Z3 Interior Inside Cockpit Console

The cockpit reflects the gothic pretensions of the exterior styling with its chrome-ringed instruments and secondary controls. It’s a bit of a jarring statement from an automaker known for its aesthetic restraint. On the other hand, maybe BMW finally “cut loose” with the M Coupe’s styling and dynamic qualities. As different as it was from the rest of their understated lineup at the time, it’s easy to view the M Coupe as a back-of-the-napkin project, the kind of endeavor designers and engineers cook up on their lunch breaks and weekends. That quality gives it a kind of “Skunk Works” appeal.

I hate the way it looks, but I can see why it’s the holy grail of many BMW enthusiasts. It integrates visual and driving character like few sports car have. It looks fast, fun and ugly—and that’s exactly how it drives. What you see is what you get. In many ways it’s the Dodge Viper of BMWs, but with an ever-so-slight dose of German refinement just to make the whole experience bearable.

The 1998-2002 M Coupe polarizes enthusiasts as few do. Maybe, in the end, that’s the measure of its success?

Image credits: netcarshow.com, caranddriver.com

Filed under: Aesthetics, BMW

9 Comments

  1. Ryan says:

    Love, love, love it… and always have! I considered buying one a couple of cars ago but I just couldn’t stomach the $20k+ price that people still wanted for a 12+ year old car, that I admittedly was a little hesitant about regarding maintenance. Mainly just because I’ve never owned or worked on a Bimmer. Having never even driven one I can still say I’d like to own one one day, if for no other reason b/c it’s so different (and I like different) and polarizing. Might have to put a supercharger on it though. ;)

    • Matt says:

      I had a hunch you’d like it. Have you seen this site?

      http://turbomcoupe.com/

      The owner of that build was local to me when we lived back in NC, and I got to see the car firsthand before he sold it. One of the most thorough builds I’ve ever seen. The car was unbelievable.

  2. Ryan says:

    I have seen that car before but did not realize he was “local.” That thing is beautiful! I even love the gold/bronze wheels. I had planned to do the same combo on my black ’95 Cobra but then decided to sell it before going that route. But that coupe is pretty much perfect. Although my preference would be for a non-black color… just too hard to keep looking clean and swirl-free. Maybe one day I will pick one up but with a little one in the house these days it would have to be a secondary car b/c I need at least four seats and more likely four doors for a DD.

    • Matt says:

      Agreed about black—my least favorite color for a car (although I’ve owned 2). And understood about need a practical DD. Anything with 2 seats is pretty much a toy car, IMO, even without kids. :)

  3. Ryan says:

    Matt,

    I’m curious on your take on the M Coupe’s bigger, badder, faster, vastly more expensive older brother, the Ferrari FF? Of course I love the thing! But what’s not to love about an AWD hatchback Ferrari with a V12?! :)

    And for the record, you are on my wife’s bad side right now, lol. After seeing this post the other night I started looking on AutoTrader and forums just to see what people were wanting for these sexy things these days. Sadly, still far too much. :(

    You’re a Bimmer guy… S52 or S54 engine? From my minimal knowledge it seems if you want to modify go S52. If you plan to leave it alone and want more HP, you opt for the S54. Agree? Other considerations?

    • Matt says:

      Well… The FF’s not my favorite Ferrari, naturally. I think the fact that they’re planning a coupe version says something about the reception of its looks. Then again, I do love the 400/400i/412, and most enthusiasts hate it, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. :)

      Sorry about that with your wife. I regularly get on my brother-in-law’s wife’s bad side too for sending him Craigslist listings of cars I think he should buy. Haha.

      Re:engine choices, a lot depends on how you want to come by your HP. If you plan on forced induction, some of the smaller displacement engines in the S5X/M5X series can be preferable, like the M50 or M52, just b/c there’s more meat between the cylinders. Jon Kensy’s 700 hp E34, for example, is powered by an M50 bored out to 2.8l with a bone-stock cylinder head. He beefed up the bottom end, naturally, and has an exquisitely-tuned turbo and water-injection system. There are a lot of members of that engine family (M50, M50TU, M52, M54, S50 US, S50 ROW, S52 US, S52 ROW, S54, etc) and lot of mixing and matching can happen… I have to admit I don’t know all the best pieces for a particular application, even though I’m aware of a few rules of thumb like the M50TU rods are strongest, the M50 intake manifold is very desirable and ITBs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be for an FI engine.

  4. Ryan says:

    It’s got some “problems” but nothing that can’t be fixed and the price is right. Not in the cards right now but a “toy” car might be a possibility again in the coming year or two. We’ll see.

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