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.
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.'”
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