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Compared to some of its sports car contemporaries, the BMW Z3 often gets overlooked and unappreciated. However, the Z3 convertible has more to offer than just being the Z4’s predecessor. For one, it’s the basis for the Z3 M Coupe, aka the ‘clown shoe,’ now a beloved Bavarian canyon carver. And while the M Coupe is now priced out of reach for many, the BMW Z3 M Roadster, like the one currently listed on Cars & Bids, isn’t.

It’s not a ‘clown shoe,’ but the BMW Z3 M Roadster “is an old-school roadster delivering old-school fun,” Road & Track says

A dark-blue BMW Z3 M Roadster
BMW Z3 M Roadster front | BMW
Spec1998-1999 BMW Z3 M Roadster
Engine3.2-liter ‘S52’ inline-six
Power240 hp
Torque236 lb-ft
TransmissionFive-speed manual
Curb weight3100 lbs
0-60 mph time5.4 seconds (Road & Track)

Designed to compete with the NA Miata, the first BMW Z3 was a bit underpowered for the job when it launched in 1996. 0-60 mph for the four-cylinder version took 10 seconds, Hagerty notes. But even it got a larger inline-six, the Z3 wasn’t quite as sharp as the Miata, even though it was based on the E36 3 Series.

The 1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster, though, was a step in the right direction. For one, it has the same engine as the US-market E36 M3. Two, it has stiffer springs and shocks, larger sway bars, and bigger four-wheel disc brakes. And three, it has a standard limited-slip differential, lower ride height, wider wheels and tires, and sport seats.

Admittedly, the 1998-1999 BMW Z3 M Roadsters are overshadowed by the 2000-2002 models, which have a 315-hp version of the E46 M3’s S54 engine. The later models also have an upgraded interior and more safety features, including stability and traction control. And even with the suspension upgrades, the M Roadster isn’t quite as well-balanced as a Miata, R&T says.

However, that doesn’t mean that the BMW Z3 M Roadster isn’t fun. This is one of BMW’s last analog sports cars, with little-to-no electronics between you and the experience. There’s just a beautifully linear engine with matching throttle and clutch response and a communicative steering rack. And with a proper set of tires, it can be “a grip monster” on a track, R&T reports.

There’s a 1998 Z3 example listed on Cars & Bids

A silver 1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster in front of a red building
1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster | Cars & Bids

Being a 1998 model, the BMW Z3 M Roadster currently listed on Cars & Bids doesn’t have the dual side airbags that became standard in 1999. However, it does have roll bars behind the seats, as well as ABS. And that’s just the start of its features.

Besides the handling-focused upgrades described earlier, this 1998 BMW M Roadster has a power soft-top, A/C, leather upholstery, and heated windshield wiper jets. Plus, the sport seats are heated and power-adjustable. Also, this convertible has a Harman Kardon audio system and an M leather-wrapped steering wheel. In addition, it has an aftermarket exhaust, rear deck-mounted speaker, Continental head unit with a JL Audio amplifier, and Hamann pedals. A previous owner also installed an aftermarket armrest, phone mount, shifter knob, handbrake lever, headlamp switch, door locks, and cupholders. They replaced the stock roll hoops with chrome ones, too.

The black-leather-upholstered interior of a 1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster with some aftermarket accessories
1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster interior with aftermarket accessories | Cars & Bids

This 1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster was in a minor accident in 2017, but the damage appears to be repaired. Cars & Bids also notes that the seller commissioned a shop to redo older cosmetic repair work, as the initial repairs were deemed “unsatisfactory.” But apart from some scratches, chips, and interior wear, the only remaining issues are missing seat-belt guides. Not bad for a convertible with roughly 103,000 miles on the clock.

This BMW Z3 M Roadster also boasts some impressive service records. It has a rebuilt glovebox, fresh engine oil and filter, and its tires were replaced and balanced two years ago. The seller also replaced the rear transmission mounts, propeller shaft coupling, oil filter housing, and the VANOS seals in 2020.

A BMW Z3 M Roadster like this is a solid, affordable, and reliable luxury sports car bargain

As of this writing, this 1998 BMW Z3 M Roadster is listed at $10,500 with three days left in the auction. That’s below the fair-to-good-condition market value, which typically runs in the $11K-$18K range, Hagerty notes. And it’s about $6500 cheaper than the cheapest M Roadster currently listed on Autotrader. Also, it’s about half of what a similar-condition M Coupe costs these days.

Buying a used BMW can be worrying from a reliability standpoint, which is why a pre-purchase inspection is recommended. However, while the S52 isn’t necessarily the most reliable BMW engine, it’s by no means the most problematic. And because it has hydraulic valve lifters, it doesn’t need valve adjustments like the later S54.

Plus, as noted earlier, the seller already took care of one notable S52 issue: the VANOS seals. Apart from that, used Z3s mainly suffer from the ‘usual’ BMW engine issues, such as failing plastic radiator and water pump parts and broken thermostats. Luckily, modern all-metal replacements are significantly sturdier. The valve cover and head gaskets can also fail, R&T notes, as can the starter motor and rear differential mounts. However, differential mounts aside, these are all age-related issues.

In short, an M Roadster like this is an affordable, reliable entry into old-school analog BMW fun.

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