Cars

The BMW M Coupe Is a Surprisingly Popular Oddball

Today, BMW’s M vehicles form an extensive lineup of high-performance, highly-desirable cars. Some may argue too extensive. But not every BMW sports car, or M car, has enjoyed such popularity. One such example is the BMW M Coupe, aka the Z3 M Coupe, which is often referred to as the ‘clown shoe.’ Now, however, the M Coupe is enjoying a surge in popularity—and price.

What is the BMW M Coupe?

2001 BMW M Coupe
2001 BMW M Coupe | Bring a Trailer

Made from 1998-2002, the BMW M Coupe is based on the Z3 Roadster. As Hagerty explains, the M Roadster is also becoming more appreciated, in part due to being an analog experience not dissimilar from a Mazda Miata. In fact, the Miata’s popularity was partly why the Z3 was put into production. However, as Jalopnik explains, some BMW engineers thought the roadster could be even sportier.

The popular legend, Automobile Magazine reports, is that the Z3 project leader, Burkhard Goeschel, gathered a group of like-minded BMW workers in secret. Working after hours, they basically gave the Z3 a roof. And I do mean ‘basically’—to make the best possible business case for the car, even the Coupe’s rear fenders are shared with the Roadster. That roof is essentially the only difference between the two.

1999 BMW Z3 M Roadster
1999 BMW Z3 M Roadster | BMW

But it does indeed make a difference. With that boxy roof, the BMW M Coupe was significantly more rigid than the Roadster. And that had a noticeable effect on the car’s handling.

Why is the BMW M Coupe popular?

In addition to the handling upgrades, the BMW M Coupe also received M-tuned engines. From 1998-2000, the M Coupe had the S52 3.2-liter six-cylinder taken from the contemporary E36 M3, which in the US made 240 hp, and in Europe 317 hp.

Then, in 2001, BMW gave it the S54 E346 M3 3.2-liter six-cylinder, which made 315 hp on both sides of the Atlantic. Considering the base Z3 Roadster had a 184-hp 2.5-liter six-cylinder at the time, Hagerty reports, this was a significant performance boost.

Underneath, the BMW M Coupe had fully-independent suspension, 4-wheel ventilated disc brakes, a limited-slip differential, and a 5-speed manual transmission. The steering is extremely quick, and the short wheelbase makes for excellent dynamics. The transmission is also very precise, and a joy to shift. No traction or stability control make this a very analog sports car.

1999 BMW M Coupe interior
1999 BMW M Coupe interior | BMW

In addition, although that wasn’t the primary goal, the BMW M Coupe can be a practical commuter. One owner, Petrolicious reports, even took it camping in the Arctic Circle. And the car’s unusual looks definitely mean it stands out.

All this explains why the M Coupe has gotten more expensive in recent years.

Pricing and availability

2002 BMW M Coupe side-rear
2002 BMW M Coupe side-rear | Bonhams

Because of the polarizing design, the BMW M Coupe didn’t sell particularly well in the US. Only 2180 S52-engine and 678 S54-engine cars were sold, Automobile Magazine reports. And, along with the Z3 M Roadster, the M Coupe has started to appreciate in value.

A concours-grade example, Hagerty reports, can fetch around $85,000. Low-mileage examples have sold on Bring a Trailer for over $90,000. However, most M Coupes are at least somewhat more reasonably-priced.

In January 2019, one sold at the Bonhams Scottsdale auction for $56,000. And as of this writing, BaT lists one 2001 S54-engine M Coupe at $10,554. Looks like BMW’s clown shoe has gotten serious.

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