Starting in 1998, BMW’s M Roadster took the Z3’s sporting aesthetics and added commensurate performance thanks to the E36 M3’s S52 inline-6. Pitted against the Mercedes-Benz SLK32 AMG, the Roadster was louder, rougher, slower, and, at about $46,000, almost $10,000 cheaper. Prices today are stuck in the $8k–$12k range for Roadsters and a soul-crushingly expensive $22k+ for Coupes/Clownshoes. But if you can put up with the base Z3’s styling and just-okay handling, that 240-horsepower, sweet-revving six can be had if you know where to look. Find this S52-powered 1997 BMW Z3 in New Orleans, LA for $4,700 via craigslist.
Compared to the 986 Boxster, the Z3 looks more aggressive but feels marginally less focused due to its extra weight. Since we’re starting with the 2.3L model, that’s only 2,669 pounds – an appreciable difference to the 2,909 of the M Roadster and 2,990 of the S52 M Coupe.
BMW’s straight-six looks as good as it sounds. Unless its dual-VANOS variable valve timing is ticking away, which is quite possible if the 101,000-mile engine hasn’t been properly maintained. The car has 170,000 miles but comes with new tires, brakes, and rear suspension.
The current rubber on this Z3 is well-suited for daily driving, with the potential for stuffing wider gear under the fenders if the track bug bites. Minor issues include airbag and check-engine lights, even though the O2 sensors have been replaced. Some paint fade is present (shown) that may be isolated to the trunk lid. And there’s a chunk missing from the seat upholstery, likely from a fit of rage after seeing what a dog the BMW Z4 has become. Woof.
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