1997 BMW Z3 1.9 Roadster E36/7 – £600


As Seen On TV

Step outside the archetypical mainstream automotive television shows – Top Gear and The Grand Tour – and you’ll find a wealth of transmissions designed to suit practically every car enthusiast’s tastes. One of the longest running, a show you’ll likely know well, is Wheeler Dealers. It charts the fortunes of two car fanatics as they transform a vehicle for the better over the course of each episode. Dan Allum, creator of the Wheeler Dealers franchise, is the brain behind a new show on Blaze (Sky Channel 187 / Freeview Channel 63 / Virgin Media Channel 216) born in a similar vein – Flipping Bangers. A far more accessible and relatable grass roots concept than its forefather, Flipping Bangers follows the fate of two good friends Will Trickett and Gus Gregory as they start a hands-on business buying and selling cheap cars for a profit.

Designer and creator Will has previously appeared on Channel 4’s Man Made Home with Kevin McCloud and History’s Ultimate Wheels. Gus is an automotive photographer – a regular in the pages of BMW Car in fact – with a long-term passion for cars and motorbikes, and a man who actually screen tested for Mike Brewer’s role on Wheeler Dealers. The premise of the programme is that the pair have ditched their day jobs to live the automotive dream. At this point you might well roll your eyes, but – knowing Gus personally as we do – we can confirm there is no TV magic here, this is absolutely genuine with Gregory not picking up his camera in a professional capacity for the best part of two years. In just five days the duo aim to double their money on everything they buy – working on the cars themselves and sticking rigidly to a small budget. There are no show stoppers to be found here, merely good, honest cars refreshed with a new purpose in life before being sent packing to a new home. Two seasons of Flipping Bangers have aired to date, with a variety of vehicles being tuned around by Will and Gus over the course of each one-hour episode. The most recent 10-part series saw – alongside a VW Beetle, Morris Minor and Reliant Kitten – the pair tackle an early BMW Z3 four-cylinder, bought for just £600! The car showcases exactly what you can expect should you be in the market for a sub-£1,000 Z3 Roadster – naturally, we were intrigued…

“I think we should get a BMW. They buy and sell well as second hand cars, we’ve never had one – I’ve never had one personally – I like the idea of it…” comes Gus Gregory’s opening gambit in Episode Two, Series Two of Flipping Bangers. It’s well received by business partner Will: “There is one that I do quite like,” Will smiles. “It’s a nice looking car, not really what you’d expect to be my cup of tea – and I have had one before – I’m a big fan – the Z3. I know when they came out they weren’t everyone’s cup of tea but they do seem to have stood the test of time.”

With a budget of £500-£1000, Will and Gus set of in search of an E36/7 Z3 Roadster with which they can turn a profit in just five days in the workshop. With prices online looking unwelcoming, the two hear word of a project car which has been taken in part exchange, and since sat in the corner of a workshop wholly unloved. One of the show’s catchphrases is “we buy cars that nobody else would” so this lead sounds both promising and worrying at the same time…

“BMW’s answer to the Mazda MX-5, prices start at around a grand for a low spec with high miles in a bad colour, but we only want to spend a few hundred,” says Gus. “Our landlord’s son hears of a local one that’s been taken as a trade-in and needs a home. All we know is that it’s Black…”

“We’ll spend £60.00 on fluids and filters – we already know the tyres and brakes are fine.”

The 1997 car in question is very much a project – tired in placed and with no supporting paperwork – but it runs, drives and boasts a current MoT. The seller is looking for £1500, but the boys think this is top money for a car is already that up and together, so they’re keen to do a deal. A quick drive reveals a rattle from the rear end, closer examination shows a bonnet in need of paint while Will thinks the interior needs replacing. After a spot of tough negotiation Will and Gus offer £600 and take the car away.


With the Z3 back at their workshop, Will and Gus begin to form a job list. Will’s diagnosis is pretty grim: “Everything is worn out, decayed and in need of some serious TLC,” he says. Up on the ramp the first thing to check is that the rattle from out back heard during the initial test drive isn’t the differential – the guys estimate that a new one would cost around £250 second hand which would seriously dent their profit margin. It quickly becomes apparent though that the issue is brake related. Gus strips down the offside rear calliper and shoes to find that the handbrake drum has failed. The shoes have pulled away from their retaining clips which has, in turn, worn away at the drum. The hub will have to come of, and after some elbow grease it’s away cleanly, swiftly followed by the backplate.

Further bad news emerges – the brake pipe is seized in the plate – Gus cuts it of – and the spring revealed is broken, it’s an £80 part. Despite the work revealed, as is traditionally the case in Flipping Bangers, the car is listed for sale on eBay there and then. It’s described as ‘perfect and completely overhauled’ which it currently is not, but in four days time it will be. A reserve of £1800, is set, a ‘Buy It Now’ of £2395 aims high.

“Prices start at around a grand, but we only want to spend a few hundred…”


Some research reveals that the 1 Series wheels on which the Z3 is residing are worth £400, so the decision is taken to sell them. Will goes of in search of original Style 36 “Pepperpot” replacements and finds a Z3 specialists breaker with six for sale – he choose the four in the best condition with the best tyres. While he’s there Will’s eye in drawn to a set of Black leather seats at the breakers, and brokers a deal with those and some door cards in return for the Flipping Bangers – limited edition – Beige chairs and door cards, plus £500 the seller’s way.

“Buying the interior is a massive risk,” Will admits. “I think it will make such a difference to our car that it’ll be worth it. But technically speaking I’ve just overspent by £300 so I need to see £600 back…”

Back at the workshop Gus struggles to release the broken rear spring, but once out he repeats the process on the other side (even though it isn’t broken), replacing springs in pairs being good practice. The rusted backplates are changed too. “Like everything else on this car, [the rear brake set-up] is ingenious and simple,” Gus says. “In my experience driving a Z3 is not just about those primary surfaces when you’re sitting in the cockpit – the finesse of the car is everything working in harmony together.”

With the refreshed suspension in place, that should now be the case with this car.


The third day sees the team tackle the interior. Will removes the old seats and its the new ones, so too the door cards. Behind one of the doors there is no polythene protection from the elements so Will fashions one using a household bin bag – there are no flashy fixes here just real world problem solving on a budget.

“Prices start at around a grand, but we only want to spend a few hundred…”

At this stage the car owes the team £1000, and right on queue a buyer takes an interest – Gus puts her of viewing the car until day five. One of the worst visual aspects of the car is its bonnet. Scratched beyond a quick ix, it is sent of for a repaint in the original BMW Black hue. Gus takes some exterior and interior parts – front wing vents and interior trim – to Wicked Coatings in Poole (www.wickedcoatings.co.uk).

The UK’s leading hydrographics specialist, Wicked Coatings can add transfers to tired parts to give them a new lease of life. For the Z3’s parts Gus fancies a carbon effect, though block colours are also offered. All the transfers cost the same so it is ultimately up to personal preference. The parts in question are stripped, rubbed down and painted in a black base coat. Once dry a transfer film of your choice is floated onto the surface of the part in a giant tank filled with water. The pattern is printed onto a base layer that softens and stretches, the real skill comes in actually applying it to the part but the end result is a seriously impressive alternative to a straight respray, and at £100 it’s economical too.

DAY 5:

With the interested buyer on route to view the car later that day, the boys tackle a full service on the Z3. With no service history to support it, the 1895cc mill could use fluids and filters at the very least. Gus and Will replace the air, oil, fuel filters, and the coolant plus the engine, gearbox, and differential oil (EP90 differential oil is used) to ensure the car is ready for its new owner and drives to the best of its ability. “For a main dealer service for a car that hasn’t been done in around 70,000 miles budget £1000,” says Will. “We’ll spend £60.00 on fluids and filters – we already know the tyres and brakes are fine.”

With the new wheels and freshly painted bonnet on, the carbon-look parts inside and out fitted, the Z3 truly does look better than ever. It’s test drive time. Out on some Surrey back roads Gus is clearly falling for the car: “BMW has hit its target with this car, they’ve produced a car with medium dynamics with an engine that’s not particularly fast, and they’ve cloaked it all in a rather down-to-earth interior – but it makes you feel special,” he says.

Will agrees: “You can definitely tell that BMW has built it – it has a certain weight about it which gives it a sense of quality and a sense of security, yet it’s still quick and nimble in the corners.”

“When we first bought the Z3 I was really underwhelmed by it, but when you scratch beneath the surface it’s a really good car – it’s really thought out. I think if you kept it for a few years it would be a modern classic,” Gus adds.

“I thought it was a very difficult project – we didn’t really know where we were going with it, but all the jobs were interesting and they’ve gone rather well,” Will concludes.

It’s safe to say that the pair have been won over, but what does it owe them? In total £1400 – that’s including the £600 they spent on the car, and taking into account the trade on interior parts and the wheels. They’re concerned that they won’t get their money back but the aforementioned buyer – who is looking for a weekend convertible – seemingly loves the car, and a deal is struck at £2300, which means that the boys are not far of the goal of doubling their investment. Not bad in just five working days – are you tempted to replicate the task? In many respects there’s never been a better time to invest in a Z3.

“You can tell BMW has built it – it has a certain weight about it yet it’s still quick and nimble in the corners”

The Z3’s new owner bought the 1 Series wheels back.

TECHNICAL DATA FILE 1997 BMW Z3 Roadster E36/7

ENGINE: 1.9 4-cylinder, SOHC, 8-valve

CAPACITY: 1895cc

MAX POWER: 118hp @ 5500rpm

MAX TORQUE: 133lb ft @ 3900rpm

WEIGHT: 1160kg

BRAKES FRONT/REAR: Discs, servo assisted, ABS

SUSPENSION FRONT/REAR: MacPherson strut, lower wishbones

STEERING: Rack and pinion, power assisted

GEARBOX: Five-speed manual, four-speed auto

WHEELS F/R: 6.5×15-inch

0-62MPH: 10.5 seconds

TOP SPEED: 122mph

ECONOMY: 36.2mpg

A full service was conducted on the 1.9-litre engine prior to sale. Carbon effect on interior and exterior parts was achieved via a hydrographics technique. The original Beige interior was swapped for a Black affair… Below: Gus (left) and Will (right). When rescued the Z3 was unloved and covered in dust.



The Z3 arrived in the UK in late 1996. With underpinnings from the E36 3 Series, the rear end took its axle from the older E30. At launch there was only one engine available in the Z3, the four-cylinder, 16-valve 1.9-litre shared with the E36. It was a strong unit, initially only available in conjunction with a five-speed manual gearbox though less than a year later a four-speed automatic version became available. All cars came with power steering, central locking, ABS and electric mirrors, seats and windows. A manually-operated foldaway fabric roof was covered by a tonneau cover, very early cars didn’t even have a radio – it was an option!


The four-cylinder engines in the Z3 are largely reliable. Vacuum leaks from corroded hoses cause lumpy running and stalling, a faulty MAF sensor, idle speed control valve or collapsed breather pipe will likely be the cause of a rough idle. A notchy gear change can be fixed through a gearbox oil change, a noise when selecting gears at low speed is likely to be the propshaft. Rear top mounts can fail causing a nasty knock, and although the Z3 suffers from a rear subframe issue, it’s very unlikely to affect the 1.9-litre version.

Make sure the roof operates as it should – rear windows can be replaced separately. Check the interior for signs of damp and don’t forget the boot – damp carpet here indicates that the weather seal around the third brake light has corroded. Seat rails can wear allowing movement – these are easy to replace.

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