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  •   Sam Huggins reacted to this post about 4 years ago
    The Last Emperor

    A look back on the legendary #BMW-Z4M-Coupé , the last of the naturally aspirated six-cylinder M cars. Emperor The last. If you follow the mantra that M cars should come with a naturally aspirated screaming straight-six then the Z4 M Coupé represents the last of the breed… fortunately it’s rather good, too Words: Bob Harper Photography: Steve Hall

    It feels slightly odd to find myself for the second time this month writing about a car that I haven’t universally heaped praise upon in the past. Yup, the Z4 M Coupé has not always been on my list of ultra-desirable BMWs and I even remember it being the subject of a very heated argument in the office when we were selecting the cars for our Car of the Year test at the tail-end of 2006. I favoured the ‘M-lite’ 3.0si model whereas everyone else in the office thought the M Coupé should be on the short list. In all honesty I think the 3.0si is the better all-round car, certainly from the prospect of using it as a daily driver as it offers virtually the same performance as the M car, significantly better economy, a more compliant ride and much lower running costs all wrapped up in a similarly visually arresting package.

    However, while that was my view then – and still is if you want to use a Z4 Coupé everyday – these days the M Coupé is starting to be appreciated for what it is: a mad, bad and brawny hot shoe – the last in the line of naturally-aspirated M cars that can trace its parentage all the way back to the original M1. Increasingly they’re becoming squirreled away as weekend cars, something to cherish and polish and then, when the mood takes you, to excite and exhilarate on an early morning cross-country dash that will have you grinning from ear to ear. The Z4 M is blistering quick – and still feels it – but it takes a strong and fully committed hand to fully tame it. To drive one quickly requires your full attention. Give it that and it’ll be hugely rewarding.

    Under the M Coupé’s shapely bonnet was the last resting place for the venerable S54 straight-six, itself a development of the S50 ‘six that first saw the light of day in the E36 M3. It was a car that #BMW claimed would never be built when the E85 generation of Z4 was created, claiming that the new Roadster was so torsionally stiff that a coupé wasn’t needed and that the regular 3.0i Z4 was so quick that there was no need for an M version. Fast forward a few years and the Z4 Concept Coupé was shown at the 2005 Frankfurt Motor Show and when we questioned one of BMW’s press bods at the time he more or less said, ‘if a BMW Concept has towing eye-covers, it’s production-ready.’ Then it was just a matter of time before the production version appeared, and at the Geneva Motor Show in 2006 the fully-fledged cars were shown for the first time with serial production starting just a month later. It wasn’t a particularly longlived M car, though, as just over two-years later it had disappeared just as quickly as it had arrived and the E85/6 generation of Zed was replaced by the less driver-focused E89 with its fancy folding metal roof, effectively killing the need for a coupé version. Of course, BMW M had form for making slightly crazy Zed cars by the time the Z4 appeared on the scene and despite the fact that the Z3 Ms were fairly deeply flawed pieces of kit they had a big following and their shortcomings could easily be overlooked thanks to their brawny characters. Quite why BMW changed its mind and decided to eventually offer the M versions isn’t fully known but perhaps the top brass wanted to have one last try to knock the Boxster off its perch, or perhaps the Zed Ms were seen as a useful way of filling the gap between the departure of the E46 M3 and the arrival of the E92 version. The Z4 Ms ensured BMW still had a presence in this section of the market, albeit with a less practical twoseater but we can’t really see it as being a fully commercial decision as with less than 5000 cars built in just over two years it’s likely the car didn’t recoup its development costs.

    Knowing that the Z4 M was effectively going to be a limited production machine BMW could perhaps have been forgiven if it had scrimped slightly on its specification but by now we should know that M doesn’t generally do things by halves so the Z4 M Coupé was a fully-fettled M car. The engine was lifted directly from the E46 M3 and while it’s a familiar unit it should be remembered that it’s still an absolute peach. Double Vanos, an 11.5:1 compression ratio, individual throttle butterflies and an advanced engine management system ensured a high specific output and even today a normally aspirated engine that develops nearly 106hp per litre is something to write home about. Even within BMW M’s hallowed halls this is an outstanding achievement and betters the specific output of the later S65 V8 from the E9x M3 (including the GTS’s 4.4-litre) and even the E60 M5’s mighty S85 V10.

    Unlike in the E46 M3, the straight-six was mated to a #ZF transmission (the E46 used a Getrag unit) and the six-speed manual was the only option for the Z4; none of your fancy #SMG gubbins here thank you very much. Naturally enough for an M car there was a limited-slip differential, BMW’s M Differential Lock, which despite being a fully mechanical item uses pressurised viscous silicon fluid to operate a multi- disc clutch to direct power to the wheel with the greatest traction. It also featured the latest version of BMW’s #DSC traction control system along with the most up-to-date version of Dynamic Brake Control which added items such as brake fade compensation, brake standby, brake drying and hill-start assistant.

    While the Z4 Ms used the same basic suspension setup as the regular production Z4 it was fine-honed by M to try to bring the best out of the car. Without a doubt the biggest change was the adoption of hydraulic power steering, as the electric setup of the normal Z4 was deemed not feelsome enough for an M car. The majority of the Z4 M’s setup was lifted more or less directly from the E46 M3 CS and it had an overall ratio of 14:5:1 which, interestingly, made it more direct than the rack that was fitted to the Roadster version of the Z4 M.

    The rest of the M’s underpinnings were also beefed-up and while it still retained the basic MacPherson strut/multi-link setup of the Z4 it had a wider front and rear track, revised lower front arms and steering knuckles bolted directly to the front struts. Spring and shock absorber rates were unique to the car (and slightly stiffer than those fitted to the M Roadster) while anti-roll bars had larger diameters at 27mm and 22.5mm, front and rear respectively. At the rear there was a more heavy-duty rear subframe required to accommodate the larger M diff and there were also enhanced wheel bearings and reworked longitudinal links in the rear suspension.

    That the Z4 M was going to go well was a given – it was, after all, nigh on 100kg lighter than the E46 M3 – so to ensure it stopped equally well M equipped it with the braking setup from the E46 M3 CSL with 345x28mm vented and drilled front discs and 328x28mm rears that were gripped by single piston swing callipers all-round.

    Naturally enough there were exterior changes to the Z4 M and as we sit waiting for the sun to set for our cover image there’s plenty of time to take these in and while it’s perhaps not quite as outrageously distinctive as the Z3 M Coupé the Z4 version is still a stunning-looking piece of design. The beefed-up front and rear bumpers with their various cut outs and grilles for air intakes and exhausts add some much needed visual drama to the shape. The wide rear haunches seem to work particularly well with the sweeping rear hatch and with the exhaust pushed further out to the edges than in most other M cars it gives the rear end a feeling of real width and presence. The ‘Zorro’ slash in the front wings with the BMW roundels hiding the indicator side repeaters in the centre catch the dropping sun and create areas of light and dark – there always seems to be a little something extra to the shape that you’ve not seen before. Altogether it combines to create a machine that if I owned it I’d definitely have a sneaky glance over my shoulder at as I walked away after a spirited drive as the sound of hot metal ticking away to itself reminded me of the fun we’d just had.

    Slipping into the cockpit reminds me of just how low these cars are and while the cabin is slightly on the snug side everything you could want falls nicely to hand. The leather-clad and M-logo’d gear knob is just a hand span away from the steering wheel, and while the latter item is nice to hold it’s perhaps not the most visually appealing item ever fitted to an M car. Instrumentation is minimal as per the standard Z4 but there’s the rev counter with illuminated segments that remind you not to thrash it from cold and an oil temperature gauge tucked away by the fuel gauge and the car’s performance potential is made clear by an 180mph speedo.

    Where the Z4 M really scores over the 3.0si, though, is in the sense of occasion – a palpable sense of drama when you slip behind the wheel. There’s that dramatic view down the heavily sculpted bonnet (that the 3.0si didn’t get), and once you twist the key the straight-six sends tingles up your spine and gets the hair standing up on the back of your neck. To experience a fully wound-up S54 ‘six is a aural treat and you feel that you’re genuinely a witness to something special, and let’s not forget that it’s not something we’re expecting will be available for a long time to come with all the manufacturers following the turbocharged eco-friendly route.

    The engine dominates the driving experience and you can make very decent progress without wringing the car’s neck and those sampling the car for the first time can often be caught out by short-shifting up the gearbox and even if you use 5000rpm the Z4 will be travelling very rapidly but you’ll be missing out on the best part of another 3000rpm. Hit the Sport button that sharpens up throttle response still further and use the full extent of the rev range and you’ll feel like you’re sitting on top of a low-flying ballistic missile.

    You sit so much lower than in an E46 M3 that the sensation of speed is much greater and that’s before you factor in that the Z4 M is actually a quicker machine, too. 0-62mph at 5.0 seconds is 0.2 seconds faster than the M3 and 50-75mph in fourth gear is despatched 0.3 seconds quicker in the Z4, too, while over the standing kilometre the Z4 is again halfa-second quicker. Small increments, perhaps, but coupled with the low-slung Z4 and it feels like more.

    This is compounded by perhaps one of the less likable aspects of the Z4 M: its ride. It’s pretty uncompromising and an M3 is more compliant and this can ultimately temper your pace on roughly surfaced roads. On first acquaintance it’s easy to feel that the Z4 M is attempting to throw you off the road and a tendency to understeer on the standard fit ContiSportContact tyres didn’t help to endow you with confidence in the chassis, but with greater familiarity it becomes clear that you can lean on the Z4 M pretty hard and it will reward the confidence you show in it. It’s a car that requires real commitment to get the best out of. Sure it’s a little rough around the edges when it comes to ultimate handling finesse but get it right and it’s hugely rewarding.

    A few choice changes can also make it a better steer, too. Ditching the original equipment tyres for something with more grip – later generations of Pilot Sport work well – help to counteract that initial understeer, and the addition of a front strut brace also helps here. As standard the Z4 is fitted with a clutch delay valve and this can combine with a slightly notchy ’box to make gear changes less than perfect, but deleting it or fitting a modified one can really smooth out a jerky gear change. Many owners have also fitted 19-inch CSL rims in place of the 18-inch M Double Spoke Style 224 rims and this really does work wonders for the look of the car. If money’s no object you could fit aftermarket suspension, but ultimately when these machines start to become really collectible it will be the standard examples that will be worth the most.

    When it was new the Z4 M Coupé cost a not insignificant £41,285, just a smidgen less than an E46 M3, which made it seem quite expensive when the M3 was a far more practical and almost as quick proposition. However, by the time the Z4 was discontinued its price had only risen by £1000 yet the E92 M3 that was then available cost over £50k which conspired to make the #BMW-Z4M look like a bit of a bargain! These days prices start at around £13k for higher mile examples and rise to high £20s for really low mile examples being sold by franchised dealers.

    The majority of cars fall in the mid-to-high teens bracket and represent excellent value for money. If you look after one and use it regularly but sparingly we don’t reckon you’re going to suffer much in the way of depreciation and if you hold onto it long enough you may well see values rise. Remember, only 1052 right-hand drive examples were built so rarity value certainly counts in their favour.

    You could still use one every day if the fancy takes you, and bar the high cost of Inspection services there isn’t too much to worry about. The head gasket failures that afflict high mileage M3s are less of a problem with Z4 Ms as they were originally often purchased as a second car. However, I reckon you could become bored with its harsh ride, slightly cramped cockpit and brawny nature. Used sparingly, though, and every journey becomes an event, something to be looked forward to and savoured. It was the last of the line of great naturally-aspirated straight-six M cars and while it wasn’t perfect it’s still a marvellous machine to punt down a challenging bit of road. Nab one now before it’s too late.

    Once you twist the key the straight-six sends tingles up your spine and gets the hair standing up on the back of your neck.

    There’s a palpable sense of drama when you slip behind the wheel.

    TECH DATA #2015 #BMW-Z4M-Coupé-E86 / #BMW-Z4M-E86 / #BMW-Z4-E86 / #BMW-Z4
    ENGINE: #S54 / #S54B32 Straight-six, 24-valve, DOHC
    CAPACITY: 3246cc
    MAX POWER: 343hp @ 7900rpm
    MAX TORQUE: 269lb ft @ 4900rpm
    0-62MPH: 5.0 seconds
    STANDING KM: 23.7 seconds
    50-75MPH (4th): 5.0 seconds
    TOP SPEED: 155mph (limited)
    ECONOMY: 23.3mpg
    EMISSIONS: 292g/km
    WEIGHT (EU): 1495kg
    TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual, #LSD
    STEERING: Rack and pinion
    SUSPENSION: MacPherson struts (front), multi-link ‘Z’ axle (rear)
    WHEELS: 8x18-inch (front), 9x18-inch (rear)
    TYRES: 225/45 ZR18 & 255/40 ZR18
    BRAKES: Single piston swing callipers front and rear gripping vented discs, 345x28mm (front) and 328x28mm (rear)
    PRICE: £41,285 (2006)

    Even today a normally aspirated engine that develops nearly 106hp per litre is something to write home about.
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  •   Sam Huggins reacted to this post about 4 years ago

    This fully custom carbon wide-body Z4 is one of the most magnificent machines we’ve seen.

    The basic silhouette of this car is instantly recognisable – it is, of course, a Z4. And yet, there isn’t a single original body panel there. It’s wider, meaner, more aggressive. And we’re not looking at fibreglass here. Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Andy Tipping.

    Here’s a fun experiment for you. Take a bunch of carbon atoms, and bond them together into crystals that are more or less arranged in a line. Repeat this a few thousand times, then bundle all the strands together into a sort of tiny untwisted rope. Okay, now lay a load of these little ropes into a thermoset resin – epoxy, say, or polyester – bake for 40 minutes at 200°C (or something, consult your mum’s dog-eared Delia Smith cookbook) and voilà: you’ve just made some carbon fibre. Well, carbon fibrereinforced polymer, to be precise, although if you’re getting matey with your new creation then simply ‘carbon’ will work as a nickname.

    Now you’ve got something with a very high tensile strength, low weight, high stiffness, high temperature tolerance, low thermal expansion, and high chemical resistance – all the properties you may desire for making housings for oily machinery without adding too much mass. The benefits of this miraculous weave are manifold and obvious, it hardly needs explaining why it’s so desirable to replace bits of your car with carbon fibre facsimiles.

    Making things simultaneously stronger and lighter is a no-brainer. Your car will go faster and be safer. Of course, it’s also pricey – making CFRP is a fiddly process – which is part of the reason why you often see people running unpainted carbon fibre bonnets and what-have-you. It’s a badge of honour. It’s a direct link from your car to a McLaren F1, the first road car to sport a CFRP tub. And while certain manufacturers are making great advances in the field of enabling carbon fibre to be cheaper and easier to mass-produce (look at the Alfa Romeo 4C, for example, which is the first non-supercar to feature a carbon fibre tub; Lamborghini is making some exciting advances too), it’s still a evocative and aspirational material to be working with. Just look at the work of Alberto Torres of Slek Designs in Long Beach, California – he’s a man who appreciates the mystery of the black sheet and has been spellbound by its wiles for some time now. Slek Designs is an outfit that prides itself on mastering the dark art of carbon fibre custom work, promising ‘features and detailing you will not find anywhere else’, thanks to its equipment that healthily exceeds aerospace autoclave specs and a dedicated team who guarantee perfect fitment of all parts. And what better way to showcase their talents than by crafting an entire car out of carbon fibre?

    Now, this kind of project requires an interesting base car for the ethos of the project to pivot around. Sure, it’d be impressive to take, say, a Toyota Prius or a Tesla Model S and replicate all of its body panels precisely in carbon fibre in order to draw commercially entertaining parallels about economy and range, but where’s the fun in that? Any chump with an autoclave can take a mould of a panel and mock up a lighter one – Slek needed to think laterally; it needed to make something truly unique. Something beyond custom. Something visually arresting. And that, in a nutshell, is what you’re looking at here.

    Yes, that’s right, it’s a Z4. But not just any Z4… it’s the top-of-the-tree, full-fat Z4 M, the delicious little reprobate that came bursting at the seams with the brutal S54B32 engine – the same rampaging six-pot you’d find in an E46 M3. That’s a hell of a lot of engine to stuff into a diminutive two-seater roadster. But wait… the more observant among you may have spotted that this car doesn’t have a roof; those that have heard of #Slek-Designs will have forged a mental association between the company and a certain Z4 Coupé that wowed the crowds at SEMA back in 2013. So what gives? Have the team taken a tin-opener to the hard-top and reworked the thing entirely? Ah, no, this is actually an entirely different car. But its inspiration came from that self-same Coupé. You see, back in 2013, Slek rolled into Las Vegas with a terrifying interpretation of the tin-top Z4 M. It had supercharged the S54, furnishing it with a loopy 570hp, and it was raising a lot of eyebrows. The modified #BMW scene took careful note, as a truly mould-breaking (in all senses of the word) Z4 blew the established benchmarks into the weeds. This was a new world order of Z-car mischief.

    Its flawlessly aligned weaves and race car cues caught the eye of one individual in British Columbia, who shall remain anonymous here for reasons of modesty. He wanted one. He wanted one badly. So he commissioned local tuning hero Flow Automotive to make the dream come true.

    “To be honest, I never really liked the Z4 before this one, largely as I can’t fit in them,” shrugs Flow’s business mastermind Patrick. “But this wide-body makes it so aggressive!” Well, you can’t argue with that, can you? So why did this mystery wide-body-fancier choose this company, what’s the deal there? “Our shop does any kind of work,” says Patrick, matter-of-factly. “Restoration, performance, or even just basic maintenance. We’d love to be able to do resto or project car stuff all day every day, but the scene and market in our area isn’t really conducive to that, so we make ends meet with maintenance and service.

    Although our lead tech, Hartley, is a master fabricator too…” And therein lies the rub. The truth of the matter is that if you’re after quality custom work in British Columbia, these are the lads you want to talk to. Let’s start, then, with the most obvious part of this build: that insane CFRP bodywork. “The cost of the carbon fibre body was around $20k,” Patrick explains. It’s a sizeable wedge of cash, but doesn’t that sound like good value when you consider that it’s basically a whole car shell made from scratch? Ah, but this has been done before of course, so the dimensions were already sketched out: “We delivered the car to Slek for prototyping and testing,” he continues. “There were some minor changes to redesign over its original Z4 Coupé concept, but it wasn’t as if it was starting from nothing.”

    With the brutally wide panels having been lovingly hand-crafted and slathered in clearcoat to showcase the racy material, Slek itself insisted on fitting all of the panels to the car. “Slek wanted it to be absolutely perfect for SEMA,” Patrick laughs. This was very wise – with an idea as outlandish and eye-catching as this, the world would undoubtedly be keenly watching; when people see such a thing and comment that the shutlines are factory-perfect and all the weave angles match, an excitable crowd would undoubtedly beat a path to Slek’s door. It is, after all, a pioneer in the field.

    With the devastatingly naughty new body in place, the Z4 M was back up to Canada for the work to continue. “We threw on an amazing big brake kit from Sparta Evolution,” Patrick enthuses. “Six-pots at the front and four-pots out back, with its innovative S-groove discs. This was followed up by retrofitting an E46 M3 coilover setup from Status Gruppe – it’s a brand that we really want to champion, because its product isn’t hugely known but should be for a company that produces such premiumquality parts.” And the next job, naturally, was to fix upon the rolling stock; after all, what kind of self-respecting show car wouldn’t be rocking the latest fashionforward rims in this day and age?

    “Slek’s carbon Coupé was running gold RSV Forged wheels, and the ones the owner picked for this car are a natural evolution from that,” Patrick explains. “These wheels are more of a brushed copper, which contrasts brilliantly with the carbon fibre, and they’re wrapped in some spiffy Nitto Invos that the sponsor supplied.” The rims measure a staggering 14x19” at the rear (and a still mighty 10.5x19” up front) and come from RSV’s C|R Series, with the rear tyres offering a bonkers 345-section – plenty of rubber to harness the snorting horsepower from that revered S54 motor.

    “This Z4 M’s engine is currently stock,” says Patrick, “other than the upgraded headers and a brand new air box to fit the reprofiled hood. However, a friend of the owner has an E30 that we restored and turned it into a track car for him. He’s interested in buying the S54 to swap into the E30… and has convinced the owner to look into a V10 swap for the Z4 M! It’d be a huge job, but we’d tackle it all the same.”

    Regardless of powerplant – and let’s not sideline the S54, it’s still an absolute peach – this shadowy owner gets to enjoy one of the most eye-catching and talked-about Z4 roadsters the world has ever laid eyes upon. As its clearcoat sparkled under SEMA’s searing lights, nestling proudly on the Nitto stand at last year’s show while the guys from Flow buzzed around polishing people’s fingerprints away, it was surrounded by dropped jaws and camera-flashes. And that continues to be the case. An all-carbon fibre wide-body Z4 is an incredible thing. A droptop evolution to carry on the magic of the show-stopping Coupé, taking the reins and stopping the show all over again? That truly is a dream, woven from humble carbon into the roadster of the gods.

    “These wheels are a brushed copper, which contrast brilliantly with the carbon fibre, and they’re wrapped in some spiffy Nitto Invos” Exterior is incredible but interior hasn’t been forgotten about, with sumptuous seats and lashings of carbon, obviously.

    DATA FILE #BMW #Carbon #Z4 / #BMW-Z4 / #BMW-Z4-Carbon / #BMW-E85 / #BMW-Z4-E85 / #BMW-Z4-Carbon-E85 / #BMW-E85-Slek-Designs / #BMW-Z4-M-Roadster / #BMW-Z4-M-Roadster-E85

    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six #S54B32 / #S54 / #BMW-S54 , custom air box, #RPi-GT stainless steel exhaust system with Helmholtz resonators, stock six speed manual gearbox.

    CHASSIS 10.5x19” (front) and 14x19” (rear) #RSV-Forged C|R Series RSF1 wheels in brushed copper with 275/35 (front) and 345/30 (rear) #Nitto-Invo tyres, #Status-Gruppe SGT-SRS coilovers, #Sparta-Evolution forged #BBK (six-pot #Triton front calipers, four-pot rear, #Sgroove-Pegasus discs – 355mm front, 345mm rear).

    EXTERIOR #Slek-Designs full carbon fibre body (comprising front and rear bumpers, front wings, rear quarter panels, bonnet, doors, side skirts and bootlid), #OSS-Designs custom headlights.

    INTERIOR #Recaro carbon fibre seats with diamond-stitched Alcantara, carbon fibre dash inserts and trim.
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