BMW Z3 Roadster and Coupe Club - 1995–2002 - E36/7 - E36/8- series History BMW E36/7 Z3 four-cylinder. The Z3 is near...
BMW Z3 Roadster and Coupe Club - 1995–2002 - E36/7 - E36/8- series

History BMW E36/7 Z3 four-cylinder. The Z3 is nearly 20 years old now and prices are low but we reckon it’s the four-cylinder model that actually offers the true vintage sports car experience…

The Z3 was the affordable roadster with a BMW badge that everyone had been eagerly waiting for and it finally arrived in the UK in late 1996. Its super-smooth, sleek looks were attached to underpinnings from a 3 Series, although at the rear the Z3 borrowed its axle from the older E30 rather than the E36.

Compared to modern cars the Z3 may have seemed a bit basic but the standard specification for 1996 was actually pretty decent. All Z3s came with power steering, central locking, ABS and electric mirrors, seats and windows. However, the foldaway fabric roof was manually operated and covered only by a tonneau cover whilst the very earliest cars didn’t actually have a radio unless the option box was ticked, although this soon changed. An electric roof and heated seats were also on the options list and worth having. At first, there was only one engine in the lineup and that was the four-cylinder, 16-valve 1.9-litre – again shared with the E36. It was a strong unit that put out a decent 140hp and 133lb ft of torque to go with it and came connected to a five-speed gearbox, although less than year later a four-speed automatic version was added to the options list.

Six-cylinder versions soon joined the range and in late 1999 the four-cylinder model received a new engine. Confusingly, it often became listed as a 1.8, although it now featured a different 1.9-litre engine. This time it was an eight-valve that produced 118hp and 132lb ft of torque. The power decrease inevitably led to a performance decrease and the automatic gearbox was no longer available.

In 2001 a Sport version was released with larger wheels, Sports seats, a better interior and M Sport suspension, plus an LSD. However, the 1.9 engine was phased out completely in 2002, marking the end of the four-cylinder cars.


The Z3 was a curious departure for BMW, being something of a hybrid of different 3-Series generations. The chassis is largely derived from that of the second-generation ‘E30’ model, while the electrical archictecture and engines are from the later ‘E36’ model and the internal development code for the Z3 is ‘E36/7’.

Like its competitors, the Z3 was inspired by the MX-5 and its retro styling harked back to the era of the original 328. The Z3 was initially available only with four-cylinder engines, but the addition of the 2.8-litre straight-six created a quick and slightly unruly car in the mould of the TR6. Things were subsequently made even livelier, not to say completely terrifying with the adddition of the 286 bhp M3 engine to create the M Roadster. The E30’s semi trailing arm rear end was barely up to the task of controlling the power and without any electronic traction aids the Z3M was a kind of German TVR.

As far as the cooking Z3 goes, all are very practical cars and if you want six-cylinder power then the 2.2-litre 170 bhp unit makes the ideal compromise for its refined nature and reasonable economy.

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  •   Simon Jackson reacted to this post about 1 year ago
    NIGEL FRYATT #2002-BMW-Z3-2.2i / #2002 / #BMW-Z3-2.2i / #BMW-Z3 / #BMW /
    / #BMW-Z3-Roadster-E36/7 / #BMW-Z3-E36/7 / #BMW-Z3-Roadster / #BMW-Z3-E36/7 / #BMW-E36/7 / #BMW-E36

    YEAR: 2002
    TOTAL MILEAGE: 74,807
    MPG THIS MONTH: 23.2
    COST THIS MONTH: £681.69 (inc VAT)

    It’s been a pretty good summer to own an open-topped sports car, and my Z3 has certainly lived up to expectations. I bought the car because I wanted a (relatively) cheap sports car that I could regularly drive with the top down, and I didn’t want it to be a Mazda MX5!

    My budget was around £4,000, and it was surprising what little choice there is. But when this Z3 came up for sale, it fitted the bill perfectly. The underpowered four-cylinder model was never a consideration and, having checked a few example insurance quotes, a three-litre would have been a little extravagant. Of course, an #M-Sport option would have been fantastic, but wasn’t going to happen on my budget! If I’m honest, I didn’t actually realise that there was a 2.2-litre version of the six-cylinder-engined Z3 until I did some research. They are limited in number and so, when HF51 PUV appeared on the AutoTrader website, I went to see the car and immediately did the deal. Regular readers may remember that I bought it during a snowstorm in February 2017, but I did check that the hood folded down correctly. In fact, it was obvious that the car must have spent much of its life in a garage, or at least covered, since the quality of the hood was high; the deal was done.

    It was also obvious that it would need some new tyres. Why do people buy different tyres for each wheel? My Z3 had three different brands on its four wheels; one of them a Chinese tyre branded ‘Triangle’ (does anyone else feel mystified at the choice of name for a round object?). The quality of the hood, however, did mask a problem that I’ve reported on before. The rubber seals around the screen and door jams were allowing water ingress when it rained particularly hard. Water collected under the passenger seat and promptly flooded the DSC yaw sensor that’s located there.

    Although the total repair cost – replacing all the seals and getting a refurbished DSC sensor (a new BMW OE version being some four times the cost of a refurbished version!) – was over £1,000, I wasn’t too worried and didn’t feel it was something that was ‘missed’ when I bought the car; the passenger carpet was certainly not wet when I handed over the cash. All the work was done by Walkers Autotech (walkersautotech., tel: 01403 751646), where Andy and his team did an excellent job. He left the old seals in the boot for me which, if nothing else, did emphasise how much had been changed! When this year’s MoT and annual service became due, I was hoping for a rather cheaper experience, and was pleased to get the call to say that the Z3 had passed the MoT without problem. Walkers did a comprehensive ‘health check’ on the car before the annual service and, while there was nothing that needed immediate attention, there were a few things that I decided to get done while they had the car.

    The windscreen wiper arm had become twisted slightly and had scratched the screen. While that’s particularly annoying (and I have no idea how it happened), the scratching isn’t directly in front of the driver, so didn’t influence the MoT test. The arm and the wiper blades were duly replaced.

    More significant was that the propshaft rubber coupler was found to be perished and cracked. Walkers suggested I consider replacing it sooner rather than later, so it seemed logical to get that done during the service.
    They also spotted that the rear anti-roll bar drop link bushes were perished, and had started to split. This rang true as I had felt that, in high-speed corners, the rear of the Z3 did feel a little soft to me. Although I don’t claim to be some kind of seat-of-the-pants-engineer, I had noticed this rather unnerving characteristic on a particular bend on the A24, near where I live. Now, my other car is a Lotus Elise so it’s probably a little unfair to make the comparison, but I did. So, getting these bushes replaced seemed an excellent idea. Driving back from Walkers and negotiating that same bend, the car certainly felt like it was squatting down into the corner a lot better – a feeling that makes spending the money a lot easier!

    The only really annoying thing was that, during the standard service, the exhaust studs snapped on removal, which meant they had to be heated to remove them. Walkers kept the cost down, though, and only charged an hour’s labour when I suspect it took a little longer. That said, the labour, new studs and new exhaust manifold did add £95 to the total bill.

    In total, therefore, the #MoT , annual service and a couple of replacements that while not essential were sensible, saw a total bill of £681. When you consider this is for a year’s motoring, it works out at around £56 a month, which is reasonable – and a lot less than I had to spend last year on those bloody seals!

    The service was carried out in late October, just when we had that cold snap in the weather. Nevertheless, the day I collected the Z3 it was blue sky and sunshine. Decent jacket, quality woolly beanie hat fitted, shades on, the drive home with the roof down, through some great Sussex country lanes, was excellent.

    Add some decent tunes on the stereo, and that’s exactly why I bought the car in the first place. Walkers also give each customer car a full wash and vacuum, so we were looking good. An open-topped car isn’t just for the summer!

    My Z3 certainly lived up to expectations during the summer. Left: All the work was done at Walkers Autotech, who also gave the car an excellent clean and vacuum – much appreciated! Right: These are the old rubber seals that go around the windscreen; now all replaced.
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  •   Daniel 1982 reacted to this post about 2 years ago
    CAR: E36 Z3 Roadster / #BMW-Z3-Roadster-E36/7 / #BMW-Z3-E36/7 / #BMW-Z3-Roadster / #BMW-Z3-E36/7 / #BMW-Z3 / #BMW / #BMW-E36/7 / #BMW-E36
    YEAR: #2002
    TOTAL MILEAGE: 66,610
    MPG THIS MONTH: 22.1

    When I bought my 2002 Z3, I did open the boot to check that everything was OK, and it seemed so to me. However, the completely flat front tyre that I had to deal with a few weeks later proved me wrong.

    The plan was to inflate the tyre and then see if I could then drive to the local tyre fitter to get it checked, but there was obviously an issue with the valve, which was leaking air out as quickly as I could put it in! So, the only solution was to change the wheel.

    What followed involved a lot of head-shaking and quite a bit of swearing. For a start, my trolley jack wouldn’t fi t under the Z3’s side sill, so it was back to the inflator – with me bending the valve in such a way that the air wouldn’t come out, so the tyre would inflate, the sill would rise and I could get the trolley jack into position. The next job was the remove the spare wheel from its cradle under the boot floor…

    The Z3’s boot is a reasonable size for a small sports car, thanks to the space-saver tyre slung underneath. Instructions on how to remove it were actually in the boot, and that was when I realised that one particular tool was missing from the seemingly perfect tool kit; without it, releasing the bolt holding the cradle was extremely awkward for a big hand and a ring spanner (sockets not being possible), and that’s when the head-shaking started.

    Eventually, with the spare free, inspection revealed that it had never been used – or removed – making me wonder if the Z3 actually ever had the necessary tool in the first place. Then I prepared myself to undo the wheel studs, fully expecting this to be a major battle (why do people do these up so tight?). I decided to start with the locking nut but, of course, the ‘key’ to release this, was completely mullered.

    At that point the head-shaking turned to swearing, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be changing the wheel anytime soon! Still, at least the car was on my drive, it wasn’t raining or winter, I wasn’t in a rush and nor was I wearing my best suit!

    A quick phonecall to my very helpful, local independent tyre outlet, Littlehampton Tyres, saw their mobile unit with me within 30 mins, and he had a full set of Laser locking wheel nut ‘keys’, allowing him to swap wheels and take away the flat tyre to be repaired. The call-out cost me £30, and the puncture repair, £15.
    It could have been a lot worse and I will, of course, now look to either buy a new locking wheel nut key (and you can imagine what BMW will charge for that!), or get some standard wheel studs and swap them over… but then I’ll need the stupid ‘key’ to do that, won’t I?…

    A missing T-bar wrench means you can’t lower the Z3’s spare wheel cradle. The locking wheel nut key had been used; actually, it had been completely destroyed!
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