I SUPPOSE this was bound to happen at some point: a eulogy to my departed BMW M Coupe. You all know the car; a small Z3-based coupe, with a 321 hp S50 M engine, developed by a renegade band of engineers to be the ultimate driving machine. It is the stuff of legends, and for a year it was mine.
Cast your mind back to when you were young and that first romance with the wrong sort. The one who taught you all those little things. Ordinary moments were transformed into something special. Your friends knew it would never work out, and secretly you knew they were right. That was the M Coupe and like Icarus, the wings did not hold. Let me explain.
Upon my first day at a new job five weeks after buying the car, the ravens were already circling. I opened the car door into a lamppost to a flurry of expletives. It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I would gain a greater sense of perspective from the resultant ding.
Another day not long after, I heard a loud bang while driving and looked to see a puff of smoke drifting across the rear view mirror. My speed immediately falls and the car crept home like a dog that knew it had done something wrong. Short story long, a piece of spark plug had fallen into a cylinder. Of course, the mechanic couldn’t know it for sure, not without removing the cylinder head first. Sweat beaded at the estimated cost. Fortunately my car was still under the extended BMW warranty, so I soon found myself in the first of several 3-series loaners. I look back at that courtesy car now as a moment of motoring tranquility where nothing went wrong, my car started every time and had a banging hi-fi. At the time, of course, I missed my M like crazy.
We were apart for five long months of two-litre servitude before the M Coupe was ready. Apparently it was not as straightforward as BMW expected. One of the cylinders had to be re-bored due to scratches caused by the falling plug. Despite the wait, love remained blind, and I smugly considered the brilliance of my M’s now ever-so-slightly larger capacity. But there was little consolation in the four figures of my bill being less than the five-figure sum paid by BMW. Generously, they also reimbursed the cost of the warranty during the car’s absence.
Happy days at last, but they were mere days. On departing a car park I noticed a slit of paper waving under the wipers. ‘….Something something… sorry… dented wing… [WHAT?]… contact me…. insurance…sorry…‘. Somehow a Nissan Micra had managed to mount the rear fender while parking leaving a sizable impression in the car’s haunches. So off to the body shop it went and another 3-series was lined up. (Silver-lining alert: the damage was on the same side as the ding, and repaired at the same time). While the car was in the paint-shop I requested the booth time be used to respray the whole car too: time to get this thing looking sweet. Simultaneously the scraped wheels were sent to a sub-contractor for repainting. But remember those ravens?
I received a call the following week stating that the place had burned down, taking my wheels with it. I leave you to imagine the anguish.
Cue more waiting and hand-wringing while new wheels and tyres were sourced. I cannot deny that I was absolutely bowled over when my Coupe finally returned; paint, wheels, panels et al gleaming, factory fresh. It looked sensational. I could barely part with it in the evenings; I could barely get into it in the mornings, such was my compulsion to take in those curves and its absurd scale. Finally, everything I had saved for, paid for, eaten-in for was paying off.
For at least two months.
Another Monday morning, driving to work. The main road gets pretty busy, so I stick to the lanes that twist through the villages. Radio on, following a C-Class estate. 30, 40 mph; the C-Class pulls away as we exit the village (damn those turbodiesels are fast). I follow suit,accelerating to a respectable 50 mph before braking for the sharp right-hander I knew so well. At this point, a brief interlude: remind yourself that the back-end of an M Coupe is notorious for being eager to see what the front is up to when the weather dampens–did I mention it had just been raining?
Too late. The back has already gone. Fast-forward two seconds and I am wondering whether I am going to roll. Oh yes, there we are. Snapshot in my mind: poppies upside-down, framed by the windscreen. I land, wheels-down. CRASH: (there goes the under-carriage). I sit and turn off the engine, vaguely wondering why the airbag hasn’t gone off. I gather my lunch and the blanket from the boot (a present from my sister-in-law which my wife would’ve killed me for losing, and walk back through hedgerow hitherto unpenetrated. A police car and ambulance will soon arrive.
Remembering that car is like turning the pages of a photo album. So many months parted, yet little events stick out, each narrated by the moment’s joy. Keeping pace with a CL63 AMG. The other Estoril Blue Z3 M that trailed me from London. Wheel-spinning on my uncle’s lawn. Once, pulling up at the flat after work, I walked away from the car unable to stop looking over my shoulder. That slack hammock-like shoulder-line; goofy arches; perverse bonnet; fake-but-I-love-them-anyway side-vents; and four exhausts. I wondered whether it was actually possible to love an inanimate object. Yes it was, I concluded. Yes, it was. It was the only way to put up with all the heartache.
5 figures to rebore ONE cylinder is obscene…and I suspect that is not even american money you are talking about, but British Pounds which are generally half again as valuable as a greenback.
I remember this car very well. I knew a little old lady who bought one when they came out. She was a nut. Dressed like a 20 year old. Probably advanced her arthritis a month every time she hoisted herself out of that little Beemer.
I know it’s a fancy-dan engine, but surely labour costs don’t vary all that much for an engine rebuild, and there wouldn’t have been a huge number of parts involved?
5 figures? I just paid 70 quid for a spring and felt slightly unwell 🙂 And how come you had to pay 4 figures, if it was covered by the warranty?
Enjoyed reading about your experience with this car. It gave me much more of an appreciation and understanding of a vehicle I had always dismissed – it’s always interesting to read people’s explanations of the fundamental appeal of their CC.
“…Wheel-spinning on my uncle’s lawn…”
How did the car end up on it’s roof again?????
such careful driving 🙂
The loss of a “loved one” ALWAYS hurts, regardless of the circumstances. our story reminds me of how I lost my ’70 Dodge Charger (also Blue and rolled it too!!) due to someone else’s mistake. Oh, by the way, my name is Robert, too!! 🙂
Ever figure out why the airbag didn’t deploy?
There was probably no need for it to deploy, the car rolled over. Steering wheel airbags deploy only when there is front-end collision.
And if you mean side airbags, probably the same reason- I guess they only deploy if the car is T-boned, for example, and subsequently the structure is deformed, which apparently was not the case here, fortunately.
There was no frontal impact. Air bags aren’t programmed to go off under every accident circumstance just front and side collisions [if you have side air bags].
best guess on my part: it was not a head on collision and so the sensors did not get hit.
If the triggers dont get a shock NO balloon party happens.
That hurts just to see the photo and read the story…my deepest sympathies. Glad you made it out OK! Our beloved, both people and cars alike, can be lost so suddenly and unexpectedly- though of course cars are not nearly as devastating as loved ones. Each ride may be your last in your prized whip, both for you and your car. We so easily forget to savor each and every moment. Thank you for sharing this, it made me resolve to have a great day.
That’s unfortunate to hear about your Z3M coupe experience, and your scary crash. Glad you walked away okay.
I will say though, that through the several issues my mom had with her X3, BMW was very good about everything. The original factory warranty had one year left when she bought it, and the certified pre-owned warranty was another two years. Right before the CPO warranty expired, she brought it in after a mysterious mechanical problem (we suspected exhaust system) emerged. BMW replaced several parts, but then the problem came back after the warranty expired. They ended up doing more work on it for free of charge because they hadn’t properly fixed the original problem. I guarantee you Chrysler would’ve said “too bad” if something similar had happened with her Jeep. Through her entire ownership of the BMW, the only cost to her out of pocket was new tires.
Not necessarily true about Chrysler. They comp’d about 75% of an engine replacement on my daughter’s ’05 PT Cruiser, which was WAY out of warranty- like by 2 years. I won’t say they just did it out of kindness, but they did it.
OUCH on the Bimmer!
Well told; just glad you didn’t claim it to be good looking, as opposed to striking….
Picture #7 is a piece of art. Claude Monet would be proud of you. It is just not a very cost effective way to create it.
Think of it this way: the money is gone but the memories will stay with you forever. You lived your automotive dream for a while. Many of us, including me, are too chicken to do that.
“Think of it this way: the money is gone but the memories will stay with you forever. You lived your automotive dream for a while. Many of us, including me, are too chicken to do that.”
Very well said. I have had some cars that I have really loved, but I have never stretched to the point of buying “that” car that everybody else ooohs and ahhhs over too.
This LOOKs like a truly exotic car. Unfortunately BMWs reliability ranks near the bottom for all cars. And just like a used Mercedes, you can get them for what seem like really great prices. I almost bought a used Mercedes once, until I found out about the cost of parts. No wonder they depreciate so fast. Back when I was considering a Miata, I also looked at a used Z3, for about the same price. Same problem. Miata parts are cheap. Z3 parts prices are in the stratosphere. I also looked at the VW New Beetle convertible, and found the same problems. Very low reliability and high parts prices. I began to realize this issue pretty much applied to all German cars. It also seems to apply to BMW motorcycles of the past 3 decades or so.
One of the most prophetic things I ever read about exotic car ownership was that the purchase price was merely a down payment. It would seem to apply to just about any car of European origin, be it the German, Italian, French, or British cars of virtually any genre, regardless of whether it’s actually exotic or not.
OTOH, maybe the constant tinkering and buying (expensive) parts to keep them roadworthy could be considered part of the lure.
Check the date on the car magazine you’re quoting from. It must be at least 30 to 40 years old.
Actually BMW’s reliability (JDPower) is about average. Ford is worse than Average. However, the cost of repairs is probably quite high. I don’t know how this model compares with the whole BMW line or how BMW scored in 1999. Lexus is still on top with Buick #2. Mercedes is well above average.
Years ago I read a survey here about “reliability”. The Toyota Aygo did better than the Peugeot 107 and Citroën C1.
Remarkable, to say the least, since these cars are exactly the same and are all coming from the same factory.
The thing is that even 1000 Aygo’s will not all fail in the same way, and so one of the three would probably have better statistics. The J. D. Power survey shows Lexus as the top rated, but only one Lexus (the ES) is top in its category.[link]
Seems akin to how, in the USA, some people think that GMC trucks are somehow built “heavier” than Chevrolet trucks, despite rolling off the same assembly line and sharing all components except for sheetmetal and interior trim/fittings. (This has been the case for decades!)
Something about cognitive dissonance ? Damn, it’s too long ago that I remember all the details.
“Hey, it’s a Japanese brand, so it MUST be reliable. It can’t break down or malfunction, it just can’t. It has a Japanese badge on the grille !”
I wonder if the new Toyotas with BMW diesels will do better in the (future) surveys than the BMWs with the same engine.
As the owner of a Z3 M Coupe (10 years now) and a Miata, you are quite incorrect. Z3 and Z3M parts are quite inexpensive. Not quite as cheap at Miata parts, of course, but these cars are hardly high maintenance.
I have never bought new and never had a warrantee. When I choose a car to buy, I look for a few very important things…
simple maintenance procedures
reputation is almost as important as reliability. If people don’t believe its reliable, then they won’t pay a fair price for it, won’t maintain it as well, and resale suffers. Ubiquitousness is important for two things…scrounging spare part at salvage yards, and finding mechanics who know the car.
John: you are no fun! 😉
Rudiger: there is a Lancia Biturbo waiting for you somewhere. 😉
A while ago it was the expression “… my keister” and now I had to look up the word “ubiquitousness”. Quite a contrast, but thanks again.
being a Dutchie right next door to the Krauts I am surprised you did not know “keister”. If I’m not mistaken that is a German word.
BTW, I use the pejorative “Kraut” affectionately. I myself am begotten from dirt-poor lowly immigrants to America originally from the Schleswig region and the family legend is that they were secretly a little bit Russian. Officially they were a mixture of Danish and German and they obnoxiously boasted to be Prussian. My great grandfather spoke 5 languages fluently but could read none. Danish, Swedish, German, English, and Yiddish. Interestingly, he was most proud of his Yiddish skills. He claimed he could “hear” Dutch fluently but could not speak it. I do not know how a person can “hear” fluently.
In terms of ethnicity and culture, I relate most to the British, I think. I like Ale, very dry meade, and hard dry(very dry, which is nearly impossible to find) cider. Dry meade is not easy to find either. I tend to give up the quest of both and just make it myself. Ale is mostly a British phenomenon and so is cider. Meade is a lost art and the neo meaderies do not know what they are doing. Belgium and northern France have some Ale traditions. Western Germany has Kolsch bier which is pretty much ale and I like it a lot! I like older British sports cars with American engines, and Irish tweed clothing, and Irish dry stout and Irish usquebae…aka aqua vitae. Copper pot stills are a passion of mine which goes handily with my lifelong relationship with steam boilers and steam engines. I do have some spiritual(if not blood) connection to Scottish, Italian, and Mexican stereotypes because I have a natural dislike of government/laws/authority and an innate propensity to rebel and break laws. In terms of food I gravitate towards Greek, Italian, Egyptian, and mediteranean/middle eastern cuisine. I like rice, artichoke, almonde, sardine, olive, and other fish and green veggies.
I am told I look like a typical Scotsman…pale English skin, Scandinavian eyes, ruddy cheeks, and HAIRY like a monkey. I love JRR Tolkien literature and most identify with the dwarven race.
I especially like large American car/truck engines which make tons and tons of torque at very low RPMs. My favorite engine is the Ford 300six. My next favorite engine is probably the Mopar 440 or the Cadillac 500 or maybe the ford 460. I don’t give much thought to second place. I wish there was an antique British sportscar of some kind that used the Ford 300six. That would be my dream car.
That’s some mixture you’re mentioning there !
Pretty simple and plain here. Taken from the clay, just like all my ancenstors. I was born here and I’m gonna die here. Back into the clay. Must be the main reason I have been in agri-business all my life.
I do have a wide range of interests. Other cultures and their products, history, geography, art, music, films and all the things I can find here.
Regarding the Germans. Simple, they have been our best friends and partners since WW2 ended (the Netherlands had the first VW importer, right after the war). We think very much alike; the Rhineland model (vs the Anglo Saxon model).
The main difference is that Germans like -or maybe even adore- formalities, all kinds of regulations, written rules, strict hierarchies, etc. And we just don’t. Germans are engineers and manufacturers by nature, we’re more (international) traders and farmers by nature. Think fast, act fast and take the shortest route from A to B.
Oh yes…Belgian monks are my beer supplier.
John , I just enjoyed some cheap Cabernet Sauvignion. I think it prepared me rather well to read your expose. I believe I got the essence of it as I prefer beverages that are so dry you need to drink something in order to wash them down. And then, Russians and Prusssians, who cares, it’s just a “P”.
However, German is my mother language, so I am familiar with “Meister” and “Scheister” but Keister required a brief google session…..
“However, German is my mother language, so I am familiar with “Meister” and “Scheister” but Keister required a brief google session…..”
OK, you got me curious so I had to do a little internet sleuthing on the word myself. Apparently it is not quite the word I thought it was. I thought it was merely German for rump because I learned it from older relatives of German-Danish ancestry.
It now appears to me it was originally a secure storage container or lockbox(for money), then became slang for wallet, which is normally in the back pocket, and eventually the word evolved as an utmost modest unprofane way of indicating a person’s body anatomy that is next to their wallet, AKA the rump.
This is consistent with the way it was used by my older relatives I suppose. Men would use the phrase “my ass!” to exclaim contrariness to something if women and children were not around to hear it. If they were around, then the phrase “my keister!” would be substituted. All these years I misunderstood the motive of the substitution. I thought it was because they were humorously facetiously implying women and children not smart enough to comprehend the German translation of a phrase that is not to be used in the company of women and children.
“The main difference is that Germans like -or maybe even adore- formalities, all kinds of regulations, written rules, strict hierarchies, etc. And we just don’t. ”
That is a true observation. I can confirm. Back in the early eighties I visited friends in Utrecht and noticed this very difference. It seemed to me that all Dutch are one big family. Everybody was known by first name, no “Herr” and “Frau” and titles like “Doktor” and “Oberstudienrat”. It was so nice to see people interact without that baggage of formality.
Brings back the memories of my own cursed car from Hell. Although it was at the other end of the spectrum. My yellow 73 Sport Bug I bought from the dealership (on payment’s) I worked at in 1975. I had it about a month, and I was sitting at a red light when a pickup truck skids into the back of it. It was an auto parts delivery truck, and luckily it only bent the rear bumper and brackets, the body was undamaged. Their insurance paid the estimate and I wound up making money by getting the parts at dealer discount and bolting them on myself. Not long after that I was in a parking lot and as I steered into the space the steering wheel locked. I was only moving a couple of miles an hour and slammed on the brakes and hit nothing. I wiggled the wheel and played with the key and eventually the pin pulled back in and unlocked the wheel. I drove it home, pulled the steering wheel and cut the pin off with a hacksaw blade and from then on it was a non locking column, I wasn’t about to replace it and have that happen again. Around this time I decided I needed a fast engine and built an 1835cc engine in the shop at work, had bigger valves installed and ported the heads, bored out case and heads, etc. Spent a lot of money, but it was fun with the extra power. About 6 months later driving home from a movie I was stopped at a light. I see two headlights heading towards me and hear burning rubber and a 64 Dodge T-bones me in the drivers side. After he hits me I hear a click and the door slowly opens. The car is caved in about a foot deep from the front of the rear fender to the front of the door. He tries to take off but his battery was tossed into the fan and it cuts the cable and it stalls. He has no insurance, I get police report, tie the door shut with the seatbelt and drive home. The car is almost totaled but insurance pays to replace the side of the car. About 8 month later I’m at a party and someone asks who owns the yellow VW. I run out to the street just in time to see it half a block down the street being pulled by an old pickup truck, finally the bumpers unhook and the truck takes off. My hood, bumper and both front fenders are caved in. No one seems to know who the driver of the truck was. My insurance fixes it, then calls me to tell me I have been canceled. I protest the car was parked, and the other accident was not my fault, they had a police report. They said too bad, I was an unlucky driver. Around this time I got laid off from my job, and with no insurance I have to sell the car. I missed a payment or two but was able to sell my hot rod engine and buy a used stock 1600 cc engine. I just finished installing the engine and while in the shower I hear my car start up and drive away. My keys are in the house. I reported it stolen, and hour later I get a call from a mechanic I knew at the dealership I used to work for, and he said the repo man just drove my car into the dealership. They were waiting for me to put the engine in so they could drive it off! I was able to borrow the payoff from my parents and then sold the car to pay them back. A few months later the person I sold the car to found out the engine was not original and although it was a dual port 1600 cc engine, it was a 71 instead of a 73. He said he would sue, so I had to give him a thousand dollars back even though the engine was fine. Not as expensive or dramatic as your experience, but it truly was the car from Hell!
I would have given him nothing a used car has a used engine caveat emptor.
I think if an engine was replaced this should have been revealed at the time of the sale along with any major repairs made to the body. If this would have been done in Small Claims Court, it might have been worthwhile to see what the Judge would say about the amount, but if the payment was negotiated then perhaps the results were best. Up front disclosure is best.
What a nightmare. Where in the world did you live at hat time?
Southern California. The only reason the dealership that I used to work for let me buy it back is because I pointed out the car had been wrecked 3 times and I had installed a different year engine. It had a new paint job and no dents when I sold it. I saw the car a couple of years later (still had the same license plate) and it had dents every where and looked like it hadn’t been washed since I sold it. Considering what the car had been through I thought it best to pay and have him sign a waiver, I will say the body shop that repaired and repainted the car was top notch and only used genuine VW parts. I don’t think the guy who bought it realized it had been hit and repaired 3 times.
I once bailed my SIL out when her car was repossessed. Of course I did not have the cash with me and no other form of payment would do. I tried to use my Discover Card at an ATM to get the cash advance and I could only get so much per 24 hour period. I had to convince the lady at the repo office that I would be following through within 3 days. The car was already slated to go to the auction but they held it back for me. SIL was so relieved and had no trouble paying me back a month later.
Her interest rate was extra high, add the repo related fees and she easily paid 2x as much as the car was listed for.
I was fortunate enough to use home equity loans to purchase my near new cars. The last one I paid for in cash.
Never again did car payments. Always cash. Bought new only once. 2004 Titan I still have. Lesson learned. House I bought in 98 with 30% down on 30 year loan paid off at end of 2003. Rental house in 2010 paid cash. Rental mobile home in 2014 paid cash. Much safer.
You paid “tuition” only once and learned your lesson well.
Wow. Very unfortunate that such an interesting and rare car was so cursed! Must have been a thrilling experience to drive it when you could, even if that was only about half your time of ownership… And what does one follow up an M coupe with?
I do also wonder about that cylinder repair–how did you end up on the hook for four figures for a warranty repair?
Son Ted has the same car, for going on five years. I hope he manages to avoid the same fate as yours. 🙂
After 5 years he should be aware of the cars quirks (if any). The tire design is probably a bigger issue on wet roads and different tires would probably have made a difference for Robert Forrest.
Prediction- somewhere down the line you’ll buy another one of these.
I have only ever seen 2 of these “in the metal”. First was on a used car wholesaler’s lot in 2008-2009. That car was selling then for $17,000. The 2nd one? Just a few weeks ago passed me on the interstate headed the opposite direction.
I had a 2001 Dakar Yellow Z3 Coupe 3.0i w/ Automatic and the sport package. What a fun car! I think of it every time I drive past a Z3 in the Summer. Hands down the best car I had the pleasure of owning ( Last time I counted I have had 30 cars). I had a power window motor go out while under warranty and I remember the tech who did the work telling me what a pain in the butt it was to take care of the problem. Traded it in on a GTO and never really felt right about it. Should have kept it.
You must mean an Aussi GTO (they were better than the real ones I think).
I’m rather fond of them myself, and frequently get the opportunity to spend time around them. Now you say they’re rare?
Looks like the ass-end of a Geo Metro grafted on to a Z3…yeah…no thanks.
Sorry about all the problems to boot.
This is why my favorite engine is the Ford 300six.
Infinitely rebuildable with a TBO of about a quarter million miles.
TBO means time between overhauls
simple engine too. Only 2 valves per cylinder, pushrods, a one barrel carb, gear drive camshaft, low stress low RPM engine, and a durable cast iron head. Almost a John Deere in terms of characteristics.
BMW = Bring My Wallet
Wow –heartbreaking. But I’m sure you take comfort that your loss was more like a death in the family, as opposed to a regrettable divorce (as I’m sure anyone whoever sold their’s feels). I own a 2000 s52 I’ll live in mine before I have to sell it…
I’m still in love with mine, though it does have the added attraction of a twinscrew positive replacement supercharger, boosting the stock 240 bhp with about another 200 hp on top of that. Razor sharp throttle response, making up to 9-psi boost right off idle.
(mine is the one closest to camera in this AND the different picture posted earlier)