My (Ex) Curbside Classic: 1999 BMW Z3M Coupe – Love Hurts


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.