The BMW Z3 was the first modern mass-market roadster produced by BMW, as well as the first BMW model assembled in the United States. It was introduced as a 1996 model year vehicle, shortly after being featured in the James Bond movie, GoldenEye. There were a few variants of the car before its production run ended in 2002, including a coupe version for 1999. It was manufactured and assembled in Spartanburg, South Carolina. The Z3 was replaced by the BMW Z4 in late 2002 at the Paris Auto Show.
The BMW Z3 was developed from the E36 platform of the 3 Series. The resulting platform is sometimes referred to as the E36/7. The rear semi-trailing arm suspension from the E30 was used rather than the more sophisticated multilink suspension from the E36. At first, just the 1.9 L M44B19 straight-4 engine was offered, though its 138 hp made the car less of a performer than many buyers wanted. Interior appointments, too, were not up to the standard of other BMW models, and the plastic rear window looked especially bad compared to the glass unit found on the much-cheaper 1999 Mazda Miata.
This little four was complemented by a pair of straight-6es in 1997, the 2.3 L and 2.8 L M52B28. The 2.8 L engine, taken from the 328i, was especially desirable with its 189 hp. The M Roadster (see below) appeared in 1998 with a 3.2 L S52B32 I6, just as the four was retired.
All of the engines were replaced when the car was freshened for 2001. Now, the range consisted of the 2.5 L M52B25, 3.0 L M52B30, and (for the M Roadster) 3.2 L S54B32. All three of these straight-6 engines lasted through the end of the car’s run in 2002. Also freshened was the car’s interior appointments, though the plastic window remained.
The BMW Z3 proved quite reliable, with problems limited to bad oxygen sensors, a flimsy plastic water pump, and failing rear shock mounts. The car’s retro styling was popular, and Z3s have held their value fairly well in the resale market.