Weird that goes fast

It’s been called the “clown shoe” on more than one occasion. Personally, I think it looks like a Dutch clog, but that’s just me. Whatever you want to call it, the BMW M Coupe is undeniably unique, and the individuality runs much deeper than simple aesthetics. From a numbers standpoint, it’s one of the lowest production BMWs ever made. Philosophically, the M Coupe was built by engineers for people who want to go fast, completely removed from the velocity-killing forces of branding and marketing. Rather, the approach taken here was more backyard-special than high-gloss advertisement – low weight, high horsepower, lots of rubber, and let the public think whatever it wants.

While at times unbridled and unforgiving, the M Coupe is still whip-smart, with handling that takes finesse and patience to master. A true enthusiast’s vehicle, Car and Driver called it “nerd chic,” while U.S. owners gather every year to share their passion at an event called Dorkfest. Let’s just say appeal is limited, at best.

While rarity and explicit weirdness have pushed the M Coupe into obscurity, car lovers of every stripe would do well to regard it as the fast, unhinged shooting-brake challenge that was never truly answered.

Continue reading to learn more about the 1998 – 2002 BMW M Coupe.

  • 1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
  • Year:
    1998- 2002
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • 0-60 time:
    5.3 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    152.2 mph
  • car segment:

Model History And Background

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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Look back, and you’ll find two generations of the M Coupe – the first-gen E36/8 Z3 Coupe, and the second-gen E86 Z4 Coupe.

The M Coupe’s genesis starts with the Z3 and M Roadster. As the story goes, five engineers from BMW’s M Division were left unsatisfied by the convertible’s cornering performance. The biggest problem stemmed from the roofless design, which made the roadster flimsy and soft in the corners.

The fix was a simple one – weld a roof on top, add some chassis rigidity, and keep all the power. The group of engineers worked overtime to make it happen, eventually putting their creation in front of the BMW brass for the production go-ahead. Although at first reluctant, approval was eventually given with the caveat that the model remain cost effective, and thus, the M Coupe was born.

Production ramped up in 1998, but sales weren’t exactly stellar. Dealers preferred the appeal of the M3, and in 2002, the M Coupe was axed, replaced by the Z4 M Coupe.

Exterior

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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You could describe the M Coupe’s exterior appearance in countless different ways, but the most inclusive term would probably be “polarizing.” At the technical level, it’s a three-door shooting brake, with an elongated hood line and fastback roof. In order to keep costs low, BMW brought over as many of the Z3’s Roadster’s original body panels as possible, and everything ahead of the A-pillar went unchanged compared to the car’s convertible predecessor.

At the technical level, it’s a three-door shooting brake, with an elongated hood line and fastback roof.

In back, the adage “form follows function” is certainly applicable, and the result is one of the more unusual designs to come bearing a BMW badge. Adding a dose of sportiness are hugely flared rear fenders and quad chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.

Complementing the strange look was a large variety of exterior colors, including a few candy-colored hues that made the car stand out even more. Listed from most to least common, there is: Titanium Silver, Cosmos Black, Estoril Blue, Imola Red, Arctic Silver, Steel Gray, Black Sapphire, Alpine White, Boston Green, Dakar Yellow II, Oxford Green II, Evergreen, Laguna Seca Blue, Phoenix Yellow, Special (Sonderlackierung), and Hellrot Red.

Exterior Dimensions

Length 158.5 inches
Width 68.5 inches
Height 51.4 inches
Wheelbase 96.8 inches

Interior

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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Like the forward section of the exterior, the M Coupe’s interior was mostly a carryover from the roadster. Sit down in the driver’s seat, and the first thing you’ll notice is the large three-spoke steering wheel. Chrome surrounds and leather upholstery support claims of luxury, while a trio of gauges mounted into the center console back the car’s sporting intentions. Either a tape cassette or CD player provides the tunes. Mobility is a bit limited due to the confined cabin layout, which is a compromise required by its drop-top roots.

The M Coupe’s interior was mostly a carryover from the roadster.

In back is enough space (10.7 cubic feet, to be exact) to fit a decent amount of stuff, which is a big benefit compared to the traditional two-seater design. However, the M3, with its large trunk and rear bench, has the M Coupe beat on the practicality front.

Covering the sports seats are a variety of different colors, listed here from most to least common: Black Nappa, Dark Gray & Black Nappa, Estoril Blue & Black, Nappa, Imola Red & Black Nappa, Dark Beige Oregon, Kyalami Orange & Black Nappa, Evergreen & Black Nappa, Laguna Seca Blue & Black Nappa, Kiwi Nappa, and Special (Sonderpolsterung).

Drivetrain

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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Like any proper sports car, the M Coupe boasts a front engine, rear-wheel drive layout. Pop the hood, and you’ll find the same 3.2-liter inline-six cylinder powerplant as the M3, which came in three different specs depending on the year and market. All engine variants use an iron block and aluminum head.

Like any proper sports car, the M Coupe boasts a front engine, rear-wheel drive layout.

Models built between 1998 and 2000 are equipped with the S52, which was plucked straight from the U.S.-spec E36 M3. Output is rated at 240 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm, with a 0-to-60 mph time just over five seconds and a top speed of 137 mph.

Outside North America, M Coupe buyers got the S50, the same engine found on the Euro-spec E36 M3. Thanks to a higher compression ratio, individual throttle plates, and variable valve timing for the intake and exhaust, output is boosted to 317 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 rpm. A sprint to 60 mph is done in the high four-second range, while top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph.

In 2001, the old S50 and S52 was replaced by the S54, this time from the E46 M3. U.S. models produced 315 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 251 pound-feet of torque at 4,900 rpm, while Euro-spec models made 321 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 258 pound-feet of torque at 4,900 rpm. Acceleration figures look like 4.5 seconds to 60 mph, while there are reports of delimited engines topping out at over 170 mph.

Each of the above engines comes mated to a five-speed manual transmission from ZF (no automatics, thank you), which was highly praised for its feel and smooth action.

Chassis And Handling

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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One of the biggest selling points for the M Coupe was its low weight, which tipped the scales at a little over 3,100 pounds, making it significantly lighter than the M3 with which it shared its drivetrain. Combined with stiff, no-nonsense suspension and a chassis that’s 2.7-times more rigid than the convertible, and the M Coupe makes quick work of the corners.

Under the fenders are 17-inch wheels wrapped in sticky high-performance tires, measuring in at 225/45 up front and a meaty 245/40 in back. The brakes are four-wheel discs all around, once again sourced from the M3. There are 12.4-inch rotors in front, and 12.3-inch rotors in the rear, providing stops from 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds.

Of course, all that rear tire combined with a healthy dose of power made for pucker-inducing handling in the wet, encouraging some owners to simply remove their windshield wipers altogether, given that any chance of precipitation would keep their M Coupe tucked away in the garage.

Prices

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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For whatever reason, the M Coupe saw lackluster sales success, and subsequently, models equipped with the S54 engine are a rare find indeed. Interestingly, that scarcity translates into high value on the used market these days, with some low-mileage examples with limited color combinations seeing sizable markups over the car’s original $45,000 MSRP. That said, you can still pick up an M Coupe for around $20,000 without too much hassle.

If you’re thinking about buying an M Coupe of your own, check out this buyer’s guide, which is chock-full of useful information and lists tons of cars for sale.

Production numbers
Euro-spec, left-hand drive, S50 engine 2,178
Euro-spec, right-hand drive, S50 engine 821
Total S50 engine cars 2,999
North America-spec, left-hand drive, S52 engine 2,180
Total S52 engine cars 2,180
Euro-spec, left-hand drive, S54 engine 269
Euro-spec, right-hand drive, S54 engine 165
North America-spec, left-hand drive, S54 engine 678
Total S54 engine cars 1,112

Competition

Porsche 911 (964)

1973 Porsche DP 964 Classic S by DP Motorsport Exterior
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Finding a good competitor for the M Coupe is not easy. The Bimmer is so weird and different, there really isn’t anything to put it up against. But if I had to choose something, I think the 964 Porsche 911 would be a good fit. While not a competitor while new, these two cars might see a little cross shopping on the used market. Find one that’s been loved, and you’ll enjoy the wail of a flat-six engine and the looks of one of Stuttgart’s heroes.

Read the full review here.

Conclusion

1998 - 2002 BMW M Coupe
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The M Coupe is one of those cars that you either love or hate, and while there’s no middle ground when it comes to the way it’s styled, it’s hard to argue against the car’s straight-forward, performance-oriented attitude. This thing just begs to be driven hard, and it’ll make you look like a fool if you get it wrong. And some people like that kind of abuse.

  • Leave it
    • * Unique looks
    • * Uncomfortable
    • * Unforgiving handling, especially in the wet
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