2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

BMW South Africa cloaked 39 of the last Z3M Coupés in a rather special Schnitzer package. We trace the model’s origins and take one for a spin. Story: Johann Venter. Photography: Mahomed Abdulla.

Run Away 39 — E36/8 Z3M rare Schnitzer Sport Coupe

On 1st August 1986, BMW announced that the newly formed BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH had successfully carried out their first technical experiment, the BMW Z1 – “Z” standing for Zukunft, which in German means future. Almost a year to the day, on the 10th August 1987, BMW announced that it would unveil the Z1 at the Frankfurt Motor Show, which caused an outright frenzy amongst BMW enthusiasts. As such, sufficient orders were placed prior to the show for BMW to commit, that it would put the Z1 into production.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

The Z1 would be the first Roadster since the achingly beautiful 507 that nearly bankrupted the company, thirty years earlier. The Z1 (E30) was a highly specialised car that was mainly built by hand, resulting in only 8,000 being produced, when production ended in 1991. By this time the Mazda MX-5 had shown how a well-built, inexpensive, open-top two seater could revive demand for small roadsters, reminiscent of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Keen on tapping into this market, BMW got designer Joji Nagashima to delineate a successor to the Z1, which could be produced on mass, the Z3. I was first exposed to the Z3 watching the Bond movie ‘Golden Eye’, on the big screen and was quite taken by it. BMW would continue its role in the James Bond franchise for three more instalments, and then switched to the Mission Impossible franchise. The chase scene in the latest instalment, ‘Fallout’, through Paris in an E28 M5, is absolutely mind bending and exhilarating at the same time! It evokes memories of another death defying chase through Paris, when an E34 M5 is trounced around by Natasha McElhone in ‘Ronin’, enough with the movie trivia. The first Z3s rolled off the Spartanburg (South Carolina) production-line in September 1995, fitted with a four cylinder 1.8-litre engine, capable of 113hp. Initially it was not offered in the US, or in a right hand drive and came under criticism for being underpowered, with poor handling dynamics, due to the E30 semi-trailing arms being used at the rear.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

Some even saw it as more of a fashion accessory, but it did have styling cues from what many consider the most beguiling BMW ever, the 507, with well-rounded rear arches and a long front end, including the side grilles. BMW would however redeem itself, in the form of the 2.8-litre six-cylinder, with a wider track and improved suspension, which was released in 1996. That same year BMW launched the sledgehammer in the Z3 arsenal, the M Roadster at the Geneva Motor Show. It was fitted with the 3.2-litre, 321hp power-plant from the E36 M3 Evo, giving it a power-to-weight ratio of 242hp, dispatching from 0-62mph in just 5.4-seconds. The Z3 could now firmly put the SLK and Boxster in their place and ascend to the throne. In South Africa only the 2.8-litre was offered, followed by the facelifted 3.0-litre, the M Roaster never touching down on our shores.

Burkhard Goeschel head of the Z3 project, was of the firm belief that the Z3 M Roadster could be even better, if it had a fixed roof. But BMWs top brass would not have any of it, so he conspired with his colleagues from the M division to install a roof onto one of the Z3 prototypes, in secret…real ‘Skunk Works’ stuff. Sound familiar? The 1M was also developed in secret and shares other similarities with the Z3 M Coupé, see BMW Car, September, 2014. Goeschel knew all too well that they would need to keep the costs to a minimum, if they were to convince the BMW board to approve their experiment. The Coupé is therefore identical to the Roadster from the A-pillar forward, even using the same doors. The Z3 M Coupé was unveiled at the 1997 Frankfurt Motor Show. The styling was highly controversial, and a complete departure from BMWs staid design philosophy. Many criticized the M Coupé, calling it a ‘Clown Shoe’, ‘Breadvan’ some even going as far as comparing it to a hearse. Nonetheless the objective had been achieved, as the M Coupé’s structural rigidity was more than twice that of the Roaster. Of the 821 right hand drive models, 186 made their way to South Africa, all fitted with the S50 3.2-litre Evo engine, as found in the European cars. In some European markets buyers were also offered the Z3 Coupé in 2.8-litre guise and later 3.0-litre, with a four-speed automatic as an option. By June, 2000 production of the Z3M Roadster and Coupé was halted as production of E36 M3 came to an end, and it did not make economic sense to produce the S50 engine for the low volume Z3 Ms. Six months later production was restarted, this time round with the S54 engines that were performing duty in the E46 M3.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

The S54 is probably the most significant naturally aspirated in-line six cylinder engine developed by BMW. In 2001 it won the ‘International Engine of the Year’ award, as well as ‘Best New Engine’ also clinching the 3 to 4-litre category for six years in a row from 2001 through to 2006 – these awards are organised by UKi Media & Events. It was also on the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list for 2001 through to 2004. The S54 only further cemented the cult status of the M Coupé, growing the number of disciples by 1,112. Only 165 were produced in right hand drive, of which 123 were destined for the UK, while 39 made their way to South Africa, including one pre-production car.

Initially BMW SA made it public that only 35 would be available but managed to increase their sales volume by ten percent, not bad for a car costing R375,000 in 2001 – approximately £30,840 at the exchange rate in April 2001.

BMW SA knew that the M Coupé was not the biggest seller in their M line-up, so decided to make the proposition of owning one an offer M enthusiasts could not refuse. Enter JSN Motors, one of the oldest BMW dealerships in Johannesburg, and the sole importer and distributor for AC Schnitzer on the African continent. BMW SA tasked JSN to convert the standard M Coupé into a unique package, that evoked sportiness and performance – the M Coupé you see in front of you, is one of the best examples. This was not the last time JSN would be called into service by BMW SA. Having missed out on the opportunity to acquire the E92 M3 GTS for SA enthusiast, BMW SA in conjunction with JSN would once again put together an exclusive package. This came in the form of a SA special E92 M3 Frozen Edition, comprising of only 26 units, which received Schnitzer upgrades, including a remap – read all about that in the September, 2016 issue of BMW Car.

The stand out feature for me on this exclusive M Coupé Schnitzer package are the Schnitzer Type III alloy wheels, which are 30 percent lighter than the M ‘Roadstar’ wheels. In my opinion the best wheels Schnitzer has ever done. A Schnitzer rear silencer was also fitted, together with the Schnitzer tailpipes, these optimised the exhaust gas flow, improving the throttle response. In the handling department, stiffer Schnitzer springs were fitted with sports dampers from Bilstein, lowering the car by 25mm, which allowed for higher cornering speeds and more precise handling.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

Inside an aluminium Schnitzer gear-knob replaced the leather illuminated shift, linked to a short-shift kit, allowing for quicker, more precise gear changes. There is a myth that these Coupés were also fitted with the Schnitzer pedals, one that I also fell for. This is not the case, most owners retrofitted these.

Some claim that the Schnitzer Coupé was faster than the standard car, but BMW SA stuck with the script from Germany, stipulating a power output of 239kW at 7400rpm (325hp at 7400rpm) while kicking out 350Nm at 4900rpm (258lb ft at 4900rpm). And the 0-62mph time, you guessed it, 5.4-seconds a mere one second quicker than the S50 variant. To get a better perspective, I caught up with Patrick Hathorn the authority in SA on the Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer. Patrick has compiled a list of all 39 M Coupés, with each individual buildsheet, listing all specifications, including colour combinations and date of manufacture. He is in the process of launching a dedicated website on the cars, with all the information he has gathered over the years, tracking the history of each of the 39 examples. I started by asking Patrick what brought about such dedication?

“I have been obsessed with the M Coupé ever since I saw an Evergreen one spinning around on a car turntable, at the 1999 Durban Motor Show. I was twelve at the time, but ever since then I knew I had to own one. It turned into an obsession, which I could only satisfy many years later, and even when I was by the means, it took years to find the right low mileage example,” he declares. Today both Patrick and his dad own Z3M Coupé Schnitzers, Patrick’s being Titanium silver over red, a 2002 model, purchased in 2013 with just 26,000-miles on the clock at the time. His dad’s a 2002 model, Sapphire black over blue, acquired in 2018, the odometer showing 47,200-miles at the time of purchase. Both represent unique colour combinations out of the 39.

“The first M Coupé that came to South Africa was manufactured on the 15th September, 2000 it was a preproduction car, and according to the build-sheet was not designated for preservation. This car was however eventually sold to a professor at Wits University. It was quite unique, in terms of the colour, Oxford green and was the only M Coupé to be equipped with a sunroof and headlamp washers,” Patrick said.

“Out of the 39 cars only seven colours were chosen, as mentioned the Oxford green, one in Steel grey, two in Alpine white, the most popular colour being Titanium silver of which fourteen were produced, followed by Sapphire black of which nine were made. Twelve of the cars had unique exterior and interior colour combinations. The first car from the normal production-line was made on the 29th March 2001. The swansong was the one-off Steel grey, which rolled off the production-line on the 20th March 2002, and was destined for a dentist based in Johannesburg. There were also some anomalies, two cars had front loading CD players, whereas the others had a tape-deck with a six disc CD shuttle in the boot. Another idiosyncrasy that stood out for me, is that some of the aluminium Schnitzer gear-knobs had a sticker stating short-shifter while the others had it engraved,” he declares.

“In my opinion the second iteration of the Z3 M Coupé are special to begin with, due to the S54 engine, which it borrowed from the E46 M3. In terms of the upgrades, there is not a significant increase in performance, but it did change the dynamics of the car, making it a much more involved drive with a heightened sense of engagement, which includes the sound track. This is due to the Schnitzer sports suspension, which comprises of stiffer springs with Bilstein shocks, the closest comparison would be the Bilstein B12 kit. The Schnitzer short-shifter gear linkage, comprising of an aluminium bracket, allows for shorter more precise gear changes. While the wider wheels provide better handling dynamics and the Schnitzer rear silencer enabling slightly more grunt, while hitting all the high notes,” Patrick affirms to us.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

Is there a significant difference between the S50 and the S54 Coupés, we wonder? “The S50 and S54 cars are quite closely matched, on paper the difference in terms of the 100km/h sprint is 0.1-seconds. The biggest differences you notice is in the throttle response, the S54 drive-by-wire throttle is instantaneous,” Patrick points out.

How does it compare to the E46 M3 we quizz? “At the time the E46 M3 was its closest rival, but you are kidding yourself if you think that it is quicker or handles better than the M3, however the entire package of the M Coupé is just that much more special. I adore the E46 M3 but the M Coupé goes beyond just performance, it is the look, rarity and overall cache. Having said that the M Coupés are slightly detuned compared to the E46 M3, which is primarily brought about by the lower rev limiter and the five-speed as opposed to the six-speed gearbox,” Patrick affirms.

Has his M Coupé lived up to expectations? “Let me put it this way. It is the only BMW that has never left!” Patrick declares, and continues, “The interior of the M Coupé is very special, it has aged extremely well, the design is brilliant, the retro feel in today’s age is actually more authentic. I considered it more of a GT car than a Sports car. The low slung seating position quite close to the rear axle, with the long bonnet in front of you, makes you feel hunkered down. I recently had the suspension refurbished with components as close to the Schnitzer originals and fitted new rubber. It is amazing what a difference modern tyres makes, huge advances have been made in tyre technology in the last twenty years. It handles like a scalpel,” he declares.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

So, we ask, is this a keeper? “I think that the only other BMW that could surpass my M Coupé experience, is the E46 M3 CSL in manual guise… which has become a reality of late. And that is not going to happen so the M Coupé is here to stay. The M Coupé offers a unique ownership experience. It hits the sweet-spot, having the perfect balance between comfort and performance, offering the total package in terms of driving experience, looks, power and character. The further removed modern cars get from offering an involved driving experience, the more special the appeal of the M Coupé becomes. In the last ten years driving enthusiasts have found a new sense of appreciation for the M Coupé, compared to what is currently out there, it has really come into its own,” Patrick concludes.

We now turn to the owner of this M Coupé, Rick Loureiro a BMW enthusiast, collector and formidable racing driver, campaigning in the BMW Car Club Gauteng Race Series and in the G&H Extreme Supercar Series. In the BMW Club Series Rick battles it out in an E30 Coupé fitted with an E46 M3 CSL engine, dressed up in Jägermeister livery. In the Extreme Supercar Series Rick competes in a F30 335i, a car which was piloted to a championship Class A win in the Bridgestone Production Car Championship, in 2014 by Johan Fourie.

This particular BMW together with the sister car, represents the first BMW race cars in the world developed on the F30 platform. ADF Motorsport with cooperation from BMW SA built the cars within six weeks, at the beginning of 2012, for Team Afrox. Rick’s brother Paolo also competes in a F30 335i in the same Extreme Supercar Series. Whilst admiring Rick’s pristine M Coupé Schnitzer, a car with a mere 20,000 miles on the clock. It aptly won the M Class at the BMW Car Club Gauteng Concours, fittingly held in 2017 at the BMW SA M Festival.

2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8

I turn and ask where his appreciation for the blue and white roundel began. This is how he responded: “My passion for BMW started when I was knee high and my dad bought my Mom a Ruby red E30 323i Coupé, with a beige leather interior. It was an early E30 with the chrome bumper, which my father had kitted out with a Zender body kit. One of the first BMW’s I drove was my grandfather’s E30 318i, we were a BMW family, back then my dad predominantly drove BMWs. Not surprisingly my first car was a BMW E46 323 Ci, in black with the M Sport kit and tan leather interior. It was a bit of a let-down, as it did not have a limited slip diff, so I could not light up the rear tyres. I traded the Ci for an E46 M3 and that cemented just how special the M3 was,” he remarks.

So how did he latch onto the M Coupé? “The car was listed on the 25th December 2014, if you can believe it! One Christmas that could not have been more special. The sole owner was based in Constantia, in Cape Town, who had purchased it from Auto Atlantic. It was listed with a mere 18,640-miles on the clock, a true gem. I dispatched an associate to have a look at it, and within a week it arrived,” Rick proclaims. It doesn’t look a day older than new, is this the condition he found it in? “Pretty much, it had been extremely well cared for, and all I did to complete it, was to source the Schnitzer pedals and handbrake lever from Wheel Nutz, who carried old new stock of these sort after Schnitzer bits,” he states.

“These M Coupés were more expensive than an E46 M3, and less powerful, also less practical and not the most comfortable. But they have become extremely sort after and rare, especially the Schnitzer variant made exclusively for South Africa, so this is definitely a keeper,” he emphatically declares.

Time to get better acquainted with the car you see in front of you. There is no doubt that the M Coupé looks like a caricature and for me that takes the form of a pint-size shooting brake, adorned with quad tail-pipes, a tradition that would be continued by all M cars that followed. The aggression is clear, with a deep front airdam and exaggerated haunches at the rear. And yet it conjures up images of the 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupé and the ornate gills on the flanks scream 507. The black hue on this Coupé is so deep that you can dive into it. Stepping inside calls for some dexterity as this car is rather low. Once inside you are transported back in time, this cockpit definitely has some elements of the E30, with modern BMWs I tend to feel out of place, in here I feel right at home… tells you something of my age.

I definitely do not have the biggest stature but even I fit in with a pinch. In here you still need to turn a key, resulting in a subtle yet distinctive drone from the extraordinary inline six. Slotting into first you can immediately tell that this is not the normal M.O. The clutch is quite light and there is a fair amount of travel, squeeze the accelerator and the quad pipes start singing. The sound is like a mechanical snarl which immediately conjures up memories of the glorious time behind the wheel of a M3 CSL. The ease with which the M Coupé picks up speed is criminal, the free-revving engine just spurs you on to push even harder. Snapping gear chances is a cinch, this short-shifter is worth its weight in gold. It enhances the overall driving dynamic, making the M Coupé more responsive and engaging. The larger Schnitzer wheels and 18-inch Bridgestone tyres provide for a wider track, which is 25mm lower than the standard car allowing for greater confidence when cornering, needing less braking and harder acceleration through the bends… the DSC III also helps. The M3 brakes do an adequate job of reining in the horses, but with this amount of power bigger stoppers wouldn’t hurt. For a 20-year-old car it holds up extremely well at anything you throw at it, and feels so solid, the build quality, fit and finish in my opinion is top draw… that might, again, have something to do with my age though?

Downsides? The cabin is cramped and I can imagine that it could be a strain over long distances. I do however think that the seats are superb and do a great job of holding you in place, through the tighter arch of a bend. I think I would have preferred the steering from the M3 though.

By today’s standards the M Coupé is not considered that quick, but it will bite you if you don’t give it your undivided attention at full throttle. Walking away from the M Coupé I immediately realise just how special it is and that BMW will likely never make an odd ball car of its type ever again. And certainly not one powered by a snarling petrol engine. It’s easy to see why these cars have now gained a cult modern classic status.

“The M Coupé offers a unique ownership experience. It hits the sweet spot”
  • 2002 BMW Z3 M Coupé Schnitzer E36/8
  • YEARS PRODUCED: 2001 — 2002
  • ENGINE: Inline six-cylinder, DOHC, 24-valve
  • CAPACITY: 3246cc
  • MAX POWER: 239kW (325bhp) @ 7400 rpm
  • MAX TORQUE: 350Nm (258lb) @ 4900 rpm
  • BRAKES: FRONT: Vented discs, 315x28mm
  • REAR: Vented discs, 312x20mm
  • SUSPENSION: FRONT: MacPherson struts
  • REAR: Semi-trailing arms
  • SCHNITZER: Springs, lowering the height by 25mm, with Bilstein Sports dampers
  • STEERING: Rack and pinion, power-assisted
  • TRANSMISSION: ZF 5-Speed manual, limitedslip diff
  • SCHNITZER: Short-shift kit
  • WHEELS: FRONT: Schnitzer type III 7.5x18-inch
  • REAR: Schnitzer type III 9x18-inch
  • TYRES: FRONT: 225/40 ZR18
  • REAR: 245/35 ZR18
  • EXHAUST: Schnitzer rear silencer
  • INTERIOR: Fully specced, leather seating and six-disc CD shuttle, a sunroof was not an option, an aluminium Schnitzer gear-lever was included
  • PERFORMANCE: 5.4-secs (0-62mph)
  • TOP SPEED: 155mph
  • PRICE: R375,000, approximately £30,840 in 2001
“The free-revving engine just spurs you on to push even harder”
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