BMW Z3 Roadster | Shed of the Week

Yes, it's the 1.9-litre slusher. Redeemed at shed money? Or beyond forgiveness?

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, March 11, 2022 / Loading comments

With the onset of spring, the idea of a sporty two-seater traditionally gains traction in the collective consciousness. Whether you’d ever put the word ‘sporty’ in the same paragraph, let alone the same sentence, as the phrase ‘BMW Z3 1.9-litre automatic’ is a moot point however.

Despite what the ad says (1997) this week’s shed is a 1998 example of the Joji Nagashima-designed (under Chris Bangle tutelage) Z3 roadster. According to the internet, a year after our car was registered BMW put out a prototype Z3 roadster with an M73 5.4-litre motor under the bonnet. It had 322hp, 361lb ft, a six-speed manual gearbox and a 0-62 time of 5.5sec. Now that would have been something. Inexplicably, they opted not to produce it.

Instead they droned on with the 138hp 1.9, an impressively relaxed thing which in 5-speed manual form ambled through the 0-62mph run in 9.5sec, assuming you could bring yourself to hold on to the gears until max power was attained at 6,000rpm. In reality those revs were rarely reached by anyone with functioning ears. You couldn’t rely on torque to get you down the road either: you had just 133lb ft of that at an uncomfortable 4,300rpm.

As you might guess, bolting a four-speed torque converter to it, as here, didn’t improve matters. That trans added 140kg to the plot and a full second to the manual’s 0-62 time, resulting in not very jolly performance: 0-62 in 10.5sec, a doleful top end of 122mph and combined fuel consumption of 32mpg, drooping to 22mpg in town.

If you found yourself at the top of a glacier and needed to get to the bottom quickly, and you had the choice of a 1.9 auto Z3 or your legs, you were probably better off standing still at the top and waiting for global warming to get you to your destination. Even the BMW Basics 114hp 1.8-litre Z3 was quicker than the 1.9 auto to the tune of one tenth off the 0-62, so still not exactly rapid.

So, what is the appeal of the Z3 then? Well, a lot of folk quite like the looks of these, and this particular example has only done 53,000 miles. Scanning the MOT history you might think that’s not quite right as it had already done nearly 86,000 miles by last June, but if we dig back far enough (2017) we note that the readings at that point were in kilometres. So the 56,000 miles that’s stated now may well be correct.

Successive owners will undoubtedly have tried to put more miles on it but would have been prevented from doing so by the lack of speed and the need to do other stuff, like eat. Last June’s MOT tester was clearly lulled into a sense of stupor by it as they couldn’t be bothered to write a single advisory note on the chit. Which is good as rot is usually the problem on these, in the sills, boot floor and arches. The hood looks OK too, which will save the next owner quite a few bob, although fixing the split seat might be cheaper than replacing it.

The question of course is why has it got a km speedo, if it does. Shed can’t really tell from this distance. No doubt some bright spark on the forum will have a thought on that. Might it be connected to the wooden dash, which (as far as Shed remembers) wasn’t available on UK Z3s? Does anybody remember otherwise? Is it some sort of Euro spec thing and we’re looking at a UK import here, or has someone just glued on one of those veneer kits?

A few mysteries to be solved then. The front of a Z3 looks a bit like Hercule Poirot so you could use that as inspiration. If you’re a Z3 auto kinda guy, or gal, you’re probably not going to be in much of a hurry to work it out. Does any of it matter anyway when other Z3s are commonly advertised for three or even four times that amount? The last time we did one of these, back in October 2020, Shed noted that three grand seemed to be the ballpark figure for sub-100,000 milers. This one is £1,500.

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