NickD
NickD UberDork
5/8/18 10:50 a.m.

So, with my supercharged Miata not ready for showtime, I decided to co-drive for the first autocross. Event was held at the Oswego County Police EVOC training site at the Oswego County Airport.

Pre-run video of the course from the course designer's S2000

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Ffacebook%2Fvideos%2F10155614152080875%2F&width=500&show_text=false&height=281

The car I was driving was Mark Mangicaro's B/Street Z3 M Roadster. I'm not sure of the year but it's the later version with the S54 engine from the E46 M3. It is completely bone stock except for a set of stock-sized RE71Rs on stock wheels, and it only has 28,400 miles on the odometer.

 

Styling: I think that the Z3 is a handsome enough design, probably one of BMW's last non-controversially styled cars, along with the E46. And it has aged well. But I can't help wish that the M had a little more pizzazz to differentiate it from other Z3s. Also, personally, I would pick a different color other than Titansilber Metallic, which makes it blend in even more. I'll give styling a solid 8/10.

Interior: For whatever reason, I'm not a huge fan of the interior on these. It just doesn't seem to jive well with the rest of the car. The chrome-ringed analog gauges in the center console seem like they'd be more at home in a quaint little British roadster than a high-tech German bruiser. The controls for the top are in a strangely located position. And as with all BMWs of this era, the shift knob retaining mechanism was gacked up, so it popped off when you ripped 2nd gear. But the ergonomics seemed solid (other than the top controls), the seats were comfortable and supportive, I could fit my 6'3" frame in it with a helmet on and fit, and the materials seemed to be good quality. So, I'll call it 7/10.

Engine: This engine.... Holy E36 M3. I've heard people talk about how great the S54, with it's dual VANOS and 6 throttle bodies, is but to experience it is a different matter. While I don't much care for the exhaust note, and it's by all accounts (even the owner's) a demanding mistress to keep happy, the power and torque and delivery of both is amazing. Great engine for autocross use. It'll dig it's way out of a corner at low RPM and then scream all the way to redline (I know because I was hitting redline at 2 separate points on the course). And even as it approached rev limit, it was perfectly smooth and felt like it'd rev another 1000rpm more.  9.5/10.

Driveline: A great transmission, coupled by a weird clutch. I nearly stalled it once trying to get moving, because it felt like it took up twice. You'd start letting the clutch up and it would feel like it was grabbing, then there was a bunch of travel and it would fully engage. Not sure if that's normal to all of them, or an idiosyncrasy of the this particular car. But once moving, the shifter had solid engagement and short travel. And for this particular course, it had perfect gearing, just grazing rev limiter at 2 separate parts of the course, which I'm told is 70+mph speeds. 8/10

Chassis/Brakes: I've heard that the combination of the Z3's short wheelbase, funky E30 rear suspension and big honking motor makes them a snap oversteer widowmaker. I didn't find that to be the case, but maybe that had something to do with the gooey RE71R tires and Mark's fastidious attention to tire temps and pressures. Tons of grip, although maybe a little more body roll than I was expecting and the steering seemed a little slower than I would want. Everything felt a little muted compared to my Miata, but I could still tell what was going on and what the car wanted me to do and it didn't seem to get upset over the rougher parts of the course. ABS was a nice plus, because you could haul freight into a corner and then bend the brake pedal in half without locking up the tires, and it never seemed overly intrusive. Not sure if it's running upgraded pads, but if it isn't, it doesn't seem to need them for this usage. My biggest issue was telling where the edges of the car were, because this thing has child-bearing hips, but that's more a me issue. 9/10

 

As for the race results, I was slower than Mark on the 3 morning runs. Part of that was due to me learning the car, the other was partially due to me goofing up the optional-direction offset slalom at 1:02 in the video. The gates set you up on the right side of the first and last cones of the slalom, making it feel natural to start on that side, but then you were fighting the offset. Going to the left felt unnatural on the first cone but straightened the slalom out drastically and picked up a bunch of speed. At the end of the morning, I was sitting on a 72.285s clean, while Mark had a 68.137 + 1 cone. Regrouping for the afternoon, I immediately blasted 2 consecutive clean 70.6xxs, and then on my third run ripped off a 68.500. At this point Mark was still stuck in the 70s and 71s due to picking up cones left and right. I was sitting in the car ready to roll for my fourth afternoon run when I witnessed the gnarliest autocross accident I've ever seen. This shut down the event while we recovered the car, cleaned the surface and filled out accident reports, also resulting in us getting cut from 5 runs to 4. I then forgot to turn off traction control, plus the tires had cooled, and I slowed to a 70.265 and punted a cone. Mark hopped in for his last run and clicked off his only clean run of the day and beat me by 0.098 seconds with a 68.402. This was good enough to get us 6th and 7th, respectively, out of 17 in the Street class, and 15th and 16th overall. Class Results. PAX Results.

Final verdict: While I'm still not sure I would ever own one, due to it's complicated and pricey nature, I'm still glad to have had the chance to drive this monster. Definitely a car that will hold a special place in my heart. And probably gave me my best overall finish of the season (yay, SSM PAX).

Aspen
Aspen Reader
5/8/18 2:12 p.m.

Nice review, I have a longing for one of these.  I like the styling and that motor.  I'LL take mine in blue.

Was it faster than the stock Miatas?

 

What maintenance issues can I expect?

 

NickD
NickD UberDork
5/8/18 2:31 p.m.

In reply to Aspen :

We were 4 seconds faster than the only E/Street Miata and less than half a second slower than the only C/Street Prepared Miata (obviously not National level). I guess the big issues the owner has had are mostly just that there are a lot of sensors that get unhappy now that they are 15 years old. And with the car seemingly built around the engine, it looks like its not fun to work on. There is also the typical rear subframe mount tearing. As stated, this car has less than 29,000 miles on it and is not on the street (he trailers it to all events), so it hasn't had any major issues yet. Last year he did have the sway bar bushings disintegrate and fall out at an event as well, and they'd been replaced once before.

Driven5
Driven5 SuperDork
5/8/18 2:32 p.m.

Sounds like a blast to drive. I have a general aversion to expensive high-maintenance engines though, so while a bit slower and less 'desirable', I always figured if I ever got one I'd be better off with the S52 engine version.

NickD
NickD UberDork
5/8/18 2:47 p.m.
Driven5 said:

Sounds like a blast to drive. I have a general aversion to expensive high-maintenance engines though, so while a bit slower, I always figured if I ever got one I'd be better off with the S52 engine version.

Just don't drive an S54 version first, or you might reconsider your train of logic.

This car was like a glimpse at an alternate future where last season I did actually sell me Miata (I thought about it) and developed a Street-class car.

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
5/8/18 3:05 p.m.
Driven5 said:

Sounds like a blast to drive. I have a general aversion to expensive high-maintenance engines though, so while a bit slower, I always figured if I ever got one I'd be better off with the S52 engine version.

I'm with you.  The S52 is less maintenance intensive, sounds better and will move the Z3-M just fine.   It won't be as fast, or as collectible as the S54 variant, but it also has a cheaper buy-in.   Besides, if I had two S52 M-powered cars.....think of all the hassle I'd save by using common oil filters / wheels and tires / brake pads / etc.   It's really a wise economical choice........ at least that's what I keep convincing myself!   

Pete Gossett
Pete Gossett GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/8/18 3:15 p.m.

In reply to NickD :

As a former safety steward I have to ask - what was the accident?

NickD
NickD UberDork
5/8/18 3:28 p.m.

In reply to Pete Gossett :

A FWD car in SMF spun out at the section of the course at 0:21 at a pretty good clip. This resulted in him going backwards towards the fence that's visible off towards the left. Between the edge of the pavement and the fence is a pretty deep and wide ditch. The car ended up with the driver's front corner buried in the ditch and the passenger's rear corner off the ground on the fence, with the other two wheels dangling in space. It tweaked the body enough to pop the targa roof panel off and visible manged the LF and RR suspension (it had something like +30 degrees of camber). The driver was okay, as was his co-driver but the car was pretty trashed.

Funny thing was, the safety stewards had been expressing concerns about other areas of the course to me (not sure why, I didn't design the course, I'm just tech and grid chiefs) but found this area fine. Just goes to show that nowhere is ever truly safe.

wspohn
wspohn Dork
5/8/18 3:34 p.m.

My vote for the S5 engine, which I have in my Z4M.  You might not find a huge difference between it and the S52 for street driving, but I can't imagine anyone that really gives their car a bit of stick once inawhile preferring to give up 90 bhp and 2,000 rpm voluntarily. 

CyberEric
CyberEric HalfDork
5/8/18 8:31 p.m.

Thanks for sharing!

As a former M3 owner (with the S52), I always liked the idea of the S54 in the M roadster/Coupe, but I found that chassis to be too spooky the one time I drove one (a M Coupe with the S52), but that was well before RE71Rs. It felt like way too snappy oversteery to me. Glad some good tires made it fun. 

The clutches on some BMWs of that era have a pressure control valve that a lot of people remove because of the way it makes the clutch take-up feel strange. I removed it on my E36 and it felt better. 

Sorry to hear about the crash. Surprised given the layout!

mad_machine
mad_machine GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/8/18 9:00 p.m.

the Z3 is one of my favourite cars.. it's a shame that even the 1.9 litre versions are stupid expensive around here

LanEvo
LanEvo HalfDork
5/8/18 9:20 p.m.

Buddy of mine has an S54-powered roadster in the very rare Laguna Seca Blue. I love the styling, but handling is definitely on the sketchy side. I'm sure they can be improved with careful suspension setup; I've heard TC Kline makes a good suspension for them.

Interior quality is really quite shabby though. That wa sa pretty sad era for BMW interiors in general, but the Z3 and 318ti really suffered. And the multi-colored seat inserts really look dated and silly to my eyes. Like a '90s tuner car.

Ian F
Ian F MegaDork
5/8/18 9:41 p.m.

Definitely neat cars. The area MINI tuner has a Coupe in a pretty rare color:

Sorry to hear about the wreck, but at least the occupants were OK.  

NickD
NickD UberDork
5/9/18 7:04 a.m.
LanEvo said:

Buddy of mine has an S54-powered roadster in the very rare Laguna Seca Blue. I love the styling, but handling is definitely on the sketchy side. I'm sure they can be improved with careful suspension setup; I've heard TC Kline makes a good suspension for them.

Interior quality is really quite shabby though. That wa sa pretty sad era for BMW interiors in general, but the Z3 and 318ti really suffered. And the multi-colored seat inserts really look dated and silly to my eyes. Like a '90s tuner car.

I didn't find the chassis that spooky or prone to oversteer, but perhaps the steamroller RE71R tires were reining that in. And yeah, I think the seats looked really cheesy with the black and gray leather. Comfortable and fairly supportive, just not great-looking. And while you have '90s tuner seats, you have '60s-style gauges. It's like BMW wasn't sure which direction to go with the interior

NickD
NickD UberDork
5/9/18 9:43 a.m.

And, yes, it was definitely a very bizarre accident. I was kind of surprised that even after a 180 degree loop and the driver hitting the brakes, he still had enough velocity to continue off the edge of the pavement, across the grass, down into the ditch and then up out of the ditch and onto the fence. Like I said, the safety stewards had a few misgivings about the course, but that spot was perfectly fine with them and we've run very similar lines there in the past, so it goes to show that there can be an accident ANYWHERE.

Their two big concerns with the course were actually the lefthand sweeper at 0:54 (rightfully so) and the finish line (not as rightfully so). The first left hand sweeper people were absolutely hauling into, as the offsets leading into it weren't particularly drastic. We were burying the tachometer in 2nd gear coming into it in the BMW. You were also aimed right back at the start line and there was about 50-75 feet of grass and pavement between you and the start. So, if a brake malfunction occurred or you locked up the tires, you could have very easily run into a car at the starting line. But nobody even came close to that, or even spun out on the turn.

The finish line they were also worried about, because it was pretty much a straight shot there, and once again, we were doing 70+ in the Z3 M. But, the pavement has a ton of undulations through there, and at previous events they tried using some offsets to slow down people through the finish lines, and it resulted in stiffer sprung cars getting really upset and bouncing around and spinning off the course and nearly hitting the lights. Plus, once through the finish there was about 700 feet of straight runoff with a massive tire stack in front of a concrete wall, providing plenty of time to rein in the car. 

Duke
Duke MegaDork
5/9/18 10:08 a.m.

The weird clutch takeup sounds like the infamous BMW clutch delay valve in action.  You can remove it or drill it out fairly easily.  But on my lower-powered 325i I never bothered, because it was not terribly intrusive.

classicJackets (FS)
classicJackets (FS) Dork
8/12/21 5:52 p.m.

Zombie bump - how do we feel about S52 Z3m's? Seems like kind of a mixed bag in this thread.. wife loves Z3s, and some of the M's cross over with pricing from the 3.0i or pristine 2.8s. Love the looks of the M especially but have never driven one, and what we see listed is all over the country..

Edit: use case would be summer cruiser, and possible AutoX if I can convince her she'd enjoy it.

dps214
dps214 Dork
8/12/21 6:25 p.m.

Add a supercharger and they're great.

Honestly I think in stock form they would kind of suck to autocross. Mine with a supercharger was really fun when you could use the throttle to turn the car, but in any super slow corners where the supercharger wasn't really doing anything it got pushy in a hurry. That was with >3* of front camber, coilovers, stock swaybars, and falken 615k+ tires. The rear could have used more stiffness which probably would have helped low speed cornering but the awful rear geometry makes that difficult to achieve easily. With that power level it was still pretty controllable and predictable and very fun on throttle, but the rear end would definitely try to kill you if you didn't know what you were doing and slapped the throttle down at the right (wrong) moment. It almost got me once early on in my ownership but I never had any issues past that. Over the course of I think 4-5 autocrosses I never spun it and only once got the "oh this is about to spin" feeling from it, but managed to keep it together.

It was a decent enough cruiser, but I liked my 986 boxster at least as much for that, even if it had less straight line speed, broken a/c, and a much worse interior. Part of that was probably that the only way I fit in the M was with a low mounted aftermarket seat which wasn't super comfortable on longer trips. That and the cruise control didn't work.

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