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Home Pick of the Day Pick of the Day: 1996 BMW Z3, classic roadster motoring at a...

Pick of the Day: 1996 BMW Z3, classic roadster motoring at a reasonable price

The sports car is superior to the ubiquitous Miata, yet the pricing is comparable

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(Editors note: This being the traditional deadline week for filing federal income taxes — yes, we realize that deadline has been extended this year because of the pandemic — were focusing the Pick of the Day selections to vehicles being advertised for sale for four figures. The thought is that you might be getting enough of a refund to buy one of these cars, or after paying Uncle Sam, you might have enough left over to consider one of our suggestions.)

My challenge was finding the best modern roadster available for less than $10,000 that is not a Mazda Miata.  What I came up with as Pick of the Day is a 1996 BMW Z3, which is in fact a better sports car than the Miata.

The Z3 was the first BMW roadster since the 507 of the 1950s. The Z3 has a wonderful classic look, incorporating many BMW stylistic elements from the past but thoroughly modern mechanically.

This Z3 advertised by a Concord, North Carolina, dealer on ClassicCars.com has covered 101,353 miles from new, and its original Arctic Silver paint with black leather interior look to be in exceptional condition, and with no signs of rust underneath. The car still has its stock BMW cassette-deck audio system, and it comes with the owner’s manual and extensive maintenance records, the seller says.

Miata owners are probably upset at my calling the Z3 a better roadster. But having driven countless first-generation Miatas and having owned a 1996 Z3, I can knowledgeably say that the BMW is a better car, with more power, a more-capable chassis and a cockpit that is certainly more luxurious than any first-generation Miata.

BMW

Not that there is anything wrong with a Miata, but the BMW is a more upscale car, which is not surprising since the Z3 cost a lot more when new. But the fact is that today, first-generation Miatas and Z3s cost around the same amount of money, which presents an opportunity for the BMW buyer.

As for maintenance costs, these early 1.9-liter 4-cylinder Z3s are fairly bulletproof with no serious mechanical issues that are typical, so that ownership is not usually expensive. 

BMW

The Z3 really is a perfect retro-modern roadster that is both fun to drive and nice to look at. They are among the last BMWs that you can easily service yourself, and they offer an excellent value for a European roadster.

The asking price of $9,995 and is reasonable for one of these fun and engaging cars.

To view this vehicle on ClassicCars.com, see Pick of the Day.

Hagerty
Andy Reid
Andy Reid's first car, purchased at age 15, was a 1968 Fiat 124 coupe. His second, obtained by spending his college savings fund, was a 1966 Ferrari 330 GT 2+2. Since then, he has owned more than 150 cars—none of them normal or reasonable—as well as numerous classic motorcycles and scooters. A veteran of film, television, advertising and helping to launch a few Internet-based companies, Reid was a columnist for Classic Motorsports magazine for 12 years and has written for several other publications. He is considered an expert in European sports and luxury cars and is a respected concours judge. He lives in Canton, Connecticut.

9 COMMENTS

  1. The Miata won’t cost thousands of dollars to maintain like the BMW will. The BMW at 100,000 miles is worn out.

  2. Having owned one of these myself I beg to differ. The BMW Z3 is an extremely well built car and has proven to be one of the most reliable cars that BMW has ever built. They are also quite simple cars with many service procedures easily doable by an owner with some basic mechanical knowledge and a decent set of tools. Parts will cost a bit more but the only failure I ever had in my z3 in the 10 years I owned it was a clutch master cylinder which was simple to change and cost $130 dollars in parts.

  3. After owning a few Maita’s, and they are fun, but the Z3 drives so muck better, I’ve owned mine for about three years now, a few oil changes, tire rotations and a lot of good times later I still love it, the key with any used car is to find one that has been taken care of and not driven hard and put away wet. Nice bit Andy and I agree totally, this one looks like a deal.

  4. Modern BMW’s cost a small fortune just to maintain properly. Perhaps one from the 90’s isn’t as complex and needy? With that said I have to admit I always did like the Z3, and this price is tempting.

    • That is not my experience with BMW vehicles. I have owned probably somewhere around 20 cars and motorcycles from BMW including a E34 M5, a pair of X3s, a Z3, Z4, 625CSI, and others and have not had any service issues with any of them that were not down to normal wear items. I realize that is just my experience but there it is. I feel that people who think that BMW vehicles are so expensive to service have really not had a lot of time with them. My last X3 we ran to 170k miles with no issues. The E34 M5 I bought with 75k and ran it to 170k with just standard service needs. The Z3 needed nothing other than oil changes and a brake master when it was 19 years old. My Z4 has needed nothing but oil changes and a valve cover gasket that I was able to do myself with hand tools in my garage.
      Our 06 Toyota RAV 4 needed its VVT rebuilt at 94k miles and cost $1700 to do it. Not inexpensive by any means. So when you say that BMW cars cost a fortune to run what is your comparison point.

  5. As a current owner of a 2002 BMW Z3 2.5i and as someone whose first car was a 1992 Mazda Miata I would like to make some pros and cons about owning a 1.9L I4 Z3 vs owning a NA or NB Miata:

    Pros:
    1. The Z3 is a beautiful car hands down. It has a much more provocative, seductive yet mature character in it’s shape compared to the simple, inoffensive and more friendly shape of the Miatas. This is a car meant to turn heads and get compliments.
    2. The Badge. Theirs no getting around it, but just saying that you own a BMW just projects status for good (or for bad). Saying you own a Mazda, well uh, ok, not so much unfortunately.
    3. Comfort, not the luxurious kind but the kind that makes living and DD it for extended period of time is much better compared to that of the Miatas. The Z3 has the same seating position and ergonomics as a miata but with the added benefit of using much more upscale refined materials and having a few more creature comforts that were not standard on Miatas of that time, such as power locks, mirrors, seats and a top. The car feels more put together and interiors rattles and shakes care hardly a issue. The ride is soft and bumps are kept to a minimum compared to the much more spartan miata. All this have its drawbacks though and I will get to that right now.

    CONS:
    1. Z3s unfortunately are not the most lightweight of roadsters, which can be chalked up due to their use of those numerous standard electronic gimmicks and premium materials. This weight taxes the I4, and bogs down acceleration, especially if an automatic is in the picture.
    2. The engine. I’m gonna say it right now, and I may hurt feelings, but I have to save people from the trouble–don’t get the 1.9. There is the 2.3/2.5, 2.8, and 3.0 I6s to choose from. This is the biggest trump card the Z3 has over any miata and the sole reason why many people especially me choose a Z3. The I4 is underpowered for this car, and has around has the same gas mileage and demand for maintenance as the I6s. BMW is known for their silky smooth I6s, so get a Z3 with one. End of story.
    3. The Z3 is not as sharp of a car compared to a miata. Despite the sharp steering feedback the cars suspension is on the soft side, and the fact it uses a rear trailing arm gives way to a numbness when cornering; the rear wheels just feel so disconnected from the road especially when driven hard. This is a car meant for cruising by the beach, it’s no track weapon, if you want one get an M.
    4. Parts. They are stupid expensive. Expect to replace little bits of pieces here and there, especially with a vehicle this old. One of my rear bumper reflectors broke and when looking for a replacement the prices were F-U levels of money, I’m taking about $300-$400 for a reflective strip of plastic that doesn’t even light up. This is unacceptable and an insult to anybody’s financial well being. And these cars rarely turn up in junkyards. So get comfortable with DIY. Sensors are not so bad but there are so many of them and they love going out that they turn your dash into a Christmas tree with the amount of signals they blink at you. This is what you get when you go with any (B)ig(M)oney(W)aster. (Won’t have that problem with a miata that’s for sure)

    As for this car $9.9k along with tax and license is a joke. NA and NB Miatas are going up in price through unfortunately so I expect a lot of folks moving torward and discovering the Z3 as their next cheap roadster fix. I hope my comment can educate you guys and give you guys an idea of what to expect, thanks.

    • Jesse this is a great post. I agree with all of the above. I have found that parts can be had cheaper at places such as FCP Euro and at Turner Motorsports.

      I love the cars with the I6 and only opted for my 1.9 due to wanting the 007 edition. BMW made their mark with their inline 6 engines which have to be some of the finest in the world. My current 05 Z4 has the M54 and it is fantastic. the Z3 cars I have driven with the 6 are the same. The miata 4 cylinder does not even come close to how good the BMW 6 cylinder is and I know you can add turbos and superchargers to them and make them faster but the BMW Z6 with an inline 6 stock will embarrass any stock Miata of the same period and offer an exhaust note that the Miata will never have.

      These cars are definitely comers and offer more for the money than any other roadster I can think of. They offer performance levels higher than a Jaguar E-Type in a more modern and reliable package that still has classic styling. The driving experience is such an interesting mix of classic and modern that I would not even consider getting a classic Healey, TR6 or any other roadster over a Z3 with a six.

      Thank you for reading and for the excellent comments. We only have so words we use for the Picks of The Day and your comments add to the story.

      Andy

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