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  • Buying Guide

    The M Coupe

    also known as z3m coupe

    The Z3M coupe is one of the most interesting cars to be made by BMW for some time. At the time it was made it was the fastest accelerating car BMW produced. In my opinion it is one of the most exciting cars to drive BMW have made.

    There were 3 models of Z3M coupe made for the UK market.

    1. to 04/99 S50 pre Face lift
    2. 04/99 to 2001 S50 post face lift
    3. 2001-2002 S54 face lift

    the face lift on the ///M's (unlike the Z3 non ///M roadsters) did not involve body panel changes and so is more subtle but includes:
    - chrome ringed headlights
    - chrome finned front grill
    - central locking petrol cap
    - some colour changes (incl artic to titanium silver)

    The main distinguishing feature is the engine used. The S50 engined car (321 bhp) was made between 1998 and 2001 and used the engine from the E36 M3, the later S54 engined car (325bhp) was made between 2001 and 2002 and used the engine from the E46 M3. The main differences are the engine and drive by wire throttle, the addition of the DSC system and shadow chrome wheels. Interior changes are limited but include grey dials on the S54. For a more complete listing of the differences see this thread:

    Note that now due to the road tax changes ALL S54 cars are in the emissions based tax bracket. Most S50 cars are not but some very late cars can be.


    The S50 originally retailed for RRP £40.595 otr. This was reduced at some point in the models life to circa £36k prompting some unusual fluctuation in used prices at the time.

    Options on these cars were limited. The options were:

    cruise control £275.
    business cd £175.
    sunroof £390.
    tinted screen £70.
    harmon kardon Hi Fi system £585.
    headlamp wash £225.
    metallic paint £360.
    hi fi system £425.
    side airbags £275.
    tracker £269.
    6 cd changer £495.

    There were also some ACS (AC Schnitzer) parts made for the Z3M that could be ordered and fitted by BMW. These include:
    Front flippers
    Pedal set
    Gear knob
    Rear diffuser
    Rear spoiler


    The most popular and therefore most common colours were blue, black and silver. Examples of these can be found the the gallery on this site:

    Cosmos Black
    Arctic Silver (or titan silver post facelift)
    Estoril blue
    Dakar yellow
    Oxford green
    Imola red

    Sapphire black
    Titan silver
    Estoril blue
    Phoenix Yellow
    Laguna Seca Blue
    Imola red
    Steel grey
    Oxford green


    Service intervals on the S50 are roughly every 7000 miles, on the S54 every 11,000 miles. As with all BMW engines of this sort the running in service must be carried out at 1200 miles. If this hasn't been done then it could indicate engine wear. BMW would not honor warranties if this had not been done. There are 3 types of service. An Inspection 1, Inspection 2 and oil service.

    Inspection 1 and 2 are expensive with the more major being the 2. The valve clearances are manually adjusted by using shims and this is labor intensive hence expensive. This is sometimes not done at services as they don't often need adjusting and so garages can save a lot of time, however they should be checked. If the clearances are out you can hear this by a slight ticking sound especially at low revs at a constant throttle and speed. Its not a major issue but takes time to adjust.

    The service order should go inspection 1, oil serivce, inspection 2, oil service , inspection 1 etc

    If the car is due an inspection service soon then price this in as main dealers can charge £700 - £1200 for this. Independents typically charge £400 - £600 but this is just a rough guide prices vary a lot.

    What to look for

    This has been separated into major faults that will cost a fair bit of money to sort (so price this in or walk away) and minor ones that shouldn't stop you buying the car. Remember these cars are 10 years old now and most will have minor faults.

    These cars are pretty solid being based mainly on mainstream BMW parts and in general most owners find them to be very reliable. The below list is all the faults I can think of I have come across and is meant as a check list not to scare people off the cars. Also please remember you are looking at a 10 year old car. Major problems are very rare but its best to be aware of them so you don't buy a car with a major fault already there. If the car has no major faults as listed below then chances are its not going to be a bad purchase.

    Major faults

    1. Boot floor problem. The boot floor can rip in the area where the diff is attached. See this thread for info:

    2. Both engines can suffer vanos failure. It is quite rare for an S54 however. Symptoms are a 'tractor' like sound and lack of power. It costs about £2k for a new unit however they can now be replaced by Dr vanos for much less than this.

    3. S54 bearing shell failure. These cars shared the same engines as the early E46 M3 and have the inferior bearings installed. They can fail but the lower rev limit in the coupe compared to the M3 means this is much less common. They can also fail on the S50. They can be swapped out for about £600 to prevent this or you can risk it. Its not very common but can mean a new engine is needed.

    4. Sloppy gear lever. The relocating spring that pushed the gear lever back to the middle can give up resulting in the lever resting over towards 5th. This is very hard to replace and can be very expensive.

    5. Rear suspension top mounts. These seem to fail every 50,000-60,000 miles. Characterized by a knocking sound from the rear when going over speed bumps etc.A common replacement is for rogue ones to be fitted. These also have added benefits for removing the rear suspension quickly.

    6. Seized calipers. Due to the design the calipers can stick if the car is not used regularly. Make sure they are working correctly.

    If items 1-6 are all ok and there are no unusual noises from the engine/gearbox and suspension on the test drive then hopefully you have limited the potential for a big bill soon after purchase.

    Minor faults

    1. S50 throttle cable stretching. Can be the cause of the S50 engine not putting out the quoted power. If this has happened full throttle is not achieved and power can be down as low as 270 bhp due to this. A new cable or adjustment will fix this. Not a massive expense but a good thing to be aware of and more and more cars are being affected by this as time passes on.

    2. 6 CD changer stops working. If the car has one make sure it works. They can't be supplied now by BMW so you need to either get a second hand one or swap the system out for an I-pod style solution.

    3. Rear boot cover gets tatty on edges. Happens on most cars nothing to worry about.

    4. Paintwork where the bonnet meets the bumper just in front of the front wheels can rub and wear away the paint. Open the bonnet and look for this. Again nothing to worry about but nice to know and apply some touch up paint.

    5. Main light switch. This rotates to dim the interior dash lights etc. The electrics can break which is annoying. Its a fiddly fix so best to check this works.

    6. Sticking windows. My car had this. There are two solutions to this. 1. re-align the triangle non moving part of the window, 2. replace or grease the mechanism and rubbers the window slides in. This may need to be repeated every few years.

    7. Rocking seats. The seat bushes can become worn resulting in a rocking effect under hard braking or acceleration. These can be replaced relatively cheaply so not a huge problem but something most suffer from so look out for it.

    8. First gear and reverse can be difficult to engage when the car is hot due to a clutch hose expanding, this is also easily cured with a uprated stainless hose, available from several suppliers including Earls who advertise on ebay. See here for details:

    9. The rear window surround goes milky or looks like the window is peeling away from its original sealer. They need to be completely removed and replaced

    10. Faded M badges on S50 models. The new curved style badge on the S54 doesn't seem to suffer from this as badly as the S50 badges. Purely a cosmetic consideration and will be faded on all S50s unless they have been replaced at some point.

    11. Rear wiper not working or only working intermittently. This is usually caused by frayed wires where they cross from the car to the boot through a rubber sleeve.

    12. Mirror bases can corrode and would need to be removed and repainted

    13. Sills can suffer from slight rust to either ends around wheel arches

    14. stiff throttle cable on S50 models can limit overall power, easily fixed with new cable.

    15. rear wash wipe can leak under acceleration and requires an inexpensive one way valve to be fitted

    16. Water leaks due to blocked drainage holes

    All of these problems are covered with suggested fixes in the main forum


    These can be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view and what you want to use the car for. My advise is if you want a modified car buy one already modified. If you are intending to use the car on track you need as a minimum the ACS road kit or equivalent and to change the brake pads.

    Many owners buy a standard car then end up going down the same mods route. Modifications in general don't tend to add value to the car and a standard car in general is much easier to sell.


    Springs / shocks

    The rear of the Z3M coupe is very soft and often owners want a more focused car. A range of products are available. Most common are KWV3 or KW clubsports and H&R coilover suspension kits. The KW need to be set up as they are fully adjustable. The H&R are pre-set so a better choice if you don't know what you are doing or don't have time to be messing about.

    AC Schnitzer also produced 2 kits for the Z3M. They were a road kit or a race kit. The road kit was based on a Bilstein sprint kit and lowers the car by about 25-30mm and is a bit stiffer. The race kit is a coilover kit and has quite a harsh ride.

    Anti roll bars

    H&R anti roll bars are many peoples first mod. They are a good product but do have some minor draw backs. The ride quality is slightly worse but also the mounts on the suspension can snap due to the extra load put through them. Kits are available to stop this. The plus side is that the body control is improved noticeably.


    The stock brakes are very powerful and work very well on the road. They do fall short however if taken on a track. They overheat and the brake pad ends up melting onto the disc. This can be avoided cheaply by changing the pads to a fast road / track pad e.g EBC yellowstuff and adding some ducting to the brakes. Stock BMW discs are a good design and better than any after market product that I have come across so far.

    The other option is a BBK (big brake kit). In my opinion this is overkill but for the serious track car its an option. Stoptech do kits that fit the Z3M as do other suppliers. Another option is to fit porsche calipers with M3 CSL brake discs.


    Due to the high state of tune the engine is already in more power gets expensive. Basic mods include the usual air filter and exhaust upgrades. The most common and favorite exhaust upgrade is the supersprint exhaust and simota air box( S50 only). Gruppe M also do intakes but they are expensive. These mods produce very little real gain.

    A few owners have fit a mac morten carbon air box (M3 CSL style) to their cars but these are very expensive and remove the MAF (mass air flow sensor) so have to be changed to alpha-N and therefore require a remap. I believe this is the only effective way to produce noticeable power gains from the intake.

    Schrick cams can also be fitted but lumpy idle can result.

    There are some supercharger / turbo kits around but not many people have had this done so its an unknown quantity.

    An engine swap is also possible. One member on here has a corvette engine in their Z3 MC. I personally think that the S50/S54 give the Z3M coupe some of its character but if you want major power increases this is one way to go.


    Some people have swapped out the 5 speed box for the M3 6 speed item. Nice for track work but lots of money and probably a bit overkill for most people.


    The Z3M coupe comes with a 3.15 final drive ratio as standard. Some owners have swapped this for a different ratio to improve acceleration and make the ratios closer for track work. The flip side is motorway cruising can be affected as the revs will be higher at motorway speeds so a balance is needed.

    Steering wheel

    The stock item comes from the E36 M3. Its a bit big and not very thick. Given the limited space in the cockpit some owners have changed to a smaller diameter wheel. Most E36 ones will fit. After market ones are also available but most delete the airbag so look for this if there is a non standard wheel.

    Gear stick

    The gear change can be a bit notchy so fitting a heavier gear stick is an option. Ones are available from ACS and storm. Most lose the illumination of the standard item however.

    Traction control

    For S50 cars only. Some owners have fitted racelogic traction control. This allows different amounts of slip and can come with a launch control feature. It has a different focus from the DSC fitted to the S54 car as that can brake individual wheels as well as cutting the fuel but the DSC is designed as a safety system rather than a track aid which is more the focus of the race logic. It can work well on the road too and I can't see any disadvantage to fitting this to an S50 as like with the DSC you can turn it off completely.


    Some owners have fitted after market seats for a variety of reasons. Some do it to save weight, some to try to get some extra head room, some for more support on track days. Seats are usually a nightmare to fit and you have to deal with the airbag sensors etc. Also if you are planning to fit some aftermarket seats not many will fit in the Z3M due to the tight cabin. Usually the ear on the top near your shoulder will foul on the door and the seat will need to be modified in order to allow the door to shut.


    Well if you have read all that you are in a good position to go and buy a Z3M coupe. Please use your common sense and do the usual checks like HPI etc and check for the usual signs of crash damage - badly fitting panels etc. If you can take someone who owns one to look at it with you.

    Also several cars have a 'forum' history and a search of this forum can reveal interesting information and previous owners etc.

    Good luck and enjoy the car !
    Last edited by Dave P; 22-01-2019, 05:52 PM.
    Ex 2001 S54
    New cars:
    Lotus Carlton

  • #2
    good site with z3m coupe details, specs and colour options


    • #3
      the z3m coupe was available with three different speaker packages,
      1. standard, 2. hi-fi system upgraded speakers 3. harman kardon system including rear amp and sub box. it is easy to tell if you have the harman set up as a space in the boot is taken up by the sub,

      Last edited by Dave P; 25-04-2012, 07:47 PM.


      • #4
        Some cars came pre wired for the fitment of a optional 6 cd changer in the boot, no cutting of trim needed as the letterbox type hole is normally covered by a removeable trim cover.

        More difficult if not pre wired as cables would need to be run from head unit and for power.

        Last edited by Dave P; 27-05-2019, 11:12 AM.


        • #5
          roof mounted speakers as fitted to the z3m coupe,


          • #6
            another common option on the z3m coupe is side airbags, the door trim will differ from standard by having a seperate section and a airbag badge fitted,

            Last edited by Dave P; 08-10-2017, 10:12 AM.


            • #7
              SEPTEMBER 1998 Z3 PRICE LIST


              • #8
                S50 EXTERIOR COLOURS,

                ALPINE WHITE

                ESTORIL BLUE


                • #9
                  DAKAR YELLOW

                  IMOLA RED


                  • #10
                    ARCTIC SILVER

                    COSMOS BLACK
                    Last edited by Dave P; 18-09-2010, 06:06 PM.


                    • #11

                      OXFORD GREEN

                      BOSTON GREEN
                      Last edited by Dave P; 07-05-2016, 09:00 AM.


                      • #12
                        INTERIOR COLOURS

                        IMOLA RED/BLACK

                        ESTORIL BLUE/BLACK


                        • #13
                          DARK GREY/BLACK


                          Last edited by Dave P; 11-10-2011, 09:32 PM.


                          • #14
                            KYALAMI ORANGE/BLACK



                            • #15
                              S54 ONLY INTERIOR COLOURS


                              Last edited by Dave P; 20-09-2017, 03:47 PM.