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Z3: The last of the User Friendly BMWs

Discussion in 'E36/7 Z3 (1996-2002)' started by willconltd, Nov 11, 2010.

    willconltd guest

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    I am apparently new on this forum, but I am definitely not new to Z3s.

    If you are browsing this forum looking for Z3 information, then you won't find very much. However there is a mass of information on the web for the Z cars, and I doubt there is a problem that exists that there isn't a well documented solution for.

    http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?f=137

    http://www.bimmerfest.com/forums/forumdisplay.php?f=7

    The Z3 is the last of the great User Friendly BMWs. In the vein of the E30 and older BMWs, the Z3 lacks all the convoluted computerized problems of the current crop of late model BMWs.

    There isn't a system on the Z3 that a competent shade tree mechanic can not fix on their own. There are a few common problems, but nothing that is so complicated that it would be overwhelming to undertake on your own other than the sub-frame and bearing failure which Randy can take care of pretty easily. http://www.spcarsplus.com/

    And even these are very isolated issues that probably won't affect your car.

    The body panels un-bolt from the car (roof stays on the coupes) so you can do anything you want to the panels while they are removed from the car.

    The rear windows are replaceable.

    The AC controls are manual dials that will not short out.

    The differential can be swapped out with lots of options.

    You can swap in various transmissions if you don't like the one it comes with. ;)

    The seat adjustment motors are simple and are easily diagnosed.

    The Stereo is basic and well laid out in design and its not tied to 5 other systems so it takes them all down when it breaks.

    I have personally repaired or upgraded every system and part in the Z3 over the years. Its all been rather simple, if sometimes a bit tedious. I highly recommend them to everyone and anyone interested in a car that is an instant classic that is owner serviceable.

    They made about 300,000 Z3s. To contrast that to other BMWs, they made 180,000 E36 328i, and 256,000 325i cars of the E36. So these cars are not super rare, parts will always be around, and they will always be easy to fix.

    Feel confident in your Z3 purchase, and do a little research. The bad advice is rampant on the Z3 from people who know nothing about the Z3.

    Due to its simplicity, its the easiest modern BMW to own, without a doubt.
    • Member

    bcweir

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    I disagree with some of your hyperbole, but I see where you're coming from

    Part of the Z3's appeal is that it was based on the E36 3-series, already a fairly simple and popular car to work on.

    "Easiest" is a relative term. It's like asking 100 people what the "best color" is. Some might consider the 96 and later cars OBD-II engine electronics to be a bear to deal with compared with earlier OBD-I cars. I'm also pretty certain that your definition of "easy" for the Z3 would not compare to even simpler vehicles such as the 2002, the E30, and the E28.

    As for your claim that its the "easiest, modern, BMW" to own, we're right back into subjective words again. The youngest examples of this car are already 9 years old! For an automobile, 9 years is an eternity, and owners of newer cars would probably question your label of the Z3 as a modern automobile, with no navigation, no I-drive, no factory bluetooth, no factory satellite radio, no USB or Ipod interface, no multifunction steering wheel available, no DCT transmission, (just to name some popular options common on new cars these days) etc. Cars have come a long way technologically since your "modern" Z3. My vehicle is even older than the oldest Z3, so I am not calling my vehicle state of the art either -- not by a long shot.

    I do favor the styling of the Z3 more than the first generation Z4 though.

    As for the rest, to each his own. I appreciate your enthusiasm for your particular model though.

    willconltd guest

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    I don't think its a hyperbole by any stretch. There isn't a system on the Z3 that requires advanced diagnostic equipment to repair. If you want to add an alarm to the Z3 you just plug it in. If you want to add an alarm to the Z4 or any newer BMW, you have to take it to the dealership to have that option programmed.

    Clearly, the 2002, E9, etc would be even less complicated to work with, and the beauty of the Z3 is that almost as easy to work on.

    Of the things you mention: I-drive,DCT transmission are very expensive and would cost more than the book value of the car to replace in a few years. Having I-drive controlling your stereo, navigation, and air conditioning is just asking for trouble. Already E39 and E36s are losing the AC control interfaces and LED and lights are going out. This is not an issue on the Z3 because they do not have any pixels to fail.

    Regarding the other things: no factory bluetooth, no factory satellite radio, no USB or Ipod interface, no multifunction steering wheel available. These are all easily retrofitted with an after market head unit and a couple of steering wheel buttons. The same buttons that came on the E39 fit the Z3 just fine. Its the same wheel anyway. I personally have an E46 M3 wheel with multifunction controls and it took all of 15 minutes to install.

    But what makes the Z3 so easy to own is the massive amount of information available on repair and troubleshooting for the cars. The Z3 community was embraced by BMW in ways that the other cars were not. BMW paid for an annual Labor Day event at the Factory for over 10 years. There isn't a system that could break on the Z3 that there isn't a well documented solution for that can easily be found online, or by asking any of the Z3 enthusiasts.

    The seat motors and gears don't break, the dash components don't short out, and the Z3 in general lacks the complexity that makes other Modern BMWs a challenge to repair when they start to get to advanced age.

    The point of the post, is that there seems to be very little knowledge about Z3s when you get out of the Z3 community. I think everyone should be encouraged to seek out a Z3, especially if they are interested in a car they can actually maintain themselves.
    • Member

    bcweir

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    The Z3 is not a perfect vehicle and is not all things to all members

    I was mentioning factory options, and I did that not to diss your car, but to make a point that modern cars have come a long way since 2002. In that you kind of missed my point.

    Any moving part on any car can fail. No machine or automobile is infalliable, and especially moving parts do eventually fail. Electronics in particular have long been a BMW weak area.

    Another misconception is your statement "The seat motors and gears don't break, the dash components don't short out." Were you referring to your car, or are you offering a de facto lifetime warranty on 300,000 Z3's you don't own?

    There actually have been Z3 posts of owners who have had problems with these cars, as well as on forums all over the internet. Whether or not they were successful at fixing this issues depends on that individual owner's situation and what they ultimately did. But to make a blanket claim of infalliable, Mazda-Miata-level reliability, is not only unrealistic, it's an exaggeration.

    A car's reliability isn't about what model it is, it's about maintenance, maintenance, maintenance.

    Again, I'm not dissing or trashing the Z3. It's one of my favorite roadster models.

    Plus you conveniently left out two of what some would call the Z3's biggest shortcomings:

    a) the inability to bring more than one other person with you at a time. Some of us do carry more than one other person with us at one time. It also generally won't work as primary transportation for families of more than two members in their household. Someone will either have to stay home, or ride inside the glovebox. Drill a couple of holes in the trunklid so that nobody suffocates. Just kidding! :D


    b) Non-fixed-roof roadster models are generally not permitted at BMWCCA Chapter HPDE events. This is ultimately subject to the particular Chapter's rules, but the lack of a solid roof protection will in most cases, disqualify the car from sponsored track events. Even with a helmet and a rollbar installed, an HPDE instructor may still opt to not ride in a vehicle not equipped with a fixed roof in the event of a rollover. This is a significant drawback to anyone aspiring to use their roadster vehicle at a BMWCCA sponsored HPDE event.

    I'll keep my backseat, thank you. Thankfully, BMW offered lots of alternatives to suit a wide variety of different lifestyles and needs.

    willconltd guest

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    My point is not that the features may or may not be available, my point is that the cars are easily repairable due to their simplicity.

    Regarding the seat motors, the Z3 uses motors more akin to the E30 than the E36. They are simple switches changing the polarity for the motor. Testing and repair is very simple. There are no wires and gears inside the seats to fail. The E36 and newer cars had electronics on those motors that controlled which way they moved. This was necessary for things like seat memory to work, but it made it more complex and thus harder to repair.

    And yes, I would definitely rank a well maintained Z3 as easier to maintain than a Miata. A 60k cooling system maintenance (water pump, thermostat, hoses, etc) is dramatically more work on a Miata than on a Z3. The Miata has a timing belt that must be replaced, among other things.

    So you picked a bad example there. Since I own a Miata and 2 Z3s, I can definitely say the Z3 is without a doubt easier to maintain. Even if the tires are cheaper for the Miata.
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    bcweir

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    Was actually picking apart your generalizations.

    Your individual mileage may vary. So will anyone else's.

    Cheers.

    Not sure. Maybe you could private message them?

    willconltd guest

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    No worries. If you actually have a problem with a Z3 or want advice on repair, let me know. I am happy to help.
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    bcweir

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    No problem. Thanks again.

    Actually, considering that the Z3 was based on the E36, much of your knowledge should also be transferrable to E36 owners.

    Most of that electrical stuff would actually have more in common with the 93 and later E32's than my early model, but thanks anyway.

    willconltd guest

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    You got me there. I used to have a 94 740i. The E32 sure is a good looking car. Too bad they are bloated minivans now. :(
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    bcweir

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    Bloated? Sure? Minivans? We differ there.

    My beef with the current 7-series is the bloated nose and grille on the current model. Other than that, it's not that bad. At least BMW returned the shifter back to the console and separated the climate controls from I-drive (you couldn't operate the radio and the climate controls at the same time in I-drive on the E65/E66 -- you had to keep flipping back and forth between the menus).

    Another plus for the current model is that BMW returned a six-cylinder model back to the lineup, something not seen in 18 years from BMW. They still need to return a manual transmission to at least the six cylinder, if not the eight-cylinder model.

    BMW's next mission should be to kidnap the E9x M3 or F10 stylists for an emergency nosejob on the F01/F02.

    I also hated the column-mounted shifter on the E65/E66 cars. The last great 7-series IMHO was the E38.

    willconltd guest

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    Park your E32 next to a new 7 series and tell me if your car isn't dwarfed.

    The E32 is approximately 55 inches tall. Not a short car by any stretch.

    NSX is 46 inches tall.

    Z3 was 49 inches.

    E36 was 53 inches.

    The F01 is 59 inches tall.

    The first Honda Odessy was 64 inches tall.

    Thats just roof height. The hood and fender height is where the truly dramatic increases are.

    I can agree with that statement.
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    bcweir

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    I did some checking and found the differences surprisingly marginal

    Information retrieved from Edmunds.

    F02 760iL

    Exterior
    Length: 205.3 in. Width: 74.9 in.
    Height: 58.3 in. Wheel Base: 126.4 in.
    Curb Weight: 4640 lbs. Gross Weight: 5787 lbs.
    Interior
    Front Head Room: 40.8 in. Front Shoulder Room: 59.2 in.
    Rear Head Room: 38.9 in. Rear Shoulder Room: 57.6 in.
    Front Leg Room: 41.2 in. Rear Leg Room: 44.3 in.
    Luggage Capacity: 14 cu. ft. Maximum Cargo Capacity: 14 cu. ft.
    Maximum Seating: 5


    E32 750iL

    Exterior
    Length: 197.8 in. Width: 72.6 in.
    Height: 55.1 in. Wheel Base: 116 in.
    Curb Weight: 4235 lbs.
    Interior
    Front Head Room: 38.3 in. Front Leg Room: 42 in.
    Luggage Capacity: 17.6 cu. ft. Maximum Seating: 5

    Despite 23 years of technical development, there's actually only around 400 pounds of difference between the two cars, less than a one foot difference in length, a negligible difference in width, and a gain of just a little over 3 inches in height. I was surprised by this.

    Considering that the current car has nearly doubled in horsepower but inherited a less than ten percent gain in weight (and even less in dimensions), I certainly can't fault BMW for keeping the 7-series increase in size to a minimum.

    I should also note that this was, out of fairness, comparing one V12 car with another, both with the extended wheelbase. I would imagine that the short wheelbase F01 six or eight cylinder car would be even closer to my original iL in overall length.

    I like the F10 5-series better from a subjective appearance standpoint, but its size is pretty close to my E32's current dimensions.

    willconltd guest

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    The only dimension that seems out of place is the height. I will find a picture and post it for you at some point.
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    bcweir

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    I might also point out that the height difference is barely more than 3 inches.

    Taller drivers would probably immediately notice and appreciate that difference from the increase in headroom, reflected in the added 2.5 inch increase in headroom from my figures.

    Shorter drivers like myself (I'm just under 5'6) are not likely to notice the added headroom, since they're going to be adjusting the seat forward to reach the pedals.

    willconltd guest

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    I think we are vastly off topic here. The point of my post was to help people who are interested in the Z3 and have questions about them. They are special cars, and a good choice for someone looking to buy a BMW that doesn't have the complexity of most BMWs.

    The whole reason that I am here in this forum suddenly is that my current issue of the Roundel came and in the tech section they give someone who is looking at a Z3 with 20k miles on the clock and suggesting they get a Z4. If you can find a Z3 with 20k on it, you are not interested in a Z4. Vastly different cars with different target demographics.

    I find that most of the Z3 information listed in the print Roundel tech talk is on the whole incorrect, and people who do not own Z3s like to chime in with advice when they don't know what the hell they are talking about. (This is not a jab at anyone in this thread.)

    A perfect instance is a thread in this forum where they are talking about replacing a thousand dollars or more of SRS parts when its just a little sensor plug that gets worn from cramming stuff behind the seat. Someone says that they shouldn't try to fix it themselves. A quick search will find everything they need to remedy the issue for little if any money.

    The goal is to provide some knowledgeable Z3 information that actually applies to Z3s for those potential owners who may be searching the forums.

    So once again, the Z3 is a wonderful car to own and drive, and its really a very simple car to maintain mechanically for the novice mechanic.
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    bcweir

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    Seems to me like we're not really that far off topic.

    The Z3 is a fine car for someone that wants that type of car. I myself have no more use for a car lacking a backseat than I do for an F01/F02 if it were given to me gratis.

    If you see something you disagree with, do what I do and jump in. Even Mike Miller gets it wrong sometimes (when he said in a previous Roundel issue that only mechanics should buy out of warranty 7-series, I wrote in and gave Mike a piece of my mind over it [Surprisingly, Roundel published my rebuke in print!]).

    Likewise, the only three things, IMHO, that the Z4 has in common with the Z3 are: the letter Z, they're both BMW's, and they're both roadsters. They're two totally different cars. I believe BMW chose to take their roadster and go into a completely different market with the car. Upmarket from both the populist and popular Z3 (and the Mazda Miata it was presumably originally designed to do battle with in the marketplace). The Z4 seemed to go for more of a fashionista, avant garde, technology-oriented customer, away from the simplicity you championed in the Z3 in your original post. GM did the same thing with the C4 Corvette in 1984.

    The original car's fans felt as if the carmaker took their car away from them and made it into something completely different. Wow can I relate to that.

    The same look of disappointment crossed my face when I saw the E65/E66 for the first time. Up until then, the BMW 7-series was like a large, four door luxury sports car to me. The E65/E66, with its steering column mounted shifter, was BMW's version of the Buick Roadmaster (an ugly GM product IMHO). BMW still hasn't redeemed the 7-series.

    I think if you're going to set out to be the community guru on the Z3, more power to you! Go for it! Just so that you understand that the Z3 can only fill so many shoes. Not everyone is going to embrace the Z3 the way you do. That's fine. Not everyone embraces the E32, or 7-series in general the way I do either.

    Anyway, best wishes to you, and good luck.

    willconltd guest

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    No worries. I love all BMWs. I guess I am one of several Gurus that wander the net. I know too much probably because I have done it all. I was just shocked by the bad advice that seems to be rampant on the Z3. I seriously don't think anyone will be cross shopping a Z3 with a 7 series. However, I do miss the 94 sometimes. It never felt like a large car, and everyone needs a back seat now and then.

    The Z4 was pushed up in price and size and found itself competing with dramatically more expensive cars that had a whole different appeal. With total Z4 production of around 180,000 cars, the Z3 outsold the Z4 by around 120,000 cars. So from my point of view, the Z4 was a complete failure, but I am biased. Just for comparison, the First Gen Miata was around 430,000 cars.

    I know a few people from Homecoming that had traded up to the Z4 only to find themselves trading up again, to the newest Z3 they could find. That says something.
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    bcweir

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    I know exactly how those initial Z4 buyers felt, and so do E38 owners.

    BMW actually reported a brief uptick in E38 sales numbers in the last month or two of the E38's production. Many prospective 7-series buyers were delaying their purchase because they knew that a redesigned 7-series was on the way. Apparently some didn't like what they saw, and quickly completed E38 purchase orders while the outgoing car was still in production.

    Can't say I blame them either.
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    epbrown01

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    When I saw this wall of text praising the Z3, I knew it was you, Mpire.

    willconltd guest

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    My epic reputation of course.

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