By on June 5, 2009

For YSE (Your Shitty Economy) Car of the Week, we feature the first true competitor to the Porsche Boxster in the German Roadster Wars: the BMW M Roadster. When it was new (launched 1998), $42K bought you a 240 hp straight-six powered Palmetto pistol. The S54 engine, introduced in 01, provided an extra 75hp, but used examples netted an additional $8000-$10,000. Not any more! Prices for a pre-thrashed S54 Z3 M Roadster have sunk below the $20K mark. It survives as one of the last great driver’s cars. You know: the kind of vehicle that threatens to kill you should your nerve/skill/luck run out. Nav system, auto-HVAC, xenon lights, memory seats? Nope. The Z3 M Roadster put the Spartan in Spartanburg. But the two-door delivers plenty of raw driving feel, perfect for the smaller driver on a mountain road on a sunny day. Only 1600 S54 M Roadsters (and 690 M coupes) were produced, so off you go. [autotrader]

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32 Comments on “YSE Car of the Week: 2001 BMW M Roadster...”

  • avatar

    Good driver, great value, and as a bonus you get to funnel thousands of dollars per year in stimulus spending to your local mechanic.

  • avatar

    I miss my Z3. It was my little James Bond car. And my local BMW service was superb.

  • avatar

    Well it’s not on the top 10 list of expensive cars to insure like the S2000 is. And these still have such a classy design to them. Love the gauges in them too. A lot of fun! Very good choice.

  • avatar

    I’m not 100% sure but I think the S54 version has wider rear fenders than the S52. Either car is amazing. I had the pleasure of riding with my instructor at a HPDE around NHMS in his S52 Z3, that was fully stock other than Hoosiers, and it scared the shit out of me.

  • avatar

    Wow… long story but had one of those as a company car back in 2001… good times…good times.

  • avatar

    Had an S54 convertible that came in as a trade in last year at the infiniti dealership that had a full set of Dinan mods. Headers, cat back exhaust, wheels, chip, etc. Wild car to take on a test drive. If I knew how to upload a pic I would as I took a pic of that very special car. It felt like thors hammer on the on ramps and highways. :)

  • avatar

    I thought about buying one of these a few years ago. With my insurance company at the time the M Roadster was only about $50 a year more than the regular Z3, and both were very reasonable. The Miata and MR2 were in the same ballpark. An S2000 was at least twice as expensive to insure–I wouldn’t buy one for this reason alone.

  • avatar

    With my insurance company at the time the M Roadster was only about $50 a year more than the regular Z3, and both were very reasonable.

    Which really goes to show what kind of pretenders drivers usually buy these BMWs.

  • avatar

    I may be misreading the blurb above, but I think the 240hp M roadster was over $40k new.

  • avatar

    One small problem. The cockpit is very cramped quite cosy. Those over six feet should look elsewhere for their cheap thrills.

  • avatar


    Those over six feet should look at the successor of Z3 – Z4 for their cheap thrills.
    I hate Coupe version of Z3, but love it on Z4.

  • avatar

    $20K for a way off warranty BMW with a big engine stuck in an outdated, weak platform is not a deal.

    A much newer Nissan 350Z Roadster, with similar power, a much larger, nicer interior, and an incomparably better chassis can had the same money or less.

    Just one example of why this car sucks:

    The differential mount for the 1980’s (e30) 3-series rear suspension used on the M Roadster is not attached to a separate rear subframe (like on the e36), it is simply spot welded to the bottom of the spare tire tray stamping.

    That was fine for the <200 HP engines in the 1980’s 3-series cars, and in the Z3, but in the M Coupe the spot welds that hold the spare tire tray stamping to the car are known to fail.

    A Z3 Coupe for $10K (I’ve seen it a couple times, NOT an M Coupe, because of the issues above), now that may be interesting. Unfortunately for me the Japanese have not made any 2 seat RWD shooting brakes recently so I may have to consider it.

  • avatar

    I was lucky enough to have one of these at my disposal for a weekend a few years back. I put about 5-600 miles on it cruising around for 2 days.

    Glorious engine, and the feeling of flight is superbly delivered with the top down on a sunny, breezy summer day.

  • avatar

    as a bonus you get to funnel thousands of dollars per year in stimulus spending to your local mechanic

    Oh come on, is that something that you say about every European car that is posted on here?
    Actually the Z3 cars have proven to be very reliable, but something tells me you just saw the word BMW and spouted out your stereotypical remark.

  • avatar
    Justin Crenshaw

    I may be misreading the blurb above, but I think the 240hp M roadster was over $40k new.

    Good catch, fixed.

  • avatar

    A friend of mine had one of these. Incredibly fun car to drive, but I always thought it looked like the car that Ace and Gary drive.

  • avatar

    I seem to recall reading that the rear suspension could not handle the extra power from the engine. The rear was described as “jumpy” and “unsettled” under power-on over-steer conditions. Anyone else remember hearing this?

    It is a handsome car tho’, IMHO.

  • avatar


    You sound like the new VW ads with your whining about unfair treatment for the Germans.

    I’m straight up German, I look like one of the guys on a 3rd Reich propaganda poster, and I will quickly tell you that the Germans build unreliable cars that are expensive to repair.

    What do you have to support the idea that a Z3 is reliable. A Z3 might be ok compared to an old MG, but the Z3 is an old MG compared to the Miata.

    See my link above on the tendency of the trunk floor to rip apart from the rest of the car body on the M Roadster / Coupe because of the poor suspension design. As horrible as the new Chryslers are I doubt that all the trunk floor spot welds will ever fail on one of them.


    The extra power would literally rip the rear end of the car apart:

  • avatar

    The Z3 Coupe (and M Coupe if you are willing to seam weld the rear trunk floor stamping or otherwise reinforce it) are worth considering (I am considering the Z3 Coupe) because they are the only modern proper Shooting Brakes, other than the very low volume Jaguar XJS Lynx Eventer and very, very low volume (four made?) Aston Martin Virage Shooting Brake.

    The Z3 and M Roadster convertibles, on the other hand, are just underdeveloped, craped, relatively unreliable cars that cannot compete with the Miata and 350Z Roadster on driving, performance, quality and pre-owned price.

  • avatar

    What do you have to support the idea that a Z3 is reliable.

    I’m pretty well versed on the rear floor/subframe issue, I have actually fixed one. While this is a significant problem, it is not that common. Many BMW’s, including sedans, can have this issue. I’m not sure we want to get into a whole discussion on the specific problem, that could take days. Other than this issue, yes the Z3 is reliable. Some smaller problems are issues with the rear shock mounts, a sagging glove box and like all 6-cyl BMWs it needs the cooling system parts changed at certain intervals.
    You have any other specific reason as to why it isn’t reliable? (other than something you read on the internet…..)

  • avatar
    Justin Crenshaw

    but in the M Coupe the spot welds that hold the spare tire tray stamping to the car are known to fail.

    This fact is very true, but it gets over exaggerated. While the cars don’t share the same design, the z3, e36, e46 and some z4s have had issues with the subframe/rear floor. While most assume it is the higher powered or track cars that have the problem (they do), many other models including the 1.9 z3 have had some terrible problems.

    You can combat the problem on Z3s by installing Ireland Engineering subframe bushings or have a reinforcement kit welded on.

    Readers wanting some info on this issue can check out the sticky at the top of the z3 page on There you can hear from actual owners.

    I have had 4 Z cars, one a full up race car, with no rear floor or reliability problems.

  • avatar

    My comment tends more to the rear suspension geometry not the differential tearing away from the trunk floor. Although both issues may center around chassis rigidity.

    I believe for the M roadsters it is a case of too much engine for an inadequate chassis/suspension. (An all too common problem, witness the just about any British roadster with an American V8 stuffed in it such as the original Shelby Cobra: the AC Ace just wasn’t designed for this modification.)

    Was the Z3 M roasdster’s chassis strengthened, or is it the same chassis as the non-M version?

  • avatar


    Quality for the BMW brand is well below the Japanese luxury brands, both with JD Power and Michael Karesh’s truedelta. I wondered if you actually had any specific data to show that the Z3 is an exception.

    I had an e36 sedan, and it was horrible.

    Major issues were constantly failing front ball joints (I finally fixed this with Meyle solid ball joints), which the Z3 shares, alignments that require sandbagging (I’m not sure if the Z3 requires this), airbag light issues (this is a major e36 problem, but may have been cured by the 2000s), failed engine and transmission mounts, and a seat frame that broke. I also had a lot off rear suspension issues, but with the better e36 rear suspension nothing as bad as the trunk floor separating. And the dealers were assholes the whole way.

    The thing is that, even if the M Roadster car was reliable, it is cramped, has a crappy interior, and it overpowers its outdated rear suspension.

    Bottom Line: With 2005+ 350Z Roadsters, with much more interior room, much higher quality, and better suspensions selling for under $20,000, there is absolutely no way that a nine year old M Roadster at that price is a deal. It’s a rip-off.

    If one wants a BMW with a low rent interior and the same rear suspension as this car they can get a 318ti – much, much cheaper.

    The Z4 is a completely different car, it has a proper rear suspension and a nice interior, although probably the same BMW reliability and maintenance issues.

  • avatar

    no_slushbox : A Z3 might be ok compared to an old MG, but the Z3 is an old MG compared to the Miata.

    So it is, but may not be, like an old MG? Does that mean the Z3 does, or does not overheat after about 30 minutes of driving in the Florida summer?

  • avatar

    Let me respond to a few things:

    If you think I was whinning about the Euro comment, you are right! I just get tired of un-founded comments on here. Thousands of dollars over the course of a year for an M Roadster. That is a little dramatic, we’re not talking about a 7-series here. Now if don1967 has owned and spent thousands on a M Roadster to fix, then he has my apologies.

    I have owned and worked on BMWs for years and I just haven’t seen problems with the Z cars. I am not arguing that the rear floor problem doesn’t exist but it certainly isn’t occurring in every M car as you seem to suggest.
    Any prospective Z car owner should have the rear checked out, but if there are no problems then there is no reason to think a Z car won’t provide years of great ownership.
    Now as with any German car, lack of maintenance will punish you.
    I agree that a 350Z is a better used car, but I think the point of the blog is that the S54 is a very rare car (1600 made) and they have traditionally been selling for high prices.
    The comments on the interior and suspension are subjective. The simplicity of the Z3 was what made it so much fun. It was raw and a pure drivers car. The BMW Roadsters have since been marching towards more luxury, approaching SC430 status! But that is another discussion.
    no-slushbox, the Z3 coupe is a cool car and I think made in even fewer numbers than the S54 M Coupe (2.8 anyway). Maybe it will provide you with a better expereince than your e36. That did sound like a peice of crap.

  • avatar

    It’s just like with women. Some think the high maintenance type is worth it, some don’t, some learn the hard way. cest la vie.

  • avatar

    Why would anyone even look at a BMW Z class when the Madza Miata is the ‘Cadillac’ of roadsters (ooops, bad analogy!!!)

    I actually test drove the 2001 ‘Zip’ and hated it.
    1. It’s not a balanced design. I don’t like long nose/short deck cars (think 1970 Mustang)because they don’t corner as smoothly as a balanced design such as the Madza Miata.
    2. I absolutely hate the steering wheel—it feels as ‘chinsy’ as a 1970 Chevy Vega’s steering wheel. Nothing comes close to that of a Miata’s wheel!!!
    3. The top mechanism isn’t a good as the Miata
    4. I didn’t like the seats and I especially hated the fact that the seats were a tad lower than the window frame of the door—I was uncomfortable driving around town with my elbow cocked higher than I was accostumed to driving.
    5. Call me prejudgious (sic), but German cars are designed to be driven new and pitched at 50K. I have friends and relatives who insisted on buying used Mercedes and BMW cars and they are paying thousands of dollars every other month to keep them running. Japanese Cars are well built and reasonably priced—that is why they have taken over. {FYI. Just to let you know how the Japanese mind thinks. When Japan acquired the rights to build the obsollent F14 Tomcat, the first thing they did was take it apart and screw with it. Immediately, they got a 15% improvement on fuel economy and cut about 1000 parts to assemble it. The Japanese F14s cost about 1/4 less than American types and are about 25% better performance. My solution to America Car problem is simple—make Japan the 51st State and be done with it.]

  • avatar

    To no_slushbox :
    June 6th, 2009 at 9:10

    I must say, trying to offer up a 350Z in place of an MRoadster or Coupe is just ridiculous. The Z3M outclasses the 350Z in almost every category. That “outdated chassis” will also smoke the 350Z on the track.

    As far as reliability issues go, I have had my 01 S54 Coupe since new(almost 9 years of ownership) and have not had any issues outside of maintenance issues(brakes and clutch), and I have close to 90k on it now.

  • avatar

    I agree with 01S54 I am the proud owner of my second M Roadster which is a 2001. I drove my 1999 M Roadster for 85K as hard as any car could be driven and the only problem I ever had was a bad belt tensioner (cost about $30.00). My current M Roadster has 38k and smokes everything on the track except for some heavily modified cars. S2000’s, Miata’s, 350Z’s and Mustangs only get in may way. Since there were only 1600 of these made most people don’t know what the hell they are talking about because they obviously never owned one. Yes an article in Road and Track or Car and Driver (I can’t remember which) called the suspension outdated but in that same article the car still posted the fasted lap time out of the 3 cars tested. In my book the fastest car is the fastest car period! This was the car that Tiff Needle used to demonstrate car handling dynamics and filmed the video using his own personal car. Having anything but praise for one of these magnificent machines would immediately expose you as a want a be poser to any professional driver.

  • avatar

    I am about to purchase a 2001 M Roadster with 11k miles. I have lusted after this car since they first came out. I am buying this car as a sunny day car (actually the 3rd car in my stable, the other two being a 2007 M5 and a 2006 Cayman S). This car and the e36 M coupe were the last true drivers cars BMW ever put out. They are limited in production and they will be collectors cars one day. They are raw, loud, unforgiving and beautiful. I am a track junkie (I won’t take this one on the track because it is too rare of a car) and see these cars raced all the time (just look at any BMW club race). Nervous/twitchy at the limit? Sure, it is a short wheelbase powerful car. Learn how to drive. I have owned German cars all of my life (I am now 47) and have never had a problem. Yes, they require more care and maintenance, but well worth it. For those touting the Miata and Nissan Z cars, get a clue. Those cars are appliances. Toasters.
    I can’t wait until my car is delivered next week.
    Good day.

  • avatar

    I am on my second BMW Z3 my present being the 2001 M Roadster with the S54 engine putting out 330hp. I was in BC driving along the windy Transcanada highway last week and I was passing guys on Suzuki GSXRs and alike as if standing still. 220kmh or 135mph and the car was asking for more. It was as stable at 220kmh as it was at 80kmh. NOTHING and NO ONE has ever passed me in this car. 0-60 mph in 4.5 seconds which is faster than most “sports cars”. Take the DSC off and get ready to buy some new tires because just a little pressure on the gas from a stand still will get the tires smoking. Any Moe Moe can put a car down but until you drive one of these babies for a week or so you should keep your opinions to the cars looks because thats all you’ll know. I have read articles that state the 2001 & 2002 M Roadsters will likely follow the path of the AC Cobra in collector status, if you own one hold on to it as it will likely be worth a bundle in 16 0r 17 years.

    Take Care
    A Guy Who Knows!

  • avatar

    Mabel is my 01 M roadster. (why did I think she had 315hp? is it 315 or 330). I need new tires. My pilot sports made it to 30K miles and now have steel showing thru. Am I supposed to put on a certain BMW recommended tire or can I put on a harder rubber compound for longer wear? I was thinking about a dunlop I saw online that got 5 stars…or the michelin a/s plus.

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