By on April 15, 2016

00 - 1998 BMW Z3 in California Junkyard - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

One of the interesting things about frequenting high-inventory-turnover wrecking yards is that you get a sense of when a vehicle’s value has reached a certain “not worth fixing when it breaks” threshold.

There will be no examples of this type of car in such yards, and then suddenly I’ll see a half-dozen in the space of a few months; the Mazda Miata was such a car, being extremely rare until about 2008, at which point you could count on finding a couple at most California U-Wrench-It-type yards. The BMW Z3 appears to have reached that point about now, with this one showing up in a Northern California yard that I visited last week.

BMW Z3 in 24 Hours of LeMons race - ©2016 Murilee Martin

Actually, I had some warning that I would be seeing Z3s in the big self-serve yards, because we had one show up at South Carolina 24 Hours of LeMons race last fall. The team found a wrecked insurance-total example on Copart for something like $3,000, then proceeded to sell off way more than that amount of parts to get the purchase cost below the LeMons budgetary limit (normally I would be very skeptical about the numbers in a deal like this, but the team documented all their parts sales with comprehensive and convincing thoroughness). The car didn’t win the race, but it was fairly quick.

1998 BMW Z3 in California Junkyard, interior - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Junkyarders picked over this Z3 real good by the time I saw it, which means Z3 interior parts are still quite valuable.

1998 BMW Z3 in California Junkyard, Speaker ROMR sticker - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Judging from the stickers all over, this Z3’s last owner may not have belonged to a demographic with the income levels of the original purchaser.

1998 BMW Z3 in California Junkyard, Engine - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

Around the turn of the century, I worked as a technical writer at a software company in Multimedia Gulch, and the company’s incredibly confident top brass believed that we would be bigger than Microsoft within two years and the biggest corporation in the world within five years, tops. This meant that they needed to hire everyone they could, and the employee who referred the most new hires one month would be given a brand-new Z3.

This car, a blue roadster parked in the outdoor break area where we could see it through the office windows and feel inspired, would have been a ’99 or ’00 model, so it’s not the example we are seeing here … but it still reminded me of the stupid business decisions being made during the run-up to the Dot-Com Bubble.

Check out that cassette deck! No Janis Joplin in this German car!

So cool that even American cops in a Caprice will pull it over to take a drive.

The American-market ads were a little more aggro.

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33 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1998 BMW Z3...”

  • avatar

    Despite all of the advances in technology and performance, the Z3 is still the one BMW my wife longs for above any other. I can’t say much, as my Ultimate Driving Machine will always be a box-stock 2002. Maybe one day we’ll have both. Sad to see that the Z3, in some cases, is starting to reach that level of “throw away” status.

  • avatar

    Not a big BMW fan at all but this and the Z4 were the best looking cars that have made in the last 20 years. And I think you did not have the typical ” stereotype status first car 2″ driver w this compared to a 3 series.

    • 0 avatar

      Strange, I always thought the Z4 was a strong competitor for the ugliest car on sale at that time (the original convertible; the coupe and the second gen convertible were much better). Always liked the Z3 though. Strange how most males regarded the Z3 as second only to the X90 as most feminine car of the 90’s (and unlike the X90 has not gotten more cool as it ages) yet almost everyone secretly likes them deep down.

  • avatar

    I just this week sold a nice 2002 325i Z3 to a young man in KY who wanted it for his wife. I had owned the car 3 years, and purchased it after selling my C6 Corvette simply because I enjoy sports cars. It had 92K on the ODO, and I sold it with 102K. It had the removable hardtop, and M appearance pkg interior. Nice car, but being a portly 240 lbs, 6′ 1″, 73 year old, I found ingress/egress more and more difficult during that couple of years. The car was comfortable once I got in, had plenty of leg room, much more so than a Miata, and the 2.5 with 5speed gear box was smooth and strong…and it was blue. I am simply not a blue car guy. I can understand the attraction of those cars, but unless you are mechanically inclined, or know someone who is, they can be a bit expensive to repair. I enjoyed the car for 3 years, liked the looks of it better with the factory hardtop in place, and fuel mileage was pretty danged good if one kept his right foot in check.

    Knowing I would be delivering that car to KY from Texas, and having looked for a real JCW Mini Cooper for a couple of months in the DFW area, I found one near Chattanooga, TN. I left Murray, KY and headed for ‘nooga and picked up a nice 2009 example of the JCW…I couldn’t make myself return home with an empty trailer…

  • avatar

    I owned an M version of this car (MY 2000) and it was one of, if not the best cars I ever owned. Reliable, fast, and even though I am 6’3″, I fit just fine in this car. It was estoril blue, which (imho) was the best M color for that car. I don’t think I had as much fun in any other car I owned when I drove this car. It was the very first time in car ownership for me that I wanted to drive it just to drive it.

  • avatar

    I just made the mistake of popping over to Wikipedia to refresh my memory of Z3 production dates. Rookie mistake. Whoever wrote much of the Z3 entry knows little about Z3s and maybe about anything else. Anyway, this being a 6-cylinder car makes it all the worse for Z3 fans. If this car didn’t merit some repair and maintenance, does that mean all the M44 cars have already been recycled?

    • 0 avatar

      If you know more than the average user about Z3s, and (more importantly) can properly cite your knowledge, or even if you just have better grammar skills, then by all means, go ahead and improve the page. I do it from time to time on F-Series pages.

      • 0 avatar

        While I may know more about the car than an average Wikipedia user, I don’t think that elevates my knowledge of the Z3 to that of being a reference for posterity. Just because I recall that 4 cylinder Z3s were sold in the US, or that our first MRoadsters were down on power to save money rather than for regulatory reasons, it doesn’t mean I have encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.

        • 0 avatar

          Every little bit helps on the Wiki. BMW-wise, I’ve hit the S85 page a couple times for fixings, and I am no master BMW mechanic by any means – but knowledge is knowledge.

    • 0 avatar

      …indeed, user contributions are the entire point of wikipedia!..

      …despite oft-repeated edit-war anecdotes, my experiences have shown both substantial contributions and technical corrections to be welcomed…just remember that it’s a palimpsest of editorial decisions by design, so take satisfaction from contributing to the corpus of information rather than specific stylistic choices: it’s the folks who invest their egos along with their contributions who tend to come away frustrated…

  • avatar

    I have a friend whose Z3 kissed the K-rail on a sweeping curve when he briefly lost traction. There was only some light panel damage, or so he thought.

    Turns out the rear suspension mounts in the unibody were sufficiently tweaked that the insurance company totalled it–but you wouldn’t know just by looking at it. The rear wheels slapping the K-rail transmitted enough force to knock it out of position. It was much, much nicer than this one was.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I bought a 2000 Z3 2.8 about 4 months ago as a weekend car. Best automotive purchase I’ve ever made. I sold my Volvo 242 coupe for it. No regrets.

    It’s a pretty simple vehicle with few gadgets to break, and according to other owners, pretty reliable for an old bimmer.

    So far it hasn’t given me a lick of trouble and has been a blast to drive up and down the Florida coast. I upgraded the roll bars behind the headrests and found some Z4 rims on CL that (IMO) look way better than the Z3’s standard ones.

    My only gripe is that it’s too quiet. I’d rather hear the I6 over the radio.

    I’ve seen beaters in the $2-3k range and near-perfect examples around $7-8k. Still surprised they’re showing up in the junkyards though. I wish I could find one there. No luck yet.

  • avatar

    I lust after the Z4 M Coupes, aka the Clown Shoe, about the most perfect shooting brake style car you will ever see. But they are incredibly rare. However I know someone who just acquired one.

    • 0 avatar

      Take her for a spin?

    • 0 avatar

      I bought my Z4 M Coupe new in 2006. They are going to have to bury me in the car since even then no one will be able to pry my hands off the steering wheel.

    • 0 avatar

      Just traded our 06 Z4M in on a M235i. It was a fun car but loud and incredibly rough riding. Oh and for accuracy, the clown shoe nickname really only applies to the Z3M.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned an ’07 for a short amount of time. It was a 3.0si, and was fantastic to drive. Unfortunately, it was horrible to commute in with its rock hard suspension, and the ride was way too harsh to take it on road trips. To top it all off, visibility out the rear window was nearly nonexistent. Beautiful car with too many compromises. Bought it used, drove it about 2500 miles in a year (including the 1K cross-country road trip I took when I bought it in Cleveland and drove it back to AZ). Sold it and bought a GTI. Far easier to live with.

  • avatar

    I never noticed this until now…

    The rear end of the new Miata looks a great deal like the rump of the Z3:©2016-Murilee-Martin-The-Truth-About-Cars.jpg

  • avatar

    What really makes me sad is to see that Saab 9000 sitting next to it :(

  • avatar

    I remember when these first came out. It was the first of many convertibles I looked at with my dad. I don’t remember much about that trip to the local BMW dealership except the slightly used 8 series that was parked prominently out front. Dad didn’t get the z3 but I’ve been in love with the 8 series ever since.

  • avatar

    My very first job was selling cars at a local Hyundai dealership when I was 19 and thought I was an adult ready to do adult things. Needless to say, I was horrible at it and only sold for a few weeks before they kicked me down to lot boy before firing me a few weeks after that. That being said, I sold one of these (I think it was a ’96 model) in this exact color combo to an empty-nester couple who just happened to be driving by and the wife fell in love at first sight. There’s a reason dealerships put used cars on the front line. To her it didn’t matter that it was a four cylinder with a damned automatic and 130,000 miles on the odometer, she loved the idea of top-down motoring and needless to say, the car sold itself. It was also the high point of my short-lived sales career, netting me my very best commission of $1,200. Not bad for two hours worth of work. The commission was so fat, in fact that I figured the least I could do was pay out of my pocket to have one of the guys run it to the gas station and fill it up for them. Gas was under $2 at the time and the thing had a tiny tank. It cost $15 to fill it up and they loved me even more for it.

    Part of me wonders how much trouble that thing gave them and how long the love affair lasted. Needless to say, I wasn’t around even if they had come back but I still remember being shocked at how much money was in a then-ten year old BMW that couldn’t get out of its own way going downhill.

  • avatar

    I live in Los Angeles so basically I HATE to drive. In the past 16 years since I arrived it has become increasingly more congested. I began to find myself isolating and staying home. Then I thought, “hey get rid of that dusty scion since your making some coin and buy something you might enjoy.” After much research I settle on the Z3 as the perfect L.A. car. I looked for 6 months determined to buy nothing less than the 2.8 (would not recommend the 4 cyl) with low miles that had never seen snow, and no accidents. When I found one in the back of a tiny car lot in North Hollywood (insert boogie nights sound track) I pulled the trigger immediatley. They wanted $8995 for the Z with 72,000 and gave me $4200 trade on my 100,000 mile scion. As the Z went on the rack for some minor adjustments the dealer who was an older iranian man with a jolly sense of humor said to the mechanic, “This used to be my car,now it is his, and now his scion is mine, I don’t know”, as he shaked his head. LOL I have not looked back. Yes I have had to put some money into it, yes it was not a rational purchase but I do not drive much. My bicycle is my daily driver. I also believe the car is a beautiful work of modern design so for me this was a rescue project. But imagine for around $7,000 you get a 6 speed manual with 189 hp. At night you can put the top down and coast over Mullholland drive getting glimpses of the city lights below, or get up early and drive to Malibu and open it up on the Pacific Coast Highway 1. Oh and the ladies totally dig the ride. They the slide down into the passanger seat, wrap themselves in a blanket, and we cruise though L.A. looking at the stars. No brainer. Best purchase I have ever made! I am absolutely fanatical about the car. Until you drive a 2.8 or an M you won’t understand. (Only thing I would change is to go the extra and get the M) In my opinion the wide body I have with 17 inch tires looks bad ass and in good condition they handle beautifully.

  • avatar

    Anyone want to bet it was the headgasket blowing that doomed this one?

    • 0 avatar

      I am reminded of how that happened to James May with his cheap Z3 which he used for the Iran trip. It broke down almost immediately due to HG failure, and required an all night rebuild.

      Even then it was still garbage afterward.

  • avatar

    An upper income couple from MI retired to Maui, got a divorce, and she was left with a spare ’98 Z3. Red, 2.8l with the spare hardtop, and [sigh] automatic. Now, Michigan, but only driven during summers. So, 12k on the clock when I bought it from her in ’08, to replace a ’89 Miata. A terrific car for the islands. Made short work of the Hana Highway when work occasionally took my wife out that way.

    In ’12, we relocated to Oz on short notice, and couldn’t take our late model LHD vehicles. The dealers snapped up my wife’s Civic Hybrid. But, the Z3 was old enough a bank won’t loan for it, and since they’d have to wait for a cash buyer, dealers would only offer me 2 or 3 grand. I said screw it, shipped it to CA for a family friend to enjoy, where it shares a garage with a Pantera.

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