It’s easy to write off the BMW M Coupé without even driving one – which is exactly what a lot of people do. It’s not hard to see why; this isn’t the prettiest car ever created and we do so love to judge a book by its cover. But take the time to acquaint yourself with the M Coupé and you’ll soon see that it gets under your skin – especially if you’re a fan of razor-sharp driving machines.
The M Coupé was one of those out-of-hours projects created by engineers rather than designers – which is pretty obvious from just the briefest of glances. Drive it though and it’s a different story. With a bodyshell three times as stiff as the M Roadster that sired it, the 325bhp M Coupé is also 120kg lighter than the 343bhp M3 coupé.
There’s oversteer on demand, yet comfort, refinement and practicality aren’t sacrificed in the quest for a great drive. Strong and well-equipped, the M Coupé makes a great track day tool but a brilliant cruiser too, and with good ones becoming collectible this is also likely to prove a very canny investment.
Which one to buy?
There aren’t many M Coupés around at any one time as not many were made. Although BMW built 294,537 Z3s, just 16,806 of these were Coupés and just 6,291 of these were M Coupés – there was a regular variation on the theme offered outside the UK, powered by BMW’s sonorous 2.8-litre straight-six.
If you fancy a Coupé but you’re not hell-bent on having an M edition, shopping in Europe will turn up a 2.8-litre car with left-hand drive. But if you’re going to buy a Coupé we’d (obviously) suggest you go for the ultimate incarnation – a right-hand drive M Coupé. As enthusiast machines that never got truly cheap, most of these cars are cherished, so you’re less likely to get your fingers burned.
All M Coupés come with leather trim, air-con and electrically adjustable seats along with anti-lock brakes, remote central locking and airbags. Optional extras included cruise control, audio upgrades, a sunroof and headlamp washers, while some M Coupés have been breathed on by aftermarket tuners such as Hartge and AC Schnitzer. Only you can decide which is the ideal spec; the key is to find a car that’s been truly cherished and comes with a full service history to prove it.
Performance and specs
BMW M Coupé
Engine 3201cc, in-line six-cylinder
Power 325bhp @ 7400rpm
Torque 258lb ft @ 3250rpm
Top speed 160mph
Fuel consumption 27mpg
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Insurance group 38
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1450kg
• With lots of power, rear-wheel drive and no traction control, it’s not hard to get an M Coupé out of shape. So check everywhere for signs of accident damage; body panel gaps should be tight and even while there should be no rippling in the boot floor or front inner wings. The clamshell bonnet is especially hard to line up after a crash, so start your checks here.
• As you’d expect of a modern BMW, corrosion isn’t an issue on a car that’s not been shunted. Even the sills and wheelarches shrug off corrosion, thanks to an excellent standard of rustproofing. Paint chips can be more of an issue though, so analyse the bonnet’s leading edge and make sure the floorpans are rust-free as they can get scraped then left to rust.
• The engine is strong and as it’s chain-driven there are no cam belts to worry about. The VANOS variable valve timing mechanism can be unreliable; it acts on the inlet and exhaust valves to improve torque throughout the rev range. Listen for misfires and whirring along with grating noises, indicating the VANOS set-up will fail altogether soon – and repairs are costly.
• These engines also aren’t always as oil-tight as you might expect, so look for weeping from the cam carrier, underneath the block and the cylinder head; it’s the latter that costs the most to fix.
• A five-speed manual gearbox was standard fare, with no automatic option. Expect a precise gearchange, quietness in operation and a light clutch action. If the pedal is heavy the clutch is probably worn out – especially if there’s a high bite point too. A low bite point suggests the clutch and flywheel need to be replaced, which is costly.
• All M Coupés came with hydraulic power steering so check for leaks in the rubber gaiters. Also inspect the various suspension and steering ball joints which may well need to be replaced.
• Every 30,000-40,000 miles the shock absorber mounts tend to need to be replaced because they’ve deteriorated. It’s given away by rattles as the car is driven, but it’s not an expensive job.
• The brakes are superb without any upgrades, but warped discs can be an issue on hard-driven cars.
• The alloy wheels don’t tend to give problems either, but they’re kerbed easily to inspect the rims for signs of damage – but they’re easy enough to refurbish, and it’s not especially costly either.
1998: The BMW M Coupé is launched with a 321bhp straight-six ‘S50’ engine, denoted by the words M Power on the camshaft cover. These cars have a limited-slip diff. As with the Z3 roadster, all M Coupés are built in BMW’s Spartanburg factory in South Carolina.
2001: A facelift brings a new 325bhp straight-six engine, this time the S54 unit given away by an M badge on the camshaft cover. There’s a more sophisticated engine management system, along with ESP and tyre pressure monitoring – but no limited-slip diff.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
Many already class the M Coupe as a classic, and the prices certainly reflect this. The cheapest cars tend to start at around £8000, with anything less than this generally being broken up for spares. Top condition early cars cost somewhere in the region of £14,000-£18,000, but the there’s a substantial price gap between the early and late examples. The much more desirable S54-engined models tend to start nearer to £15,000, with the very best changing hands for upwards of £30,000.
Words: Richard Dredge