By late summer of 2015, the trusty 50K mile FR-S I had driven for the first three years of my professional life was feeling long in the tooth and I hungered for a new experience. For 2016 I vowed to spend less time agonizing over paint cleanliness, nonessential modifications and couch racing forum junkies. Give me more canyon drives, open track days, autocrossing and grin inducing time behind the wheel.
Enter a new-to-me 2007 BMW Z4 M Coupe (that’s chassis code E86 for you purists) and a clean slate. I tried my best to summon my inner Jalop and find a well-cared, moderately used and fair priced car. As luck would have it, I found a meticulously cared for example in my own backyard that was mechanically sound. Cosmetically it looked showroom new on the inside, on the outside it shouted years of gas station car wash neglect.
Armed with an excel budget and rainy day funds I jumped naively into the well-charted territory of used German sport cars. The first 1000 miles taught me a few things:
- 1. The engine is brilliant. Do yourself a favor and get behind the wheel of an E46 M3, Z3M or Z4M where BMW so graciously bestowed upon us the S54 engine. To quote Jalopnik; “The S54B32 engine is an evolution of the S52B32 engine of the E36 M3. It makes 343 HP at 7,900 RPM, 269 Lb-Ft of the creamiest torque you’ll ever use at 4,900 RPM and revs all the way to 8,000 RPM.” No it is not melt-your-face fast, just genuine catch you by surprise fast.
- 2. It’s unique. BMW production numbers are low (or people didn’t buy them) and it garners attention on the road. Looks can be polarizing, but the coupe’s flared rear and GT hood line that extends forever are a bright spot in Chris Bangle’s BMW tenure. You sit atop the rear wheels and pilot the German chariot to much fanfare. Even amongst enthusiasts, it is not the most well-known platform. As for BMW ownership camaraderie, forget it.
- 3. Gas mileage, to paraphrase Doug Demuro “is equivalent to pouring an open gas can down a hill”. Yes you can get 24-26 mpg, but the car begs to be driven spiritedly. The average on my first tank was 17.5, slightly improved to 19 on the second tank and things have now balanced out to a mere 20 mpg.
Three weeks after signing the title I took the M to Thunderhill in Willows, CA for an open track day on the 5 mile “ThunderRing”. Holy hell was it a riot and the RPI noise cannons (muffler delete) provided a glorious soundtrack all day. Convinced I made the proper decision, I didn’t even so much blink at a passing 987.1 Cayman S; my childhood dream car.
Not long after I enlisted the help of a fellow gearhead to replace the brake pads, change the brake fluid and swap the exhaust for a more headache and commute friendly Stromung variant. I was nervous to turn a wrench on my own car, but the sense of pride (and avoidance of service costs) was unbeatable driving home. Tally so far: $1100
Things were calm for the next two months as the car sat parked mostly. In preparation for a trackday at Laguna Seca I completed a track inspection revealing a leaking clutch valve slave cylinder, seeping hydraulic steering and engine fluid and minorly bent front wheels. Chalk up $260 for the bare necessities and I headed to Monterey for the weekend.
Laguna Seca was an absolute blast and the added benefit of driver instruction really helped improve my braking points, racing line and confidence. It was such a thrill to experience the same track I spectated for Rennsport Reunion and car talk with like-minded enthusiasts. I’ll be back, hopefully having learned to heel-toe.
On Monday I dropped the car off for diagnostics, service and an oil service with a blank check. Wallet $1050 lighter yet again I was informed I badly needed new front tires and a less aggressive alignment. Tire rack. Click. Michelin PSS full set. Click. $890. I scheduled the mount, balance and alignment and parked the car in the garage in favor of my fiance’s 228i. Finally a car that isn’t actively destroying my bank account (let’s not discuss its owner).
A week later I returned from a short three-day weekend to the lights flickering, clocks reset, dash lit up like Christmas and the engine turning over for 8 seconds. Welcome back. The 10 year old battery finally kicked the bucket to the tune of $300. Flash forward to Friday of that week and the car complete its tire mounting, balancing and alignment to the tune of $250.
The fun wasn’t over yet though. Monday morning I found 1 tire had dropped 12psi over the weekend. I promptly dragged the car back to the shop (after filling the tire!) and was informed that the wheel had cracked on the inside barrel lip smack in the middle of curb rash the previous owner had neglected to mention. Luckily the shop was able to repair the wheel and I need not replace the expensive Advans. Tack another $238 onto the tab.
Here is where I tell you used BMW ownership isn’t so insane. I stand six months later having completed 7500 miles, 2 track days and now $4500 in parts & service poorer. Was it the nightmare advertised? Absolutely not. I also have been lucky the issues on my car are largely minor and innocuous in nature. Here’s to the next 10,000 miles in a mostly-sorted car.