Recently, Cameron Kirby over at Motor Magazine Australia wrote a brilliant “What If?” scenario. The publication turned out a cool render of a modern version of the Z3 M Coupe and talked about how it might drive. In light of BMW itself seeming determined to turn out a new take on “antagonistically modern” every week, a little retrospective daydreaming feels good.
For those who might’ve been living beneath some form of hard, geological object for the past 25 years, the Z3 M Coupe, otherwise known as the Clownshoe due to its, well, resemblance to a clown’s shoe, was a hardtop Z3 with a shooting brake design to its rear end. You know, a coupe in hatch form which the Ferrari 250 GT SWB “Breadvan” made popular.
The Clownshoe’s showpiece was not only its iconic styling, but also its iconic performance: mounted between its front shock towers was BMW’s S52 in North America pre-2001, though when the S54 came along that was dropped in its place. These engines made 240 and 315 horsepower, respectively, in the way that BMWs of yore did so best: naturally aspirated.
Having a hot engine in a small, short-wheelbase car made it a bit of a handful. Or do I dare say it handled… like a total clownshoe? As Daniel Pund at Car & Driver explained back in 2001, “The M coupe requires more of its driver than do most other sports cars. It doesn’t have the lithe, balanced feel of the Honda S2000 or Porsche’s Boxster S. Instead, you feel the weight of the engine up front. You feel the enormous juice flowing rearward to tires that, despite their impressive girth, want nothing more than to howl and slide. That’s the difference between the M coupe and other sports cars. Those cars try to make it easy for you to drive smoothly. The M coupe provides the performance pieces, including a stiffer suspension than in years past, and says, ‘Good luck.'”
I, for one, embrace all of this. Not only would a brand-new Clownshoe look amazing, but when also equipped with the right kit could be an epic amount of fun. Possibly a new halo car for the Bavarian brand, even. Plus, we’ve already got a good baseline for how all of this could shake out.
The current A90 Supra, sister to the BMW Z4, is a sort of love it or hate it type of sports car. It had big shoes to fill and came up short in the eyes of a lot of Toyota Supra stans. Though, to people like yours truly, it’s essentially a poor man’s Z4 M40i with a metal roof and less weight. Its 382 horsepower I6, rear-wheel drive, narrow body, and short wheelbase make it heaps of fun, and when equipped with more rubber and some slight revisions here and there, it’s an immensely potent track weapon. Plus, the Supra’s a homologated GT4 car -if you don’t care about my opinion, at least give a nod over the fact that pro-level racing has taken a shine to it.
The Z4 M40i convertible is a brute, but the way it does corners leaves a lot to be desired. This is by no fault of its own, of course, it’s missing a lot of metal to keep its chassis taut. But my gosh does it look good, and also somehow feels wilder than the Supra, even though they share the same power figures. Between the Z4 M40i and Toyota Supra’s best parts, a hardtop Z4 M would be truly epic.
Just imagine the possibilities of what could be under the hood, too. BMW’s epic, twin-turbo S58 has no business being in a short wheelbase platform that weighs significantly less than its original home, the M3 and M4. But with wider and stickier rubber, much bigger brakes, and modern traction and stability control that’s found in BMW’s other M cars, doing so would make this freak of nature so incredibly fun. BMW’s proven that it can make its lineup of portly, modern M cars handle very well. Imagine what they could do with less weight, that’s better centered between the front and rear wheels? Or reign in all that twin-turbo torque with xDrive all-wheel drive, particularly the version found in the current M5 that can switch between rear-wheel and all-wheel drive. All four wheels distributing power would decrease the likelihood of being collected by a guardrail in a spectacularly brutal fashion, but then utilizing just the rears would be a wonderfully frightening throwback to the original Z3 M Coupe.
A new, striking homage to the original Clownshoe, but with performance that matches far more exotic hardware, would be so well received, and earn BMW its groove back among enthusiasts of all opinions. Plus, isn’t 2021 high-time for selling, in technical terms, really-fucking-expensive cars?
Something like this would punch well above its weight compared to anything else that BMW offers at the moment. It could be the spiritual successor to the Ferrari FF, just without the rear seats, and a size that’s quite a bit smaller and more purposeful. It obviously couldn’t be mid-engine, but a low enough curb weight and clever M traction/stability control tuning could mirror performance and a driving experience that isn’t terribly far off from a McLaren.
It looks like the best way for BMW to proceed as a brand would be to sell the damn thing. I know they’ve got a lot going on with EVs at the moment, but surely they could rustle up a rag-tag group of lunatics to cobble all of this together. Oh, and if anyone at M Division is reading this, I’ll happily volunteer to take part in initial track testing.
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- Chris sold his BMW ZHP because it wasn’t the dream he wanted it to be.
- Reminisce with Peter Nelson about the Little Tikes Sport Coupe, the first car that taught him driving dynamics.