If logic had entered the equation, I wouldn’t have bought a sports car at all. For a 23-year-old barely six months into his first real job out of college, a used Civic would have been sensible. A Forester, maybe, because winters in Michigan are rough. But I wasn’t interested in sensible. Sensible came with a roof.
It was March 2014, five months into my car magazine career. Whether I would ultimately hack it remained an open question. Seven of my co-workers, including current Hagerty Insider managing editor David Zenlea, owned Miatas. Three or four grand was the going rate for a decent NA-generation driver.
That, too, would have been the sensible choice.
Instead, I blew $8300 on a 2001 BMW Z3 2.5 roadster with 71,500 miles. That sum represented more than half of my total savings, mostly earned from years of waiting tables. Several people told me I was making a dumb choice, and that the money I’d have to put into a 13-year-old BMW made in South Carolina would eventually fill me with regret.
They were wrong about the last part. I love this car to pieces, even when it’s in pieces. The time, energy, and investment I’ve put into my BMW over the last decade has been entirely worth it to me.
Car valuation is Hagerty’s bread and butter. Our insights from comprehensive data, we hope, help people make decisions that will allow them to get—or even just keep—a vehicle that makes them happy. But for all our talk about savvy car purchases, we don’t often acknowledge the upshot investing in the health of one’s car: you get to keep driving it.
I’m not talking about a full rotisserie restoration, though that nuclear option is certainly worth it for some. My mantra has been four-fold: 1) Be religious about basic maintenance; 2) Address common failure points before they have a chance to wreak havoc; 3) Fix things promptly when they break; 4) Drive it as much as possible.
Long did I pine for a Z3, so the last thing that crossed my mind when I finally got it was what it would one day be worth. I’d picked a great example of a fun car and expected German-car ownership costs. The point was to enjoy it. If I lost my shirt, it was because I wanted a really good tan.
Everything I’ve done to the car myself—from oil changes to brakes, weather-seal repair, headlight bulbs, and new engine gaskets—has been to ensure my spring, summer, and fall are punctuated with weekend spurts of top-down fun. That straight-six song! Those classic proportions! That oh-so-BMW rubber-band-ball shift feel! It doesn’t get old, even as my recently graying beard reminds me I do. And when things go wrong beyond my expertise or bandwidth to handle, I have no problem paying a shop to get the car back on the road ASAP. My rough annual maintenance budget of $1000 sometimes takes a big hit, but usually there’s a some left over to roll into next year. So when the choice is between drenching myself in transmission fluid to badly replace a transmission shift-shaft seal and swiping my credit card, I take the latter route.
As a matter of interest, I decided to check—for the first time since buying it—what a five-speed Z3 2.5 in #3 (Good) condition is worth. At the time of purchase, in 2014, $8300 was the exact average value for my car. Not bad for a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed hopeful like me, right? Unlike full-bore M Roadsters and M Coupes, however, ordinary Z3 roadsters like mine were not finished depreciating. Values hit their bottom of $7500 in 2021, eventually rebounding and growing to today’s average of $11,800. Adjusted for inflation, more like $9400.
Lord knows I’m upside down. Just how much so I don’t particularly care to calculate. Maybe it’s the blood rushing to my head, but it’s been a lot more fun than puttering around in a Forester.
Last summer, I realized my Z3 was 21 years old. At that point in its life, Rule #2 applied to a number of components. The entire engine cooling system, for one thing, is suspect on Z3s and related E36 3-series BMWs at this age or about 80,000 miles. Rubber and plastic pieces like hoses, expansion tanks, and fan blades get brittle and risk cracking, which means overheating that BMW’s aluminum-block inline-sixes do not tolerate well. Brake lines. Motor and transmission mounts. Suspension and differential bushings. This stuff gets tired, but at a rate slower than one can easily notice.
The last thing I wanted was to cook my engine, lose my brakes, or risk damage to my subframe (unfortunately common on Z3s with worn diff bushings, due to spot weld failure). Thanks to a fellow named Bryan Salgado, who runs a popular Z3 and Z4 maintenance group on Facebook, I executed a plan. I ordered a giant, $2900 pile of parts and had them dropped off at Salgado’s home garage in North Carolina, courtesy of a nearby BMW supplier called BimmerBum. He spent three or four days performing all of the necessary work, at a very reasonable rate of $75/hr. Given that my car was something like the eighth or ninth “kitchen sink” project Salgado had done for friends and Z3 club members, I knew I was in good hands.
All told, the work involved a complete cooling system overhaul, replacement of engine and transmission mounts, seat rail bushing repair, stainless steel brake lines, new front control arms, springs, shocks, suspension bushings, differential bushing, and a weighted ZHP shift knob for good measure. My boss, Larry Webster, was skeptical that I’d spent $5500 on an unremarkable Z3.
“Really? It’s worth that much to you?”
“Absolutely,” I said.
And wow, what a difference. I have a story in the works that will get deeper into just how much better the car drove after the kitchen sink refresh, but suffice to say it might drive better now than when I bought it.
Naturally, a wayward traffic barrel rolled into the left lane outside of Louisville, Kentucky, on my way back to Michigan. Nobody was hurt, which is what really matters, but I can’t say I was thrilled to see a cracked bumper cover and dented driver’s door, among other damage. It’s insured (thanks, Hagerty!) and it will be fixed. The car was never meant for the concours lawn, anyway.
I have no plans to part with my Z3, so all I care about is that I can drive it when spring comes around. Those precious moments behind the wheel are the only return on investment I care to track.
Two thumbs up!
So glad to read a sensible column from someone who shares my same philosophy. I have a ’92 MB 500SL (R129). I bought it a little on the cheap ten years ago when nobody cared a lick about R129’s. I bought it because I fell in love with it. Is is a money pit? Of course it is. But it is a looker (blue with biscuit leather seats), a runner and a comfy cruiser. I take good care mechanically (thanks to AVA Restoration in Dublin, NH) and I keep it looking as good as I can and just enjoy putting the top down and enjoying spring, summer and autumn cruising. You have done the right thing by your Zed 3.
Sam, My 2001 M Roadster has about 80K on it now. Replaced suspension. with Ground Ctrl shock/strut set and lowered the ride about an inch. Had a fan blade bite the radiator core a few years back at 65K miles during a Thanksgiving Day Drive with my two sons and their M3s (it gets under 1000 miles a year now). Any suggested best proactive work I should consider? It has had BMW OEM and BIMMERS work done always.
I finally bought my first Trans Am at age 57. An ’88 with t-tops, red in color and only 38k on the clock. I paid near the top of the Haggerty valuation for the car, but am only it’s second owner and I don’t plan on there being a third in my lifetime. I’m actually looking forward to bringing this beauty as close to brand new performance as I can. It’s not a financial investment to me, but an investment in my soul.
I know where you are coming from Eric. I purchased a 96 Corvette convertible SE,with hard top from a customer moving out of town for $8K. It was in very good condition. It seems like C-4’s get no respect in the corvette world but I don’t care. I just replaced some weather stripping, interior trim and battery, did a little detail work and voila it’s an instant smile on my face when I go cruising. It’s a great way to turn a bad day into a fun day by either driving or puttering in the garage. But then again I have 10W 30 in my veins.
I’ m the original owner of a 93 and 2010 corvette with 150,000 and 67,000 miles respectively and couldn’t agree more with drive what you like regardless of auction numbers.
We have a handful of C4 owners on the Media team here at Hagerty, so I can tell you they’re definitely respected! I’ve never driven one though, would love to at some point.
You’re working with a great group of folks in Brian Salgado and BimmerBum. The Z Sports Car Club of America (ZSCCA) is also a tremendous group of Z enthusiasts, as I suspect you already know. Started by Z3 fanatics, the club has thrived over the years and is a truly great bunch with whom to meet, drive, or just shoot the breeze. Great cars too!
I loved “Last summer, I realized my Z3 was 21 years old”. I have a 1969 Mustang convertible that I bought in 1998 from a “little old lady”. The car was an early build unit on Oct. 2, 1968. I just realized that the old girl is approaching 55 years old. I’ve been loving her for 25 years, including a trip across country and back in 2009. I sometimes wish she was the SportsRoof (fastback) that I was looking for at the time, but this is my first convertible and I’ll never sell her.
You have the right approach, Eric. I follow the same mantra with my 2001 Porsche Boxster S. Although my wallet is thinner, my smiles are wider.
The Z3 was designed to be deliberately ‘vintage’ in its driving behavior, while the Boxster was more of a modern sports car for its time. I drove a Boxster S once. It was faster, better-handling, and the interior was one notch better in quality. But I just prefer the Z3’s looks and will always have a soft spot for a straight six. No regrets!
My kind of person! I don’t intend to part with my 2000 S2000 any time soon! She’s my baby! Plus, I only put the top up if it’s raining or in the 90s or above with glaring sun! The photo with him in winter clothing is spot on. I have been known to drive mine while looking at snow on other people’s cars!
Yeah I get funny looks but I love a night drive in fall with the top down.
Many people think you should make money or at least break even on a classic or special interest vehicle. That is not the proper way to evaluate a car you love to drive. If you must do an evaluation then do this-compare your annual expenditures to the maintenance and depreciation cost of a new car that might give you the same satisfaction as your car. I imagine you would come out ahead almost every time. In any case your pride and joy is a hobby which you don’t have to justify financially!
I agree with what you said. It’s kind of “love the one your with” in a sense. I’m not quite ready to part with my car.
I bought my 2000 Z3 Coupe in 2001 having seen the Motor Week test drive of the 1999 Z3 on TV and never being able to shake that thought of “I want one”. It is now 23 years old and it was always going to be the next car to sell when I found some other car to purchase. Then last year I fell in love with it all over again and decided to freshen it up with new tires , new upholstery and lots of little mechanical bits and pieces. As Eric said “it is worth it to me”. Even though it is not high horsepower monster it is an absolute blast to drive. So get something that brings a smile to you face when you drive it.
Wow I TOTALLY remember that video and have seen it dozens of times. As for interior stuff, a common one is the glovebox repair that eliminates the big weight in there that tends to make the assembly sag.
Yes– I do find it disturbing when it becomes Only about making money-My job is about making money– My 63 Dodge 330 is about Fun & pride of ownership– Like my house-nothing Fancy but I get to enjoy it–
In the midst of rebuilding the lower end of my MG TC ‘s engine, the thing that moves this project forward is the constant memory of what it’s like driving this 77-year-old car on the road. That, and the TC is a sports car that comes apart and goes back together relatively simply (with a few interesting idiosyncrasies). Fortunately, the cost of replacement T-series parts isn’t exorbitant, and I have a good friend who’s an expert Brit car mechanic, so the effort and investment will DEFINITELY be worth the trouble.
I bought my 1998 Z-3 in 2001. Over the last 22 years it has given me a great deal of enjoyment. The car has about 72,000 miles on the odometer now and still runs great due to routine service by the local BMW shop. The big news is that 2 weeks ago I put antique plates on the car and insured it with Hagerty.
Glad you’re enjoying it as much as I am!
Being the proud owner of a pristine 2001, Z3 3.0, I can relate. It’s an all about fun and enjoyment, forget about the money (that’s what I tell my wife). 🤫👍
I’m also going to check out the BMW Z owner’s club you mentioned.
Please do, they’re a great group.
pardon me but were you born stupid! you’re going to keep hucking money into a german engineered, ‘ why make it simple when we can make it complicated’ bmw that you haven’t got the slightest chance of recovering half as much as you put in to it ? good man. but i would recommend buying something of like kind to the forester to use as a daily. just do the required maintenance. take those door denter spots nearest the grocery store entrance. only problem is when it starts nickel and dime’ing you death and you decide its time to get rid of it you’ll probably get the same lump in your throat as you would with your Zed 3 and start looking for garage space. ‘ she was a good car. she always got me home. and it really wouldn’t take that much.’ i’d say your on the slippery slope but sorry, i think it’s too late for you now.
It’s not my daily driver. The car has been in my care for 9 years — with what I’ve done to it, it’ll be mechanically sound for another 20. To me that is not hucking money out the door, it’s ensuring I can keep enjoying it well into the future.
Thanks for all the kind words, everybody! Happy to be among like-minded drivers.
Bryan, and Eric and Nancy at Bimmerbum are the dream team for keeping these cars on the road and performing as they should. Hope to see you at ZFEST this summer in Branson as it would make a great article about an enthusiast group with a crazy loyal following.
I can totally relate to this piece. I have an ’89 Supercharged Toyota MR2 and she’s due for some MAJOR work when she comes out of hibernation this Spring,,including a tranny swap! I’m no mechanic so it’s going to cost a sweet piece of cash to fix everything that’s wrong but she’s my girl so I gotta do it!!