David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
8/16/18 9:22 a.m.

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Story by David S. Wallens • Photo Courtesy BMW

“It kind of looks like a clown shoe.”

“Yeah, that’s where it gets its nickname.”

Meet the BMW M Coupe. It’s more than a hardtop version of the M Roadster, which is itself a pumped-up Z3. The M Coupe follows a long line of three-door speciality BMW coupes built out of more common two-door models.

Despite the silly nickname, you can call the M Coupe the spiritual successor to BMW rarities like the 2002 Touring and later 318ti. It also has its own cult following, and prices have been creeping up lately as a result.

The M Coupe wasn’t always such a collectable, though. When it arrived on our shores for the 1999 season, its weird looks garnered more weird looks from consumers. Cars didn’t exactly scream off the lots.

It wasn’t just the exterior’s fault, as the interior color choices also turned up noses. In some cases, leather highlights in the cabin matched the car’s exterior, meaning bright Evergreen paint was paired with bright Evergreen leather. Sometimes the colors downright clashed: According to the M Coupe Buyers Guide, two cars were sent here sporting Dakar Yellow paint along with orange and black interiors.

The M Coupe’s MSRP hovered around $45,000, and only 2858 units were sold in North America through the end of the model’s run in 2002. Today high-mileage cars are trading in the teens, about what you’d expect to pay for an M3 from that era in similar condition.

It’s the special cars that are bringing in more-like $50,000 and up. Special in this case means low mileage, no sunroof and the S54-spec engine found in the 2001–’02 cars.

The 1999–2000 M Coupe received BMW’s S52-spec inline-six, the same 240-horsepower engine found in the E36-chassis M3. For 2001 and 2002, the North American cars got the same engine that BMW used in overseas markets, the S54-spec inline-six also found in the E46-chassis M3. While displacement remained 3.2 liters, variable valve timing and other tricks boosted output to 315 horsepower. All M Coupes received a five-speed manual box.

No matter what the version-or color combo, for that matter-the M Coupe is a thrill to drive. Both engines are smooth, flexible and powerful, and the car feels tighter than its open-top siblings.

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wspohn Dork
8/21/18 3:24 p.m.

The looks are a personal judgement, but the handling tends to be loosey goosey compared to later M models.  The cars that got the S54 engine bring a nice premium.  If you value idiosyncratic appearance over crisp handling, these are a better choice than the later Z4Ms.  Otherwise, not so much.  I think the Z3M coupe looks kind of cool, but I own a Z4M coupe.

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