In the car world there have always been odd-ball designs that don’t fit into established norms. Sometimes these designs fall flat and other times they become cult classics. One thing stays the same, they are always rare. One car that is a huge cult classic is the BMW Z3 Coupe, affectionately called the “Clown Shoe” by enthusiasts thanks to it’s interesting shape. The Z3 Coupe shares the chassis and front end with the standard roadster but the rear of the car is finished with a hatch rather than a trunk. This causes the back of the car to resemble a wagon or hatchback rather than a two-seater sports car. This interesting decision brings a whole new level of practicality to the Z3 and has caused the Clown Shoe to be one of the truly unique designs across all automotive history.
Recently I was fortunate enough to drive a Z3 Coupe. Specifically a Z3 Coupe with BMW’s 2.8 L Inline Six producing 190 hp and 206 lb/ft of torque. Though these numbers are in no means mind-blowing, they are adequate for spirited driving given that the coupe weighs less than 2900 lbs. The owner would have preferred the car with a manual transmission but it was fitted with an automatic as manual cars fetch a much higher price at auction in Japan where it was imported from.
The first things you notice when looking at the coupe is its extremely wide hips. From the back the car looks aggressive and low as the fenders bulge out from the side of the car. Part of the appeal to the Z3 Coupe is that the fact that there isn’t a single flat surface on the entire car. As a whole the car looks compact and sporty. A flowing roofline is not something a hatchback can usually pull off but the Z3 Coupe does just that. This specific Z3 was also fitted with 18 inch wheels from an E46 M3. The wide wheels help fill out the massive arches and improve the look of the car. I personally think the Z3 Coupe looks better with these wheels than the E46 M3 ever did.
When getting into the car the compact size is immediately apparent. The seats are snug and you sit low to the ground. The seating position enhances the sporty feel of the car and really focuses you in on the driving experience. The steering feel is typical BMW of the era. On centre response is slightly lacking compared to modern sports cars but once you load it up it feels tight and responsive. Since I wouldn’t describe the car as being fast, I would almost classify this as being a momentum car that rewards you for keeping your speed into corners. The chassis is nice and stiff and with the extra rubber thanks to the M3 wheels there is an immense amount of grip. This means you can use the cars entire 190 horses at all times.
Though the driving experience is great, the styling of the car really takes over the experience for me. It’s unlike anything else on the road save for the Ferrari FF which clearly took some inspiration from the infamous Clown Shoe. Nothing else on the road has ever combined hatchback practicality with the front-engine, rear-drive roadster feel quite like this. Wether you love it or hate it, the cult status of this car can not be ignored. It’s sure to become a collector in the future if you don’t already consider it that. This is one clown that doesn’t joke around.