BMW Once Stuffed a V12 Into a Z3 Just Because a Car Mag Asked It To

It wasn't as fast as you might think, but it's still amazing that BMW even attempted it.
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BMW’s classic car vault in Munich is a treasure trove of unusually awesome projects that never became realities. Cars like the E31 BMW M8, the V16 7 Series, and this—a V12-powered BMW Z3. And BMWBlog was given access to BMW Classic’s collection to check it out.

You’ve seen the Z3. It’s tiny. There are shoes bigger than the Z3. And yet, in 1999, the mad scientists at BMW decided it would be fun to stuff a massive V12 engine under the hood of one. Not only did BMW give its smallest car its biggest engine, but it also paired that engine with its six-speed manual transmission, elongating the powertrain even further.

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It wasn’t quite the hot-rod BMW Z3 you might imagine, though. BMW’s “M73” 5.4-liter V12 was pretty old by 1999, having debuted in 1993 and been used in luxurious cruisers like the 8 Series and 7 Series. It packed a decent punch, with 326 horsepower and 361 lb-ft of torque but, for comparison, the Euro-spec E36 M3’s 3.2-liter inline-six made 321 horsepower and the E39 M5’s 4.9-liter V8 made 369 lb-ft. So even though this muscle car Z3 had a V12 and weighed just 3,100-ish pounds, it still took 5.5 seconds to get from 0-60 mph.

There were a few engineering challenges with this project, though. For starters, fitting the big ol’ V12 in there wasn’t easy. With the hood open, you can see there’s barely a millimeter to spare on all sides of the engine. BMW had to eschew traditional air intake boxes for simple cone filters, since there wasn’t room for the former. And since the M73’s infamously complicated dual-ECU setup would get too hot under in the engine bay, the car had to be stopped every 15 minutes or so, to have its ECU sprayed to cool it down.

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Since it was built by the M Division, this BMW Z3 V12 had much of the Z3 M Roadster’s interior and its quad tailpipes. However, it wasn’t badged as an M car, likely because it was never actually going to be sold. It did get a very M car-like color, though. While it’s unclear exactly what color it is (if it’s even an official M shade), but it’s a gorgeous muted orange.

Why did BMW go through such a challenging engineering exercise, especially if it was never going to sell it? Simply because German magazine Auto Zeitung wanted to collaborate on a project. (I suppose if The Drive had commissioned this, we’d have gone for the same paint job.) BMW in the ’80s and ’90s was absolutely bonkers, making several wild projects like this one. If only the Bavarians had that same pioneering spirit today.