A Blasphemous Fate For A BMW Icon

Alex McCullouch

I was casually chatting with a fellow Clownshoe owner—that would be the Z3 M coupe—when he mentioned that he knew of a very-well-sorted M coupe that might be for sale soon—for cheap. Since the words M coupe and cheap aren’t often used in the same sentence, I was intrigued. It was a 1999 Estoril Blue M coupe with the two-tone blue-and-black interior. Oh, man, I’m a sucker for Estoril!

The car had an excellent ownership pedigree and an impressive build sheet. Modifications included a coil-over suspension, camber plates, sway bars, brakes, a performance chip, subframe reinforcement, and a Billy Boat exhaust. The odometer read in the mid-100,000-mile mile range.

But there was one tiny issue: an incident involving a barbwire fence.

 

It’s amazing how much damage barbwire can do to a moving object. I’ve spent the better part of my hang-gliding career avoiding barbwire; a potential landing field could look perfect from a few hundred feet above, only to turn into a terrifying spiderweb of barbwire once committed to landing. The telltale signs of a fence—straight lines, tumbleweeds, fence posts—are easy to see; the one that will get you is the one that is hidden. The one that almost got me was an abandoned barbwire fence entangled in knee-high brush. I was set up to do a “fly on the wall” uphill landing on the back side of a mountain hang-gliding site. I saw the barbwire at the last minute and used what remained of my energy to pull up over the fence. That took all of the energy I had to flare—i.e., stop flying—so I picked the largest bush in reach and center-punched it. My wounds were superficial, but numerous. It looked like I had jumped into a pit of furious alley cats—but I would have been worse off if I’d hit the barbwire.

The Estoril M coupe wasn’t so lucky; it went through a barbwire fence at speed to avoid an accident that undoubtedly would have been worse. The front and rear bumper covers were ripped off, the left front and right rear fenders were dented, and nearly every panel was scratched. Amazingly, it was mechanically unscathed. The owner was so attached to the car that he kept it for several years after the insurance wrote it off before finally deciding to sell it.

When I heard the story, I felt so bad that I didn’t try to negotiate on his price. I would have been heartbroken myself, but this story has a happy ending. A student of mine wanted a Z3 M for a track car, so a match was made—the only caveat being that I get to take it ice-racing first.

When the M coupe showed up in Colorado. we set about building it into a proper ice-racer. The actual metal bumpers that live under the plastic covers were still intact, so I painted them black and installed an anodized tow hook. The exposed radiator and air-conditioning condenser were protected with a skid plate made of box tubing and a recycled metal sign. The suspension was raised as high as it would go with the help of some homemade plywood spacers in the rear. I mounted a set of studded

Nokian Hakkapeliitta snow tires on black E36 M3 DS1 wheels and a set of non-studded Bridgestone Blizzaks on the Z3 M roadster wheels that were also painted black. To carry the extra set of wheels, I mounted the tire-basket rack from my M coupe. For looks, I finished it off with four old-school Hella rally lights, a CB antenna, and some sponsorship decals.

Only two words came to mind when we were done, the first was “bad,” and the second I cannot write in good conscience.

We finished the basics in time to go racing, but an unseasonably warm winter (or, more ominously, the new norm) made the ice on Georgetown Lake dangerously thin. The local venue for such shenanigans normally has a minimum of six inches of ice to support a vehicle, but this year it was as thin as two inches in places. All ice-racing was cancelled—likely for the rest of the winter season.

The next option was a snow course at the Bridgestone Winter Performance Driving School in Steamboat Springs with the Audi Q Club of North America. Our four-ring German brethren graciously allowed us to enter at the last minute, and even overlooked our lack of four drive wheels, despite the safety steward’s protests. I have no doubt a “They want to do what?” was uttered when he heard about us. I pleaded my case enough for him to allow us a highly skeptical supervised entry—the e-mail transcripts are a story of their own—but the lack of plastic bumper covers was the nail in the coffin for us. Alas, Bridgestone would not allow it.

Now the days are continuing to get warmer, but there is one more local event in the Rocky Mountain Region. I’m doubtful that it will come to fruition unless the weather changes dramatically. If it doesn’t, my backup-plan it to head north to where it’s always cold and there are lots of lakes—the winter wonderland that is Wisconsin!

This M coupe needs to see some ice or snow before I relinquish it to its forever home, where it will be un-blasphemized.—Alex McCulloch

 

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