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I swear I’m not being needlessly contrarian just to feel like some kind of nerdy, esoteric-embracing iconoclast by calling out the BMW Z3 as one of the best Bond cars. It might not have been as fancy as the Astons or gotten as much screen time as the Lotuses, but the blue Z3 that pops into GoldenEye is one of my favorite cars of the 007 franchise.

I have fond memories of seeing this film on the big screen when I was a kid way back in the Summer of 1996. I think the theater was re-running it nearly a year after its initial release, maybe as a Bond theme week, or something? Anyway, my mother took me to go see it at a small theater as a midday matinee. You know, one of those movie experiences where you exit the premises after sitting in the dark for around two hours and are immediately blinded by the mid-afternoon.

I loved the film in general, and still do, and one of the reasons why is I found the Z3 to be absolutely gorgeous as soon as it entered the frame. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was the first time I noticed the little South Carolina-built Bavarian runabout. Its classic sports car proportions, tiny size, beautiful Atlantic Blue color, classic ’90s BMW alloy wheels, and wide hips were a great mix of design when it was fresh and new, and still are. 

It looks like BMW really enjoyed kicking off its Bond partnership with the Goldeneye, too. After all, this was the first film to feature a BMW as a key part of the plot, and one of many key product placements that have been a major part of the franchise for decades. Just look at this fun marketing blurb from a Z3 catalog that I dug up in the BMW Archiv:

BMW

Having the Bond-affiliated E36/7 Z3 on my mind lately due to No Time To Die recently releasing realigned my future cheap car inclinations — maybe I’ll pick up a cheap fixer-upper-spec Z sometime in the next year or so. It’s probably the most attainable Bond car ever.

The Z3’s performance, especially when equipped with the M44 1.9-liter inline-four, was nothing to write home about back in the day. But who cares? It’s tiny, can be operated with a glorious BMW manual gear change, and sends its power to the rear wheels exclusively. Plus, by the looks of the little M44, it’s probably easy to DIY wrench on and cheap to maintain.

Luckily, there’s always some degree of stick-shift Z3 potential for sale in California. Craigslist Screenshots

Of course, one of the bigger engine options that came later in the generation would be preferred. The 2.5-liter M54B25 and 2.8-liter M52B28 each made 184 and 189 horsepower, respectively, which ain’t bad for a little coupe that could weigh in under 3,000 pounds. Plus, who doesn’t love a small-displacement, naturally aspirated I6 growl?

Chassis-wise, its semi-trailing arm rear suspension isn’t optimal, as it’s barely a step above twist-beam-type design. And being a convertible it almost certainly doesn’t have any favorable amount of chassis rigidity, but perhaps that means it’d be easier to slide around. This, combined with a torquey power plant and teeny 96-inch wheelbase, means it’d make for a great little runabout, canyon carver, autocrosser, and occasional track rat. I bet replacing all of a Z3’s bushings with OEM-or-better options, tightening up the suspension with an aftermarket spring and damper combo, and giving it a good alignment would make it a ton of fun in any of these scenarios. Like an NA or NB Miata, just without the ridiculous used enthusiast car tax (seriously, why are people paying over $2,000 for beat-up NA6 Miatas as of this writing?) -all the harmless around-town-slide potential.

While I doubt I’d find any Atlantic Blue options in reasonable shape for any amount of scratch I’d comfortably pay, there are plenty of somewhat inexpensive options available in other colors in at least OK shape throughout Southern California. I say somewhat inexpensive because as we’re all painfully aware, used car prices are horrendously inflated at the moment. This gen Z3 seems to have its own share of maintenance annoyances, too, but after rolling around in a 1997 Land Rover Discovery for the past few months, not much really scares me anymore. Being aware of common issues, doing preventative maintenance, and putting miles on a car does wonders for peace of mind.

So maybe it’d be fairer to say the Z3 is one of my favorite cars to have been used by Bond, rather than a favorite Bond car, since he barely drove it after all (I’m still bummed we never got to see the “stinger missiles behind the headlights” Q promises) but it’s pretty cool regardless.

Still, they’re much cheaper than the other Bond cars I dream of owning, such as a Lotus Esprit Turbo like the one in For Your Eyes Only, an Aston Martin V12 Vanquish as it was in Die Another Day, or the Aston Martin DB10 in Spectre. I bet it’d be even cheaper than the E38 BMW 750iL in Tomorrow Never Dies because, man, it seems like DIY maintenance for that thicc sedan could be a financial drain.

More great stories on Car Bibles

• Our Rivian RT1 Review Rundown compiles takeaways from top car journalists on the new electric pickup truck. Check it out to get a big range of perspectives on this vehicle in one place.
• This retrospective on Ford’s surprisingly effective youth marketing from the 2000s is a nice dose of near-past nostalgia.

• Upgrading a BMW ZHP with Toyota Camry parts… it’s a thing, and the results can be better than you might expect.

• Keeping an old Land Rover alive is a never-ending education on good repair procedures.

• Our guy in Ohio bought a car that the internet loves to love, but the fun didn’t last.

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