Please pass the barbecue, y’all
Each Labor Day weekend, hundreds of BMW customers converge for a company-sponsored event that revels in the joy of top-down driving. This year, party-goers will have two more reasons to celebrate: the modern BMW roadster turns ten-years-old and the assembly plant that builds it will make its one-millionth car wearing the beloved blue-and-white roundel on its hood. But this big bash isn’t held in Germany. It takes place in Dixie, at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and it’s much more fun than the Blue Ridge BBQ and the Mighty Moo festivals in the same region of South Carolina – for BMW enthusiasts, anyway. These BMW owners celebrate the rewards of risk, and of roadsters. In 1993, BMW took a dramatic step for a German automaker known for luxury sports sedans constructed with care and quality: It built an assembly plant in Spartanburg, S.C. Initially, the BMW 3 Series sedan was produced in the new factory, but the facility really made headlines a couple of years later when it was chosen to be the sole source for the new 1996 Z3 roadster. That was ten years ago, and BMW celebrated its two-seater’s birthday at the 2006 Chicago Auto Show. When the 1996 BMW Z3 debuted, it rode the Mazda Miata’s coattails to fame, becoming the first modern, affordable roadster in a long time. In fact, the Z3 beat the Mercedes-Benz SLK230 and Porsche Boxster to market, and was near the end of its life cycle before Audi rolled out the TT Roadster. That first Z3 was an instant icon, a blend of retro design and contemporary underpinnings, but the original powerplant was a rather unimpressive four-cylinder engine – though you wouldn’t guess it by the Z3’s appearance as James Bond’s ride of choice in the film (shown here). It took only a year for BMW to install a silky inline six-cylinder engine under the Z3’s long, lovely hood, and by the turn of the century, the four-banger was history. Over the years, BMW refined the Z3 inside and out, and added muscle in the form of M editions. A funky looking three-door hatchback Z3 coupe – in regular- and extra-strength formats – enjoyed a short, mostly unloved run, and is probably the most interesting, and collectible, Z3 produced before the car went out of production in 2002. The Z3’s replacement had more power, more room, better handling, and a new name: Z4. The BMW Z4 also had more style, though the jury is out as to whether it’s actually stylish. The Z4’s skin embodies BMW’s “flame surfacing” design vocabulary, and the design represents a love-it-or-hate it proposition. As with the original Z3, the Z4 receives a mid-cycle freshening, and several new variants are arriving for 2006 and 2007. First out of the chute is the 2006 BMW Z4 M Roadster (displayed above), with a 330-horse inline six from the bigger M3, able to propel it from zero to 60 mph in less than five seconds and to a top speed of 155 mph. The M Roadster also receives hardware tweaks from the steering to the suspension, along with more substantial wheels, tires, and brakes. This summer, the 2007 BMW Z4 Coupe and BMW Z4 M Coupe arrive. But before that, the Spartanburg assembly plant is going to build its one-millionth American-made BMW – a 2006 BMW Z4 M Roadster – and the company plans to celebrate this milestone in style. As they say down Spartanburg way, please pass the barbecue sauce, y’all.
Photo by Ron Perry