When we think of “classic” cars, cars of the late 1990s surely don’t come to mind. Our minds go straight to carburetors, roll-up windows, and non-synchromesh manual transmissions. However, in the eyes of the law, a car only needs to be 25 years old to be considered a “classic”. How’s this for mind-boggling: next year the Mazda Miata turns 30 years old. 30! You kiddin’ me? Today we’re going to look at two modern, at least in our eyes, roadsters that just recently crested the 20-year-old mark, the Porsche Boxster and BMW Z3. In just a few years we’ll be seeing Boxsters and Z3s with classic plates; I can’t be the only one rattled by this realization.
Seriously? The Boxster is already 20 years old? Little did the public know that when the water-cooled Boxster was introduced in late 1996, it prefaced the impending demise of the beloved air-cooled Porsches. The Boxster was soon followed by the 996, the first 911 to be water-cooled rather than air-cooled, which caused a stir among the Porsche faithful. Interestingly enough, the mid-engined, 2-seater Boxster was Porsche’s first road car originally designed as a roadster since the legendary 550 Spyder. You may have noticed that Porsche just recently changed the Boxster and Cayman names to the “718”, a homage to the 718RSK racers of the late 1950s, the 718RSK being a racing variant derived of the 550 Spyder.
In the early 1990s, Porsche wasn’t quite the economic powerhouse we know today. As a matter of fact, they were on the verge of bankruptcy. In 1993, Porsche sold just 3,000 cars in the United States, total. In an effort to turn things around, Porsche looked to introduce a new, more affordable model. They looked to Japanese automaker Mazda, who was having tremendous success at the time with their Miata, an entry-level 2-seater roadster. Mazda had proven that there was a strong market for small, sporty roadsters, and Porsche recognized an opportunity. The Boxster would, in some senses, become the German Miata. It was similar to the Miata in that it was small, convertible, and relatively inexpensive, but it featured a mid-mounted flat-six producing nearly twice as much power as the Miata, had near-perfect weight distribution, and above all, wore a Porsche badge. The Boxster was a massive success, and quite likely saved the company from financial ruin. By 2003, when the first generation of Boxster was phased out, Porsche had sold more than 120,000 of them. Ironically, the Boxster, the car originally intended bring Porsche ownership to the masses, is now one of Porsche’s lowest volume sellers.
While it may seem a bit odd, as BMW has been such a prevalent automaker and household name for decades, the Z3 was actually BMW’s first mass-produced, mass-market roadster. It was also the first new BMW model to be manufactured in the United States, having been assembled at BMW’s South Carolina plant. The roadster was introduced in late 1995 and was an instant hit; by the time the car came to market for the 1996 model year, over 15,000 orders had already been placed. Just under 300,000 units were produced over the course of the car’s seven year production run, a huge success. While the Z3 Roadster sold very well, the Roadster is likely not the model that the Z3 platform will be remembered by. The Z3 M Coupe, with it’s hate-it-or-love-it “clown shoe” shape, was the ultimate development of the platform. The M Coupe was essentially a Z3 powered by an M3 powertrain; the combination of the M3’s massive power (320hp in the Z3M’s later iteration) and the Z3’s sub-3000lb weight pushed the Z3M to supercar-like levels of performance. In recent years, the Z3M Coupe has seen a phenomenal appreciation in value, and, as the market currently sits, there’s no sign of values ever dipping back down.
Today, twenty years after the Z3 Roadster’s inception, they’re still a common sighting. And because of the high production numbers, there are bargains to be had; higher-mileage examples can be had for as little as $3k. With the Roadster now at the very bottom of its depreciation curve, if you can find a nice, original, low-mileage example, you can only win. While it probably wont be the next Ferrari Dino or Porsche Speedster in terms of rapid appreciation in value, there’s no better time to buy than now.
Written by: Jake DePierro