The Art and Joy of Roadstering—Part 2


That Z3 remains my roadster today, and is in my mind the logical successor to everything the MGB tried to be in its eighteen-year production run.  Both cars handle tight corners in remarkably similar fashion.  But the Z3 roadster comes with power of which the MGB designers could only dream.  Even the rare MG RV8—a limited-run MGB offshoot with a 190 horsepower V-8 engine that was produced between 1993 and 1995 did not come close to the 231 horsepower inline-six of the BMW.

Now to describe the roadster experience.  If you love driving, there is simply nothing quite like it.  You owners of the Mazda MX-5 Miata and Honda S2000 know all about this, especially if you were savvy enough to get your roadster equipped with a manual transmission.

It’s the first truly nice weekend of spring.  The temperatures climb into the high 60s to low 70s.  The convertible roof is lowered and stowed behind the seats.  You place your beautiful bride (Ursula, in my case) in the passenger seat.  Roll down the windows.  Depress the clutch pedal.  Release the fly-off handle for the parking brake.  Engage first gear.  Goose the throttle and easily engage the clutch.  The roadster rolls out onto the street, a hint of wind licking at your hair and seducing you with the promise of the adventure that is to follow.

You speed past the busy streets of the city, eager to find open spaces on sparsely traveled roads, preferably roads with many twisty turns and trees and fields lining either side.  The sun is warming you as you slip the transmission into a gear compatible with the speed limit . . . or perhaps just a tad more.  Make that a lot more.  Your hear is now whipping around, and you are silently grateful for the sunglasses that double almost as protective goggles for your vulnerable eyes.  You press down on the throttle and get up to speed on a short straight then, just before hitting the next turn, you depress the clutch and rev up the engine to match the downshift into a lower gear.  You ease back on the throttle, using the engine to slow the car into the tight turn, then mash down on the gas to accelerate smoothly out of the corner and into a line that positions you nicely into the next straight.  You press down again on the clutch, ease up on the throttle, upshift, and then resume the pace ahead, the elements once again bathing you in the sights, sounds, and smells of surrounding nature.

Rinse.  Wash.  Repeat.  Straight after straight.  Corner after corner.  Hill after hill.  Bridge after bridge.  The roadster becomes an extension of you, following precisely the commands of your feet on the pedals and your hands on both the wheel and the shifter.

In such a scenario, horsepower takes a backseat to technique and the cornering ability of the car you’re driving.  Sure, it’s nice to be able to power out of a tight turn, but even a 63 horsepower MGB becomes a very capable intermediary between you and the road if you know how to drive well and get the most out of the car.  Much more important than horsepower to the roadster experience are weight, balance, steering responsiveness and, most importantly of all, driving skill.

A lot of that skill comes with understanding the gear ratios of your car and how they manipulate the power band of the engine.  More comes from an intuitive feel for the approaching road and the ability to visualize the line the car will take going through that corner that is rushing to greet you—when to brake, when to downshift and by how many gears, how much throttle to give the engine while engaging the clutch, and how much more to give it when accelerating out onto the next straight.

So, while driving to work may be a chore, sports driving in a roadster is a joyous, almost mystical experience any true lover of cars really must take the time to both master and experience.

Monday’s blog showed my old Tr6.  Today we look at the BMW Z3:

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