BMW Z3 and Shoemakers' Bairns

Beyond starring in jokey thrillers, Cary Grant and Pierce Brosnan had not much in common, yet both made a sports car famous. In 'To Catch a Thief' (Hitchcock, Paramount, 1955) Grant and Grace Kelly raced through the Riviera in a Sunbeam Alpine. In 'Goldeneye' (United Artists 1995) Brosnan forsook James Bond's Aston Martin and pursued baddies in a BMW Z3.

Both had the underpinnings of production saloons, the Alpine the Sunbeam-Talbot 90, the Z3 the BMW Compact 318i. They had 'retro' styling. The Alpine was aimed at North America. Stirling Moss won Coupes des Alpes in it, yet production ones were not quite up to scratch as road-going sports cars. Triumph TR2s were faster, MGAs more precise, Austin-Healeys lower and racier. All borrowed bits from mass-production, TR from the Standard Vanguard, MG from BMC, Austin-Healey from the A90.

The BMW Z3 was not only aimed at North America, it was made in South Carolina. Quick, lively, it handled well, with a smooth-revving 4-cylinder in front, driving the rear wheels as a sports car's should. The recipe was right, it was well put together, and when I drove one in California, on a visit to the Pebble Beach concours, where streets seemed thronged with Ferraris, it drew admiring whoops of 'Nice car...'

The 4-cylinder was feeble but BMW already had plans for a six and I bought a 2 litre 6-cylinder. Was it a sports car or a born-again roadster like the Alpine? I suppose it is about as fast as an early XK120. It looked a thoroughbred. It was not large, the cockpit close-fitting, the boot big enough for a week-end. The hood was fine for 1996, folding away after undoing a couple of clips, it was draught-free although California may not have been the best place to try out its weatherproofing.

Mine had 2000 miles on the clock and it has been a delight. However, “Shoemakers’ bairns,” as the old saying has it, “Are aye the worst shod,” and it’s the same with motoring authors’ cars. They get neglected. My Z3 was deeply cherished by me but ill-served by BMW dealers. Up till now that is. Glasgow Giffnock's Harry Fairbairn was useless, expensive and inefficient. Visit after visit failed to cure trifling faults. And when the faults grew big, once out of warranty, the cost of fixing them was eye-watering. New brake callipers and discs were needed before 35,000 miles. They seized apparently through lack of use and corroded because, said Fairbairn, I lived near the sea. My Nissan Terrano and Ruth’s Ford Puma didn’t suffer but there you are.

There was paintwork trouble and a failed repaint. “You’ve got an adhesion problem,” said Fairbairn without a trace of irony. The new paint wasn’t adhering. Douglas Park in Glasgow was better, but now Soper of Lincoln look after it, I get a courtesy Ford Fiesta when it goes in for service and to have some neglected bits put right. The cost seems about right for a car that is still relatively low mileage and runs beautifully.