Nowadays BMW's M Division appears to be little more than an extension of the marketing department, building more 'M Performance' cars to appeal to the masses than full-fat 'M' cars. But there was a time when 'M' lived up to its skunkworks name.
When BMW was developing the Z3 the 'M' engineers took one look at the roadster and, deciding it was not rigid enough for its needs, built a coupé version instead. It was the coupé that would form the basis for the M-badged variant of the Z3 and not the roadster that had been originally planned.
But it seems that at some point 'M' did at least toy with the idea of using the roadster. Images released on the division's Facebook page show that the engineers dug around the BMW parts bin and created a V12-powered Z3.
Little is known about the car other it has been labelled the 'V12 BMW Z3 prototype' and that its origins and whereabouts are 'a bit of a mystery' - even information on the engine itself is thin on the ground.
The 12-cylinder unit appears to be from the M70 family, meaning displacement could range from 5.0- to 6.0-litres. Readers at the BMWBlog.com (who we assume would know this kind of stuff) point to it being the 5.4-litre M73 that was used in the BMW 7- and 8 Series and also the Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph. If it is the M73, that would mean 326hp and 490Nm of torque in standard form.
Such a large engine hanging over the front axle is likely to have affected the Z3's near 50:50 weight distribution and may go some way to explaining why 'M' opted for the 3.2-litre straight-six from the M3 of the time instead.
BMW and the M Division have form for building these types of cars, primarily to gauge their feasibility. In the past a V16-powered 7 Series, a M3 Compact and Convertible version of the E34 M5 have all been created only to get canned before production.