BMW E46 330i ZHP: Munich Mafia

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Revo Model Summary

The BMW "E46" ZHP is, technically speaking, a 3 Series with option code ZHP ticked on the build sheet. But don't tell a ZHP owner that, you might end up in a trunk. ZHP owners are... devoted. They say it's a better daily than an M3, and prices reflect that, nipping at E46 M3s. Highlights include sport suspension, sporty interior bits, special wheels, and a hotter cam. Detractors say "it's just a 3 Series with goodies." Proponents says "it's better than the sum of it's parts." Regardless, it's a delightful package in a a chassis (the E46) many consider BMW's best.

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It’s no accident that the internet forum dedicated to ZHP package equipped BMWs is called “ZHP Mafia.”  Like the mafia, the ZHP is the kind of thing that if you know, then you know, and if don’t know, be careful who you ask. However, while asking the wrong question of the mafia may land you in a New Jersey wetland via the trunk of Brougham d’Elegance, asking a BMW nerd about his ZHP is more likely to bore you to sleep as he prattles on about the technical and moral superiority of his car. He'll start by talking about a hotter cam, you’ll black out somewhere around the sport suspension with upgraded M spec control arms, and if you’re lucky you’ll regain consciousness sometime after they fully geek out over the red instrument needles.

Seriously though, the enthusiasm is (mostly) warranted. And if you make it through the Tolstoy-esque description unscathed, you’ll probably want to go buy one. The ZHP may be the best BMW for daily use ever made. Or so say the Mafia.

The example listed shown here is an immaculate 2006 Convertible with 40,600 mile and a manual transmission. It’s bathed in Imola Red paint, with black Montana leather upholstery. It’s scrumptious, and we’ll discuss it in more detail below. But first, let’s talk about what ZHP really means.

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The BMW 3 Series produced from 1997 to 2006 is known both internally and by enthusiasts as the “E46.” It was preceded by the E36, succeeded by the E90 and so on. Many consider the E46 3 Series to be the best modern BMW. It is just the right size, has a sweet straight six engine, manual trans option, hydraulic steering, rear wheel drive, and just the right amount of computerization to make it very accessible and potent without making it a programming nightmare to own out of warranty. While we’re sharing blatantly subjective opinions, I think that the cars of the late 1990s to early 200s will be known as a golden period in enthusiast cars for all of those same reasons.

On top of that solid platform we add what was designated by BMW as the "ZHP" package. This follows BMWs option code naming convention of bundling options into packages that are identified on the order form as a three letter code starting with "Z." For instance, ZMP is M Sport Pack, ZCW is Cold Weather Pack, and ZLL is Luxury Line package. ZHP (High Performance pack?) could be added to E46 330i sedans from 2003 to 2005, and coupes and convertibles from 2004 to August of 2006.  Thr June of 2006 build convertible shown here is close to the very end of the line of not just ZHPs, but all E46s. When new ZHP added about $3,900 to the sticker price. 

So what exactly did the ZHP package add?  A lot of little things. Starting with the M54B30 inline six found in the 330i, it bumped horsepower to 235 (from 225 in the regular 330i), and torque to 222 lb-ft (up from 214) by adding an intake, a hotter cam shaft, and freer flowing exhaust and tuning the ECU accordingly. The cam and tune allow the ZHP to spin a higher redline at 6,800 rpms. The power is routed through the same gearboxes found in the 330i which are plenty stout, but finds the axels through a shorter differential ratio of 3.07.  

In the wheel wells all ZHPs were fitted with the sport suspension (ZSP), along with “M” spec lower control arms not found on any other non-M three series. M Performance brakes were fitted, and ZHP specific staggered BMW M Style 135 wheels, 18x8 in front, 18x8.5 rear.

In the interior many ZHPs were fitted with alcantara seats and steering wheel. This looked gorgeous when new, but had all the durability of wet toilet paper. Fortunately whoever spec’d the subject car chose to go with Montana leather seats and a perforated leather wrapped M wheel both of which were available options on all ZHPs. 

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 A weighted and shorter gear knob and short throw shift linkage were fitted, and both unique to the ZHP and not found on any other E46. (NOTE: the subject car here has what appears to be the regular E46 330 shift knob). There are many other additions to the ZHP, including: red gauge needles; M Tech 2 body kit; Black cube trim; trunk spoiler (not on ‘vert); and sport package seats.

So what was the result? Many think it’s better than the E46 M3 for daily and street driving purposes. That’s not bluster. You can hear it from others here, here, and here. It’s one of those rare builds that finds just the right amount more of everything, in a reliable and usable package.

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Only 806 manual transmission convertibles were sent to the U.S., and of those only 91 had Imola Red paint and Montana black leather, as this car is spec’d. This one features a highly desirable 6 speed manual transmission, a Getrag unit shared with non-ZHP pack cars, but it is paired with a shorter ratio differential (3.07) here.  The motor is a silky smooth M54 inline 6 cylinder motor. The convertible does not have the rear lip spoiler of coupe or sedan variants.

This car was optioned with Montana leather seats and steering wheel (deleting the poorly aging alcantara found in many ZHPs). As nice as the alcantara feels new, this is a desirable "delete" to look for on the used market. The far more durable leather has resulted in the overall excellent condition you see here. The highly bolstered seats are heated. The head unit has navigation and the Harmon/Kardon sound package.

In the eyes of enthusiasts the E46 ZHP has become a model unto itself. And as its name has taken on its own identity, so to has the sum of the parts that make up the package. It is undoubtedly a special car. Whether it is a better daily than an M3, or deserving of near M3 pricing, well, that is ripe for spirited debate...

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