BMW E46 ZHP/ZAM M-Sport & M-Performance

Here is another obscure, automotive piece. As far as I know, there is no similar repository on the internet for information on this topic, so I want to create one.

The 2004-2006 (E46) BMW ZHP

There is a ton of info on the ZHP on the internet, and most of it is accurate by this point. Since it’s already been so exhaustively covered, I’m going to only offer a quick summary. The ZHP was an option package available on North American 330 models. It was, at its heart, a sport pack 330 with several minor, but interesting changes. It included relatively significant changes in the exhaust, engine control, and cams to pick up a modest ~10hp increase. There were some upgrades to the suspension, specifically the front, employing different control arms. The factory alignment specs were more performance oriented. Most of the other changes were cosmetic, and fairly extensive but subtle. This included standard alcantara interior, M-Tech 2 body kit, an instrument cluster with red needles and a higher redline to reflect the engine management changes, silver or black cube trim in place of wood, and blacked out “shadowline” trim around the windows. The package was rounded out by a set of staggered 18” wheels, which, while attractive, were very heavy and often chided as the reason BMW needed to extract another 10HP from from the venerable M54. Slightly shorter rear end gearing was also standard, boosting acceleration over the standard 330 sport.

This option was available only on 330 sedan, coupe and convertible models. Imola red, a colour otherwise only available on the M3 E46 was also optional.

In Canada, this package was internally known as the ZAM, but known to the public as the M-Performance package. The only difference between the US ZHP and the Canadian ZAM, was the instrument cluster. The Canadian version used the standard sport cluster, as BMW did not make a metric cluster with the red needles and increased indicated redline, although the rev limit was indeed 6,800 rpm, 300 higher than the standard 330.

So far, I haven’t covered anything that isn’t documented on dozens of reliable resources on the internet. While there is still a popular misconception that the ZHP/ZAM is “an M3 without the M3 engine”, which is tragically false, the details and production numbers of the package are otherwise well documented and irrefutable.

The area where things get muddy, is with another model that was widely available in Canada (there were also European variants that are outside my scope, but would love to hear more about), but not sold in the US market. Introduce, the M-Sport.

Firm details, such as production numbers, or available options, for the M-Sport are unavailable, as far as I can find. Anecdotally, however, I can report that the M-Sport was fairly prolific compared to the ZAM, as examples of them can be seen everywhere. So, what is the E46 M-Sport, and why does it matter?

The M-Sport package was available along side of the M-Performance package (ZHP/ZAM) in Canada, from 2003-2006. Cosmetically, it was nearly distinguishable from the ZAM, most of the time. Getting into the mechanics of the two, however, the M-Sport had more in common with other sport models. The M-Sport retained the entire drivetrain of a regular 330 (by 2003 the 6 speed was standard), including the axle ratio, cams, and 6,500rpm redline. It also came standard with leather steering wheel, shift and parking brake boots, instead of alcantara.

Given that in later years, due to durability issues, the ZAM/ZHP were available with leather in place of alcantara, distinguishing the two can be tricky. The only real visual cue that is a dead giveaway is the tailpipe. ZHP/ZAM cars had larger stainless dual tailpipes, while the M-Sport used the 330 chrome rolled tailpipes. The standard wheels on the M-Sport were the 17” 68M, but the 18” 135M, as found on the ZHP/ZAM, were optional. Imola red was also retained for an option on the M-Sport.

So, why is the M-Sport a noteworthy car, given it’s “lesser” status compared to the ZHP/ZAM? Here’s where things get murky, and a little fun. Unlike the ZHP/ZAM package, that was only available on 330 RWD models of the sedan, coupe and convertible, the M-Sport package could be tacked on to almost any E46. In Canada, it’s not uncommon to see M-Sport package wagons, and AWD cars. While the package seemed most popular on 325 and 330 models, it’s been spotted on 320s as well. 320 and 325 cars did not share the more aggressive rear diffuser as the 330, but carried over the rest of the cosmetics.

This opened the door to another unusual variable, the oft maligned SSG transmission. It’s unclear what combination these options might have been available in, so the existence of an AWD Imola red 330 touring with SSG would be speculative, but I have seen some interesting combinations nonetheless. Unfortunately, these are often passed off as ZHP/ZAM cars, sometimes deliberately, sometimes out of ignorance. Running the VIN is the only way to know for sure, looking for the A767 code.

Another interesting note about the M-Sport cars is that they are usually found with tri-colour stitched leather wheel, M/// door sill plates, and M/// dead pedal. I have not been able to confirm that these were on all M-Sport cars, if they were optional, or dealer upgrades. ZHP cars were available with leather/power interior (mine is a US 1/28 Imola/beige leather), while I have not yet seen an M-Sport that didn’t have full leather with power sport seats.

Building a ZHP wagon is a project that’s been undertaken by many in the US, but here in Canada, you can find examples that have much of the work already done. With options like AWD and the wagon body style, these cars represent a great value in the E46 market. Many sellers are unaware that these cars share so many of the components of the sought after ZHP.

Because there is little official information available about the M-Sport package, much of what I’ve compiled is through firsthand experience, and scouring classifieds. If you have any information that supports or casts doubt on what I’ve discussed here, please contact me, or post it in the comments. The more information I can compile about available option combinations on M-Sport cars, the better we can document these fairly common yet obscure cars.

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