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Peter Anderson | Aug 9, 2012

BMW's M division has turned up a special one-off prototype that even the carmaker itself can't account for: an orange Z3 with a V12 crammed into its engine bay.

The photos, posted on the brand's Facebook page this week, were accompanied by a short message: "We don't know why a V12 engine was built into a BMW Z3 years ago, but it still looks impressive, doesn't it?"

Impressive engineering indeed. The installation is so clean that it might almost be the favoured straight-six nestled under the roadster's clamshell bonnet.

Enthusiast site BMW Blog believes the car to be a prototype study to test production feasability - but like the V16 7 Series, M 3 Series Compact or E34 M5 Convertible, it went no further.

Others have suggested it was a 'skunkworks' project, such as the E90-based M3 Ute. US site Autoguide speculated that the engine is the M73 5.4 litre V12 from an old BMW 750i.

bmw z3 v12 prototype 03

The same Z3 chassis did spawn the E36 BMW M Roadster and Coupe pair, which in Europe packed a 236kW six versus the 240kW of the much heavier and thirstier V12.

Codenamed E36/7, the Z3 roadster went on sale in 1996 and sold until 2002 before being replaced by the Z4.

It was BMW's first mass-market roadster and the first BMW to be assembled in BMW's South Carolina plant.

When first released, it had a 1.9 litre four cylinder under the bonnet, later joined by a 2.8 litre straight six and eventually M's howling six.

The V12 could be a glimpse into what might have been, but we're certain it doesn't have the requisite 50:50 weight distribution favoured by M.

(Nice drag car though.)

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