If all of life's commodities moved up in price the way BMWs do, the mail-order houses could stop sending me all those catalogs because my Visa card would be maxed out, my checking account would be down to single digits and there wouldn't be enough cash in my wallet to order a set of long underwear from L.L. Bean.

I recall vividly when James Bond ( a k a Pierce Brosnan) wowed us back in 1996 when he showed up in "GoldenEye" behind the wheel of the new BMW Z3, a dazzling roadster (two seat convertible) that, amazingly, 007 wannabes could have as their own for under $30,000 (provided the dealers didn't tack on a hefty "market adjustment," and you got your name on the waiting list early.)OK, I'm being unfair on the price inflation issue. The fact is you can still get that original Z3 - along with its wimpy 1.9 liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine - for a base price of $29,995, but why would you want to? It takes over 8 seconds for that car to reach 60 mph which means you will be left at the light by all manner of econocars, pickup trucks, min-i-vans . . . very embarassing.

Even the "buff books" like Car and Driver, which normally worship at the altar of Bavarian Motor Works, panned the original Z3 as all show and no go, hardly music to the ears of the folks who make "driving machines" as opposed to mere automobiles.

Not to worry, it was all part of BMW's marketing plan. The Z3 1.9 was just a little something to get us interested, whet our sports car appetite as it were. The Z3's long engine bay was built from the beginning to accommodate a six-cylinder engine, and that's what we got in 1997 with the Z3 2.8. Think of it as BMW's version of planned obsolescence.

The 2.8 was everything the 1.9 was not. It had the go to match the show, and even the show was beefed up with a wider rear track, more muscular flared fenders and a ground-effects package. All talk of "the German Miata" ceased. The downside? Only one: a 1997 base price of $35,900 (this year it's $36,470).

Now enter from stage right the mother of all Z3s, the 1998 BMW Z3 M roadster. Please remove your hat while the band plays the German national anthem or at least the state song of South Carolina where Z3s are built in BMW's new Spartanburg plant.

The M stands for Motoren or Motorsports or More or Macho or Massaged or Mega or Mighty or Manna from heaven or any M-word you can think of that means it has been breathed on by BMW's engineering division responsible for making the company's cars go faster and handle better.

Here's what the letter M means to the Z3: Zero to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds and top speed of 137 mph, limited electronically by the car's computer or by the driver's desire to be incarcerated, whichever comes first.

The downside: base price $42,770. Saving grace: the only option is $385 for side airbags, plus $570 delivery charges, plus any dealer extras or "market adjustments." Incentives? Don't expect any. The Z3 M car is a semi-exotic that will be built in limited numbers, and exclusivity has never been cheap.

Further downside: If you trade your Buick in on a Z3, your in surance agent may decide you're not a responsible, upstanding citizen after all and either cancel your coverage or raise your rates to approximate the GNP of Ecuador.

Oddly, I am not as enamored of the Z3 M as I was last year of the Z3 2.8. I'm not sure why this is so. In that August 1997 review I was positively giddy over the 2.8, declaring, "Driving the car is nothing short of joyous. It handles so beautifully and is so forgiving that it seems impossible to get into trouble." That's all still true, even more so with the M. Maybe I'm just jaded or perhaps they caught me in a bad mood this week.

I know I liked the look of last year's car better. It was painted a sleek metallic silver which was much more striking than the M's ho-hum dark blue. (I know, the photo with this article shows a yellow Z3 and it isn't even an M, it's a 2.8. I couldn't come up with an M photo, but I doubt you could tell the difference if I hadn't fessed up.)

I think the reason I find the Z3 M a bit wanting is that I reviewed the BMW M3 only four weeks ago and ab-so-lute-ly loved it. It was as fast and fun to drive as the Z3, but it had a back seat, a trunk that would hold my golf clubs (if I bent my driver a bit) and a more conservative look that I found more subtle and comfortable than the "Hey everybody, look at me!" Z3.

Plus the M3 had that wonderful convertible top that could be raised or lowered by simply pushing a single button on the dash. The Z3 top requires one to release two handles on the windshield header and then push the top up about 10 inches before the button can be pushed.

Also, while the M3 elegantly stores its top under a sleek metal panel, the Z3 drops its top into an open well that must be covered manually by a heavy vinyl boot that when not in use takes up much of the space in the tiny trunk. (Which is made larger this year by eliminating the spare tire in favor of a flat-fixer compressor/sealer kit that comes in a box.)

OK, it's a small thing I guess, but if I had forty large to spend on a hot-rod Bimmer convertible, I wouldn't have to give much thought to which one to buy.

If you think otherwise, that's great. Diversity makes the world go 'round and when I see you in your new Z3 M, I'll honk, wave and wish you godspeed.