BMW’s back-to-the-fu­ture Z1 and Z8 de­liver on de­sign and power


Business Day - Motor News - - MOTOR NEWS - Mark Smyth

As some­one who is pas­sion­ate about road safety, I have to ad­mit that the con­cept of doors which dis­ap­pear into the side sills leav­ing you able to reach out and touch the tar­mac as you drive seems odd.

In some ways the BMW Z1 is a odd, or maybe just quirky. It’ sa clas­sic these days, of course.

The Z1 was de­vel­oped by BMW Tech­nik in the mid-1980s as one of those se­cret af­ter­hours back­room kinds of projects the kind that also gave birth to the Volk­swa­gen Golf GTi. A con­cept was shown in 1986 and cre­ated so much at­ten­tion that in 1988 BMW de­cided to man­u­fac­ture the Z1, al­beit in lim­ited num­bers, with only 8,000 be­ing built.

It used the six-cylin­der en­gine from the 325iS, pro­duc­ing 125kW and giv­ing the first BMW Z-car a top speed of 225km/h, pro­vided the fab­ric roof and those fa­mous plas­tic doors were all in place. It’s an iconic model, the first of­fi­cial Zukunft (Ger­man for fu­ture) car from the Mu­nich au­tomaker and one which I was very for­tu­nate to ex­pe­ri­ence while in Por­tu­gal re­cently for the launch of the lat­est Zukunft car, the Z4.

Climb over the re­tracted door that pays homage to the doors on the orig­i­nal BMW 328, drop down into the driver’s seat and you know you are in some­thing dif­fer­ent, but at the same time some­thing fa­mil­iar. The dash has typ­i­cal BMW hall­marks from the day and the gear­stick has a re­as­sur­ing BMW feel about it too.

The Z1 has a fair amount of play in the steer­ing. The en­gine pro­vides good re­sponse and the sound­track is more ur­ban than sports car. It’s a great and unique pack­age that trum­peted the start of some­thing rather dif­fer­ent for the Bavar­ian brand.

As fan­tas­tic as it was to drive the Z1, the big ex­cite­ment was re­served for the chance to drive the Z8. This was the road­ster that BMW wanted to be seen as the true suc­ces­sor to the fa­mous 507. It was first shown in 1997 as the Z07 be­fore be­ing seen in the James Bond film, The World is Not Enough in 1999, the same year pro­duc­tion of what be­came the Z8 be­gan.

As de­signs go, it is su­perb. Not just as a BMW, but as an au­to­mo­bile, and is a credit to ex­te­rior de­signer Hen­rik Fisker. What he achieved with the Z8 though was ahead of its time.


The beau­ti­ful form to the shark nose still has a level of ag­gres­sion about it, while the side pro­file has per­fect curves and the gills recre­ate those of the 507.

The rear has a boat tail about it, like an E-Type, with the slimmest of lights that fin­ish off a sim­ple, el­e­gant and fan­tas­tic piece of au­to­mo­tive de­sign.

The in­te­rior de­serves equal re­spect. The lines are per­fect, the qual­ity of the fit equally so but mainly it is the over­all look. The steer­ing wheel is a work of retro art, the in­stru­ment clus­ter in the cen­tre of the dash­board is per­fectly aligned to­wards the driver. Power comes from a 5.0l V8 pro­duc­ing 294kW and 500Nm, the same en­gine that was in the M5 of the time and which could rocket the Z8 to 100km/h in just 4.7 sec­onds an on to a lim­ited top end of 250km/h.

Ex­ten­sive use of alu­minium helped to achieve these fig­ures, in­clud­ing the body­work and an alu­minium space frame all of which kept the weight down to 1,585kg. The fab­ric roof also con­trib­uted, al­though ev­ery Z8 was sup­plied with a re­mov­able hard top too. Push the start but­ton and that V8 comes to life with a gen­tle bur­ble.

Orig­i­nally priced at $128,000, Z8s now fetch at least dou­ble that and this one be­longed to BMW Clas­sic, so our drive was a com­bi­na­tion of sporty and re­spect­ful. I felt com­fort­able with the Z8 al­most im­me­di­ately, such was the at­ten­tion to de­tail not just in the de­sign but also in the en­gi­neer­ing. It is a time­less clas­sic for sure.

The BMW Z1 was the first Z-car from BMW, and fea­tured re­tractable doors which paid homage to the orig­i­nal 328. Left: The Z8 is time­less in its de­sign and ap­peal.

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