First shown in 1986 as a concept car, the BMW Z1 incorporates many traditional roadster elements with a few unique features. Although easily recognizable as a BMW, the small two seater roadster's design was quite unconventional. The most striking of novelties were the electric doors, which dropped in the side-sills by pushing a button. It was possible to drive the Z1 with the doors up and down on a hot summer's day. The design remained pretty much unchanged when the car entered production in 1988.
Technically, the Z1 is very similar to the contemporary 325i, with which it shares chassis and engine. Power comes from a six in line engine tilted 20 degrees to the right to lower the car's frontal area. The hot galvanized monocoque chassis was slightly shortened to a wheelbase of just 2450 mm, which more than enough for the two seater. The entire body was constructed from glass reinforced plastic or fiberglass, which was a great help to keep the weight down.
BMW's decision to put the concept car in production was funded on market research, which proved that there was a market for the roadster. Although it was almost twice as expensive as the regular 325i Cabriolet, BMW claimed to have 5000 confirmed orders at the time of the car's official launch. Sadly the high-end of the market was poisoned by investors, who purchased expensive vehicles with the sole intend of making a profit on them. BMW had not taken this into account and the demand proved to be much lower than anticipated.
Production ceased just three years after it started and only 8000 examples rolled off the line. Fortunately the investors' scheme did not pay off, as the value of the Z1 quickly dropped below the list price. The Z1 shares this sad faith with many cars built in the second half of the 1980s. It has taught the high-end manufacturers a valuable lesson and today customers are more carefully picked, preventing the cars from becoming the subject of speculation.
Today the Z1 is not very well known, but deserves the credit as one of the most ground breaking cars ever produced by the German manufacturer. With only 8000 examples, it is an exceptionally rare car for BMW standards. The pictured example is seen here at the 2004 edition of Bonham's annual Olympia auction. Originally part of the Patrick Collection, this low mileage example changed hands for just over 20,000 Pounds.
E36 M4 evo engine in the front, add stiffened springs and dampers and all of a sudden you have a fantastic car! It was just underpowered a rather gutless to drive, but then the 2.5 engine was never really intended to be the engine for the car. It was going to be upgraded in time with an M variant engine, but poor sales meant BMW scratched the idea. Really is a funky car though, with those fantastic doors which are eerily simple and cheap to maintain, since they run off a rubber belt and motor. Easy. It's also made of plastic, which is rather groovy, as the bodywork won't rust, and it's also totally removeable in jsut a few hours at the garage. Driving one with the bodywork off, in the dark is a truly SCARY experience. It looks like pure evil, fantastic!
I agree with You
Right car at the wrong moment. I don't think the right moment has come yet. The world is still unprepared to truly appreciate this car. And about the avant garde...way ahead of its time. Those doors may be open, but the time may never make it to the front seat...
"This car was originally designed as a one off concept car, which ended up being driven around Germany by one of the top enginerrs at BMW, everyone raved so much about it, that BMW put it into limited production. The most revolutionary thing about this car were the doors. Which slid DOWN INTO the body work!! Quite incredible to see especially when someone in one drives past on a hot summer day with the door ""open"" !!! ;D"