30 years of the BMW Z1 roadster: a portrait of the almost classic car


BMW’s radical wedge is almost a classic car

30 years of the BMW Z1 roadster: a portrait of the almost classic car-Alpina

No other convertible could be more open. The doors of the Z1 can even be lowered

Source: BMW

It was intended as a test car, then it fueled the renaissance of the open two-seater. Even the doors of the BMW Z1 could be retracted – and by no means everyone who wanted one got one.

E.It was cramped, impractical, and downright outrageously expensive. But no other sports car could compete with the fascination of the BMW Z1 30 years ago. Its plastic roadster body, which was radically open thanks to retractable doors, was unprecedented. Its front mid-engine concept ensured fantastic road holding – and the overall package made it the harbinger of a new roadster boom, at a time when there were hardly any models on the market other than the grayed-out Alfa Spider.

BMW had actually designed it as a pure research vehicle, and they were so impressed with the result that they decided to bring a small series of them onto the market. That the BMW Z1 cost as much as two Alfa or BMW 325i, with which he shared the 170 hp in-line six-cylinder and the drive technology, only increased the attractiveness of the model. The limitation to 8000 copies increased customer demand. Even the emerging environmental conscience in times of forest dieback and smog the futuristic Z1 was able to calm down in the cities at the time, because the regulated catalytic converter was standard. And the top speed of 225 kilometers per hour.

At the IAA In 1987, the technology carrier, which was largely made by hand, even stole celebrated supercars such as Ferrari F40, Porsche Speedster or Aston Martin Virage the show. “Only dentists will look into more open mouths than Z1 drivers”, suspected a specialist magazine at the time, given the doors that – still unique today – could be lowered electrically into the sills using a toothed belt. You could even drive the Z1 so openly, BMW had received approval for it.

However, another 18 months should pass before the first Z1s came into customer hands and were spotted on Sylt, Mallorca or the Kurfurstendamm. This gave roadster fans willing to buy the opportunity to try out the elegant boarding of the narrow cockpit in the showrooms.

The Z1 was actually a test vehicle

For quite a few BMW customers, this was an unfamiliar acrobatic act, because the sills had to provide space for the doors, and they were accordingly wide and high. But what did that matter if the following drive in a test laboratory disguised as a sports car turned out to be a big show act. Especially since the Z1 managed without spoilers, those insignia that are actually indispensable for athletes. But with the BMW, the basic shape of the vehicle, including the underbody, ensured sufficient aerodynamics – the screw-on wings, which were actually absolutely hip in the eighties, could be dispensed with.

This was the result of development work by BMW Technik GmbH, founded in 1985, a think tank that was supposed to construct innovative body and drive concepts. After just a year, Ulrich Bez, the head of the BMW board, presented his first concept, a small plastic roadster in which the body was combined with a separate steel chassis. This first work by Technik GmbH was realized as a study and then implemented in a series version. No wonder that the makers of the Z1, Ulrich Bez and the designer Harm Lagaay, were later poached by Aston Martin and Porsche.

30 years of the BMW Z1 roadster: a portrait of the almost classic car-series

The Z1 prototype from 1985, piloted by a test driver in an authentic popper look

Source: BMW

The Z1 was not only intended to fill the idea of ​​the roadster with new life, it also served as a pilot project for future vehicle architectures and materials. Its structure consisted of a monocoque-like steel chassis with a glued-in plastic floor. The body of the sports car was made of elastic special plastics, mainly new thermoplastics and sandwich components were used. Ulrich Bez vividly demonstrated their insensitivity to damage: A body part that he had pressed in immediately jumped back into its original shape.

High bids even before the start of series production

Different body materials like the Z1, however, require complex painting processes for seamlessly good paint quality. To this day, not all manufacturers have mastered this; you keep seeing cars where the front apron, for example, has a different color than the fenders.

With the Z1, BMW managed to solve the problem. A special paint system was developed with three different degrees of hardness, in which all components were coated with the same basecoat and, depending on the elasticity requirements of the part, were given different clearcoats. An expensive process, which is why there were initially only four colors: fun yellow, top red, original green metallic and dream black metallic.

30 years of the BMW Z1 roadster: a portrait of the almost classic car-series

More than the sum of its individual parts: the roadster was actually a research object

Source: BMW

However, the Z1 was forever a dream for most of its admirers. On the one hand, because the elaborate production process only allowed a limited number of pieces, and on the other hand, because the prices of the roadster skyrocketed like a rocket.

At the IAA 1987 BMW already received high offers from interested parties who would have liked to buy the prototypes. All attempts failed – including the 150,000 mark bid from a trade magazine – due to resistance from the BMW exhibition staff, but the foundation for a high-caliber classic career of the Z1 was laid.

From the factory non-stop to the classic career

When the two-seater was praised by the trade press shortly before the market launch, the first series, limited to 4,000 copies, was already sold out – despite an exorbitant list price of 80,000 and later even 89,000 marks. Alternatively, there was a Maserati Spyder or a Jaguar XJ-S, if you factor in the discount, the Jaguar back then there was.

The result of the small number of units: When series production of the two-seater started in 1989, sales contracts for the Z1 that were ready for allocation were already achieving surcharges of 20,000 to 30,000 marks. With a maximum daily production of six units, quite a few enthusiasts feared delivery times up to the turn of the millennium, which kept prices high for the Z1.

30 years of the BMW Z1 roadster: a portrait of the almost classic car-BMW

The BMW Z1 as an Art Car, designed by the recently deceased A. R. Penck

Source: BMW

But the last Z1 was produced as early as 1991, and as part of the farewell, the model became an Art Car, which was embellished by an artist according to BMW tradition, by the German painter and graphic artist AR Penck, whose artistic hallmark are graphic symbols – perhaps a reference to the According to design critics, the body of the Z1 is perfectly proportioned.

The cheapest Z1 can be found today for a good 30,000 euros, but for individual copies 150,000 euros are sometimes asked for and achieved. The Z1 revised by Alpina are even more popular, the tuner increased the displacement to 2.7 liters and the engine output to 200 hp. Such Z1s were both heavenly open and hellishly fast.

2 thoughts on “30 years of the BMW Z1 roadster: a portrait of the almost classic car”

  1. To your discussion of the BMW Z1 it should be added that it certainly exudes the fascination you have described, but it must be noted that BMW had difficulties selling these vehicles at the end of production and then sold them with corresponding negligence. The reason for this was that at that time mini backs were very popular and the men, please, could afford such cars, had an attendant dressed like that. I advise your author to ask an editor in a miniskirt to drive with him. When getting in, the bystanders will not need any imagination about the type of panties

  2. For several years I was also the proud owner of this model, used as a year-round car without a second vehicle, instead of a crate of canned beer due to the restricted trunk.
    Unique driving experience and as reliable as a 3 series.
    In retrospect, the best car among the variety of my vehicles.


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