The BMW Z1, which never was sold in the U.S., may be a bit unfamiliar to many of you. It’s a rather challenging car to put in perspective; was it brilliant but misunderstood, or an inevitable dud? Only some 8,000 Z1s were built between 1989 and 1991 despite a huge initial flurry of interest that quickly dissipated, not unlike Ford’s 2002 neo-Thunderbird. In both cases, investors trying to cash in on the next great thing caused the stampede, but when they realized they were standing on air they rushed for the exits, creating a downdraft from which these cars never quite recovered.
Perhaps it might be better to draw a comparison of the Z1 with the Pontiac Fiero, as both used a space-frame inner structure to which plastic body panels were bolted. BMW claimed all the panels could be removed in 40 minutes (a bit optimistic), and that owners might want to buy a second set in a different color. Alternatively, the Z1 could also be driven in the buff without any panels at all, which rather appeals to me. Look, Ma; no body!
Among its many technological marvels, the doors that dropped down into the high sills were of course the most (in)visible. It was legal to drive with them down, which undoubtedly enhanced the roadster feel, but getting in and out was another matter. It reminds me of the sliding doors of the Kaiser Darrin Roadster we saw the other day. Both were doomed for failure; roadsters are challenging enough to get in and out of with conventional doors, and making them very narrow, like the Darrin’s, or with the Z1’s high sills, just doesn’t cut it, at least not with most potential buyers.
The Z1 was also rather expensive, which added to its sales woes. But BMW learned its lesson, and within a few years was back in the roadster market with their very conventional (but successful) Z3. Lesson learned.