(first posted 7/20/2017) In the world of BMW’s Z-Series (“Z” short for “Zukunft”, or “Future” in English), it’s the regular production Z3 and Z4 roadsters that typically come to mind. The lift-back Z3 and Z4 coupes and the ultra-exclusive Z8 roadster are less remembered by all but the true Bimmer enthusiast, but what about the other Z, the original Z? There was of course, no Z2, so that brings us to this head-turning roadster. Haben Sie Z1?
Holding true to its “future” designation, the Z1 was essentially a guinea pig vehicle meant to showcase and test new technologies in a production vehicle. Some of these technologies would ultimately make their way into other more mainstream BMW vehicles, some of them would not.
Among the Z1’s most interesting displays of technological innovations were what would become its signature feature: its doors. Instead of traditional hinged, swing-open doors, the Z1’s power retracted vertically into the car’s chassis.
As a result of this design feature, the Z1 featured uncharacteristically high door sills, which offered collision protection independent of the doors. Therefore, in theory, one could drive with the doors down and still have adequate side crash protection.
The Z1 also featured a body made entirely of composite plastic body panels, which could be removed entirely by owners in a short period of time. Additional body panels could be purchased from BMW, giving owners the ability of interchangeable exterior colors. The car could also be driven with all body panels removed.
Among other noteworthy features, the Z1 previewed the low-beam projector headlights (though with standard halogen bulbs), something brought to the mass-market by BMW’s own 7 Series in 1992 with Xenon bulbs.
Riding on a 96.3-inch wheelbase, the Z4 boasted a near-perfect weight distribution of 51/49 for excellent handling characteristics. Its independent strut front suspension came straight from the E30 3 Series, while its rear suspension was the first such application of the newly-created “Z Axle” multi-link design, which was to be featured in the upcoming E36 3 Series. Four-wheel antilock disc brakes were also standard.
Power came exclusively from the same 2.5L M20 inline-6 and 5-speed manual found in the E30 325i. Making 168 horsepower and 164 lb-ft torque, it was capable of getting the Z1 from zero-to-sixty in a somewhat leisurely 9 seconds, although the car’s 2,750-pound curb weight, a result of the electromechanical doors, surely had something to do with this.
Built between March 1989 and June 1991, just 8,000 total Z1s were produced, plus an additional 12 pre-production units. Despite an initial high demand and several thousand pre-orders, interest in the model rapidly diminished, and BMW discontinued to Z1 to better focus on more profitable, more popular models that could be produced in a more reasonable time.
The Z1 was never sold in North America either, contributing to the general unawareness of it to non-car enthusiasts, and even non-BMW enthusiasts on this continent. Clearly several, such as this Pur Blau (Pure Blue) 1990, have made it across the pond into the hands of collectors.
Photographed: Beverly, Massachusetts – July 2014
1999 BMW Z3M coupe (COAL)