A reinvention of the sports car? Perhaps, but there's no doubt it's an instant classic.
The radically sleek shape of the BMW Z1 two-seater roadster immediately made an impact when revealed to the press in 1986. By the time the car was displayed at the Frankfurt Show the following year it had been further refined.
The first product to be designed and developed by BMW Tecknik GmbH, it was also the company’s first roadster since production of the 507 finished in 1959.
A major feature was the deep sills into which the retractable doors and side windows slid up and down. All Z1s were left-hand drive.
The Z stands for Zukunft, the German for future, and was subsequently continued with the Z3, Z4 and Z8.
Torque 161 lb ft@4300rpm
Top speed 137mph
Gearbox RWD, five-speed manual
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
The usual bodywork problems with corrosion don’t apply with the Z1 that made novel use of lightweight thermoplastic panels. However, panels can warp or bend and are liable to scratch, especially around the door areas. Check that panels are aligned properly and that the clips that hold them together are present. About 90% of the panels are readily available, but others you will have to wait for. Main areas to check for stress and wear are the rear wing (especially on the driver’s side), wing mounting points and wheel arch liners. Boots are prone to fill with water when seals degrade. The car is painted in a flexible lacquer finish while the hood is GRP. The area where the framework folds is a weak point on the soft top, so look for fraying, holes or patches.
ENGINE AND GEARBOX
Both the M20B25 engine and five-speed gearbox were sourced from the E30 325i and 325Ix and are generally reliable if well looked after. The 2.5-litre straight-six engine sits tilted at a 20-degree angle to facilitate the low hood-line. Well-maintained cars can reach high mileages without signs of wear and tear. Cambelts should be changed every 30,000 miles or every three years. Look out for tuned, uprated or even replacement engines. Also, right-hand drive conversion cars can have their problems. Exhausts suffer corrosion and a rear box will cost £1000+ to replace.
The chassis of the Z1 featured several innovative features including a flat, composite undertray, continuously zinc welded seams and a ground-effect system incorporating the transversely mounted rear silencer. The rear suspension Z Axle system was specifically designed for the Z1, but would subsequently see use on 1990s BMW Group cars. It is recommended that you get the suspension checked professionally to confirm its viability. Check the steering rack for signs of wear around the universal joint. Another Z1-only feature are the attractive seven-spoke 16in alloys.
The Nubuck leather trim is easily scuffed, especially around the door/sill areas and is not an economical fix. Side panels can wear to expose the innards, while the seat area can wrinkle badly when the leather becomes separated from the foam base. An official UK car will be identified by the fact that the dials will read for gallons and mph. The first 200 cars were fitted with a re-badged Sony radio known as the Z1 Audio System. Air conditioning was not fitted to the cars but conversions using E30 parts have sometimes been carried out. The three-spoke steering wheel is unique to the Z1 and incorporates improved grip. Boot and other storage space is limited.
The electric motorised doors operate via toothed belts that can break or slip out of adjustment. There are two different motors on each door, which may require attention. The electrically adjustable rear-view mirrors are mounted on the windscreen pillars, so check that they are aligned and work properly. Original fisheye filament lighting will be very poor by present day standards and will need upgrading if not already carried out. Official French imports have yellow headlights rather than clear ones.
Let’s face it, you don’t see one every day. And to see more than one would be an event. BMW sold just 77 of the 8000 Z1s built between 1989 and 1991 to the UK at prices that would have bought you a Porsche at the time. In more recent times, it became more affordable to import examples from Germany, but now some are going the other way. When it comes to exclusivity, they don’t come any better than this.