The BMW E52 Z8 started out life as a concept car designed by Henrik Fisker, the Z07, which was unveiled at the Tokyo auto Show in 1997, two years before production began. The inspiration for the car is unashamedly BMW’s 1950s sweetheart, the 507. One of the company’s most beautiful cars, its spirit is well captured in the Z8. The design cues are clear; the front grille, long bonnet, rear lights, and especially the wing mounted side vents.
Unlike most concept cars the Z07 was always intended to go into production, so regulations were taken into account before sharpened charcoal even hit paper. As a result, the Z8 changed very little from the design that first amazed the world in Tokyo. The height and rake of the windscreen were altered slightly, and the stylised helmet fairing was also removed from the boot, a compromise to allow the power roof to operate unimpeded. Regrettably, a more conventional single-bubble roof also replaced the rather jazzy double-bubble hard top fitted to the concept car. Though originally a concept car, the Z8 is based firmly around tried and tested technology, most importantly the 4.9-litre V8 ‘S62’ lifted from the E39 M5, an engine hailed for its power, reliability and gorgeous V8 growl. Despite sharing an engine with the M5, it was decided that the existing chassis was too long, so a new all-aluminium design was created specifically for the Z8.
Produced from 1999-2003 and originally sold for £86,595, the BMW Z8 was always going to be a limited production model. Over the course of production 5703 cars were built, over half of which were sold in the United States, unsurprisingly, given that it was only ever offered in left-hand drive. What is surprising is that they have never suffered depreciation, a feat that all but the most limited edition sports cars could hope to match. With BMW holding a stockpile of parts intended to last 50 years there is no doubt that the Z8 will continue to rise in value, making it one of the most exciting classics of the future and a sure-fire investment.
Push the start button and the twin exhausts burst into a sonorous rhythm as the huge 4.9-litre V8 is awakened. In first gear the car is docile and smooth, feeling like a larger cousin – a 6 or 7 Series. Glancing around the cabin reveals this influence further. A myriad of toys is hidden beneath retracting panels dripping in brushed aluminium.
In second things get interesting; power arrives in a wave as the revs climb higher, a snap change to third, foot hard down and the car soars up to the national limit.
Your view of the onrushing road is unimpeded, the design of the dash enabling you a clear view of the road ahead and bulging bonnet, hinting at the power lurking beneath. Then you discover the ‘Sport’ button. Cruising at 4500 revs the car sounds alive with power; push ‘Sport’ and the acceleration hits like a brick through a stained glass window. It’s so fast you nearly get a fright, but the car’s perfect 50/50 weight distribution encourages confidence. It feels light on its pins, weight shifting quickly and sharply from side to side as it takes roundabouts and corners in its stride, all the while going faster and faster until you finally ease back.
The 394bhp does well to give the impression of lightness, but this doesn’t mean it feels flimsy. In truth, the car seems to be built to withstand a nuclear apocalypse. The doors are long and heavy, and when closed sound not just ‘like a Golf’, but like a Golf being dropped from a great height – onto another Golf. This build quality continues through the rest of the car; leather is suitably plush and switches and buttons all make the most satisfying of clicks and clunks.
1950s retro styling is continued to the cabin, most notable by a modern interpretation of a sprung ‘Bluemels’ Brooklands style steering wheel, though without the functionality of an original. This works in perfect harmony with contrasting clean and modern look prevalent in the rest of the cabin, coming together in an aesthetic fusion of vintage and modern styles.