In 1989, BMW surprised everyone with the Z1, a convertible with astonishing technical solutions that contrasted with its other, much more traditional models.
You have to go back to 1986 to witness the public debut of the BMW, the first work of BMW Technik, a small department of around a hundred people whose aim was to set new trends. It was a major event at the time, as the brand had not sold a roadster since the 507, of which only 254 were built between 1955 and 1959. The Z1 has a distinct 80s flavour, with its angular lines cut to the bone. BMW Technik was given carte blanche to create something futuristic and original (the car is actually called 'Z' for 'Zukunft'). After considering a number of different designs, the solution of placing the engine in a central position behind the front axle was finally chosen.
BMW has gone mad!
The inspiration for the car came from the roadsters of the first part of the 20th century with removable canvas doors. However, the idea was quickly forgotten because it was not very comfortable. The crazy idea of designing retractable doors then arose. It was decided that the body panels would be made of plastic (by General Electric Plastics in the USA) and would rest on a galvanised steel monocoque chassis built by Baur. To complete the package, the Z1 would be fitted with underbody protection, giving it a very attractive CX. The powertrain, however, was of secondary importance, as the Bavarian manufacturer was content to use the engine and gearbox from the BMW E30 325i without any particular modifications. The 2.5-litre in-line six delivers 170 bhp.
Series production of the Z1 began at the end of 1988, with the first cars being delivered in 1989. While the car is beautiful and its performance is good enough to drive it around with panache, its doors don't make it easy to get in and out of, especially with the soft top in place. As a result, daily use is complicated, which explains why many examples today have very low mileage. However, sales exceeded the expectations of BMW's management, who had originally planned to produce just 5,000 examples. In the end, 8,000 Z1s were produced by the end of 1991. Four years later, the Bavarian firm gave birth to another Z model, the Z3, which met with enormous popular success but was far less unique.
Rare and sought-after, the Z1 has seen its price soar in recent years. Today, you can expect to pay between €40,000 and €70,000 for one in good condition. While the powertrain, derived from the E30, is simple and reliable, the bodywork poses far more problems: the doors, for example, require skilled labour to adjust them, and the drive belts have to be replaced every 7 years. The body panels age badly in the sunlight and crack over time. Some of them are refurbished by BMW Classic, but the prices charged are painful! Finally, the upholstery is put to the test by the very design of the car. So it's best to slip into the cabin with care!