Developed by BMW Technik GmbH, the BMW Z1 was introduced in July 1988 and was produced until June 1991. A total of only 8,000 units were produced and featured unique doors which opened by dropping down into the door sills rather than outward or upward. A large majority of these models were sold in the German market. Italy received the second greatest number of Z1's. At the time of its production, anywhere from 10-20 Z1's were built daily. For the 1990 model year, more than half of all Z1's were produced.
New Z1's were sold for 83,000-89,000 DM or £39,625, and in France between FF 125,000 and 250,000.
In 1986, the first Z1 prototype was released by BMW to the press. It was officially introduced at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor show. A total of 5,000 units were ordered before production even had begun. Possibly due to the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz SL, the demand for the Z1 dropped significantly the following year, before eventually the demand was ended completely in 1991.
The Z1's early development is attributed to Dr. Ulrich Bez, before leaving for Porsche in October 1988, when the project was turned over to Dr. Klaus Faust. An in-house division of BMW, Technik GmbH was responsible for the design of the Z1 during its three year period.
A sporty, two-door roadster, the ‘Z' in Z1 originally stood for Zunkuft, which is German for ‘future'. The Z would later be used on the Z3, Z4, and Z8, other cars in the line.
Harm Lagaay, Z1 designer was quoted that the Z1 production is responsible for generating patents for BMW's integrated roll-bar, underbody tray, door mechanism and high-intensity discharge lamp. At one time, BMW did consider constructing an all-wheel drive model, but this idea was eventually dropped.
Showcasing many innovative features, the chassis in the Z1 was specifically designed for the model. The featured included unusual dropped doors, removable body panels, a composite undertray, and continuously zinc welded seams. The Z1 was strictly original except for the engine (BMW M20B5), five-speed manual gearbox (Getrag 260/5) and front suspension which was copied from the BMW E30 325i.
The body of the Z1 is constructed of three to five varied types of plastic panels that could be completely removed and replaced in around forty minutes. The plastic could be removed completely from the chassis and the Z1 could actually still be driven. Both the doors and side panels were constructed from General Electric's XENOY thermoplastic which the roof, trunk and hood covers are GRP components designed by Seger + Hoffman AG. Developed jointly by AZKO Coatings and BMW Technik GmbH, the Z1 is painted in a unique flexible lacquer finish.
To decrease turbulence and rear life, the Z1's undertray is constructed completely flat with the muffler and rear valance designed as integral aerodynamic components. The Z1 was constructed and designed with aerodynamics in mind. To increase front-wheel traction, the front end induces a high-pressure zone just forward of the front wheels.
Inspired by more traditional roadsters that usually feature doors with removable metal or cloth doors, the Z1 was unique due to its strangely unusual doors. Retracting vertically down into the body of the car rather than swinging upward or outward, the Z1 was an interesting vehicle to say the least. Retractable doors were installed instead because removable doors didn't fit within BMW's design goals. Attached directly to the frame of the vehicle rather than the doors, the windows retract automatically if the door is lowered and may be operated independently of the doors.
The 2.5 L 12-valve SOHC Z1 engine produced 170 hp at 5800 rpm, and 222 Nm of torque in its base form, and tilted 20 degrees to the right to encompass the low hoodline.
Specially formulated for the Z1, the Z axle (or the rear suspension) was a multi-link design featured first on the Z1 BMW. With a diameter of 7 inches, the 15 inch wheels outfitted on the Z1 held 205/55VR-15 tires.
Many enthusiasts of the Z1 have commented that though the vehicle is considerably unique, the high door sills make both exits and entries extremely difficult. Styled much like the motorcycle, the instruments inside the Z1 have white needles as gauges, though the tachometer has a red needle.
Available in a range of six exterior colors, and four interior shades, the Z1 was mostly popular in red, black or green. The car's designers Bez and Lagaay received the reserved colors oh-so-orange and swimming pool blue. The rarest colors that the Z1 was sold in were ‘fun-gelb' (fun yellow in English) or red interior.
Today Z1's are available for import to the U.S. for show or display purposes. The BMW Z1 was featured vaguely in the Jackie Chan film, Armour of God II: Operation Condor.By Jessica Donaldson
Back to the future - 25 years of the BMW Z1
It was a true quantum leap: when BMW unveiled the Z1 to the international motoring press in the Italian town of Punta Ala back in autumn 1988, its direct predecessor was parked in the hotel's inner courtyard – a BMW 507 from the late 1950s, the last time the BMW model range had included a two-seater sports car. The leap through time to the Z1 was in fact even greater than the intervening period of 30 years or so would suggest. Its avant-garde solutions looked way ahead into the future – indeed, some of its most revolutionary ideas are as unique now as they were then.
It had all begun with a very bold idea. The BMW Board of Management came up with the notion of setting up a kind of think tank in a cutting-edge company branch that would be completely isolated from all other development departments. The idea was to give highly skilled BMW engineers, technicians and designers free rein to work on turning their best creative concepts into reality themselves.
At the start of 1985, the idea came to fruition. Not five minutes' drive from the Group's headquarters, a highly dedicated high-tech company came into being that has long since become a role model the world over: BMW Technik GmbH, known internally simply by the letters ZT. Just six months later, the 60-strong team delivered exactly what had been hoped for: concrete concepts designed to inject car manufacture with new impetus, all under the umbrella of a pilot project for employing new materials, using different types of vehicle structure and shortening development times. It didn't take long to coin a name for it: the Z1.Pilot project sells itself: Z1 looks increasingly likely to go into production.
The project really sold itself. Initially, no one had dreamed of putting into production a concept car in the guise of a sleek roadster – but it was just too good and the thought of a new BMW sports car too enticing. The BMW Board of Management gave the green light, and almost 12 months later to the day, there was more than just a styling model to admire – the first roadworthy prototype was ready, too. On 1 August 1986, BMW went public and announced: 'BMW Technik AG has completed its first product. The BMW Z1, a vehicle study, was conceived on the basis of specifications which build on longstanding BMW traditions at the same time as factoring in future mobility requirements.'
One glance was enough to know exactly what the superbly proportioned sporty two-seater was meant to build on: there were increasing calls from customers for a roadster that would continue the legacy of BMW's legendary sports cars of the past. The 328 and 507 had long since gone into the history books as sporting and style icons, and there had been nothing to take their place for several decades. It was time to fill the gap with something right up to date. As the press release stated: 'BMW Technik was commissioned by the Board of Management of BMW AG to devise and execute a vehicle concept which would largely satisfy the desire for 'freedom on four wheels', driving pleasure and performance.' The fundamental driving experience should clearly take precedence, rather than adopting the comfort-focused approach that prevailed in competitors' sports car concepts throughout the 1980s. 'Young', 'dynamic' and 'brash' should be the words that best described the Z1, along with 'a new dimension in driving'. Trademark BMW roadster attributes were adopted and fused with the latest technology. Ingredients included superior performance, the ability to drive with the roof down, a sense of sheer originality and a dash of extravagance. The Z1 had all the right credentials: low weight and low centre of gravity, front mid-engine and compact dimensions. The highlight though was without doubt its pioneering technology: the unique vertical sliding door concept and the supporting sheet-metal structure with a plastic outer skin. Demand wins the day: the roadster is to be built – by hand.
The response was overwhelming – the company was inundated with inquiries from customers, while there was a great deal of public speculation about whether BMW had the courage to actually build the car. Whereas BMW kept silent on the matter, development for series production was already in full swing behind closed doors. It was obvious that the Z1 would have to be built largely by hand on account of its unusual design characteristics and the materials used. This, in turn, meant a small production run and a high price tag. Nevertheless, the BMW Board of Management pushed ahead with the launch.
Almost exactly two years after finalising the Z1 concept and one year on from the study's unveiling, BMW laid its cards on the table when it made the following announcement on 10 August 1987: 'The time for speculation is over, the guessing game has come to an end: BMW AG will be presenting the Z1 Roadster at the Frankfurt Motor Show.' Speeding up the development process had been a pilot task for this project, and after a development time of just three years a limited number of the 170 hp front mid-engined sports car would go into small-scale production from June 1988. 'Once the custom-built production process is up and running at full capacity, up to six car enthusiasts a day will be able to start enjoying undiluted driving pleasure instead of just dreaming about it.'
The ink had barely dried on the announcement when the advance orders started to stream into Munich. The Frankfurt Motor Show hadn't even started when a major motoring magazine wrote: 'The groundswell of euphoria gives reason to suspect that the last person to place an immediate order won't get their hands on their Z1 until the year 2000!' BMW gave a small group of top journalists a preview of just what would make the new roadster one of a kind. The Director of BMW Technik GmbH at that time, Úlrich Bez, gave an emphatic demonstration of the benefits of the plastic panelling: he jumped with both feet onto a vehicle wing lying on the floor, which promptly buckled – then sprang back to its original shape when he stepped off it again. BMW's historic 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show: first V12, first 3 Series Touring, first Z Roadster.
When the show finally opened its doors on 11 September, visitors descended on the BMW stand in their hoards to behold a unique collection of firsts all set to go down in motoring history: the 750i powered by Germany's first post-war 12-cylinder engine was marking its world premiere, as was the first ever 3 Series Touring as it blazed a trail for a whole new breed of car, and, of course, the avant-garde Z1, the first BMW roadster for around 30 years. Set off to stunning effect by a wall of water as a backdrop, a German news magazine deemed it 'probably the most photographed vehicle at the entire show'.
With so many customers desperately eager to be among the first to order a Z1, a German motoring magazine decided to try its luck at buying the Reed Green exhibit straight off the stand. But despite being offered DM 150,000 in cash, the BMW team stayed firm: it was simply not possible, as the Z1 was one of just ten test vehicles, all of which were still urgently required. Besides this, the Z1 still had to undergo homologation testing, so the roadster could not have been sold under any circumstances – not even for the two million German marks the prototype had actually cost!
And so the waiting game started – and went on for a good year, as it would be autumn 1988 before the Z1 went into production. The planned asking price was DM 80,000. In the meantime, the potential clientele could seek solace in the first sales brochure entitled 'For sheer driving passion: the BMW Z1 High-Tech Roadster'. October 1988: the Z1 – a radically different approach to development and construction.
Finally, in October 1988, the time came. Dr Wolfgang Reitzle, Member of the Board of Management responsible for Research and Development at BMW AG, saw the roadster as far more than just another new model. More importantly, it bore out the success of the innovative development structure deployed at BMW: 'As a result of the newly created interdepartmental work processes that have been implemented with our Research and Technology Centre in association with Motorsport GmbH and Technik GmbH, BMW now has unique and highly efficient instruments at its disposal for the development of new cars. The Z1 represents the first project where BMW has ventured beyond a pure vehicle project to test out and successfully employ revolutionary new approaches in this broader form.'
The Z1 truly was different from the ground up. A self-supporting monocoque construction made up of individual sheet-steel parts constituted the car's backbone. After it had been welded together, the entire frame was hot-dip galvanised in an immersion bath. Not only did this ensure seamless corrosion protection for the monocoque, it made it substantially more rigid too: the coating of zinc that was applied acted as a connecting and supporting element, especially around panel seams and joint overlaps. The effect was an increase in the monocoque's torsional resistance of around 25 per cent.
The second peculiarity of the Z1 bodyshell was the vehicle floor, which was bonded with the frame and partly bolted to it – and made of plastic. In collaboration with specialists from MBB – now merged into EADS – the Z1 engineers had developed a material which combined low weight with high load-bearing capacity, was immune to corrosion, safe in a collision, and produced smooth underbody contours. The solution was a combination of fibre-composite materials sandwiched together. The resulting structure of two layers of glass fibre-reinforced epoxy resin with polyurethane foam in between produced a floor assembly with a weight of just 15 kilograms.
This construction had the added advantage that the floor unit could be preassembled separately before being completely bonded with the vehicle frame as well as bolted to the steel structure at certain points. Special bracing incorporated into the sandwich structure enabled high forces to be applied in the vicinity of chassis mounting points and seat mountings, for instance. Indeed, the floor assembly increased the monocoque's static torsional resistance by a further ten per cent when installed.
With the additional help of the high, oversized side sills and the engine mounts, this structure stood out for its exceptional strength and outstanding accident safety. A transverse tube in the dashboard area combined with the tube used to reinforce the windscreen frame to ensure highly effective protection in the event of a side-on collision, too. And as the tube inserted into the windscreen frame formed a direct connection between the two A-pillars, it also doubled as roll-over protection.
The roadster's destiny as a cult car and trendsetter was etched into its cutting-edge monocoque. The advertising campaign culminated in the first fully computer-animated product film from BMW, which featured a real-life couple in an actual Z1 gliding through a virtual world for five and a half minutes – wearing, of course, the original soft white leather balaclavas that BMW had specially made for the Z1. In the autumn of 1990, BMW Motorsport GmbH offered the first 'Z1 adventure tour' to the south of France, comprising an all-inclusive experience that would be enjoyed 'with kindred spirits and in the most exclusive style': three days in the south of France, a flight in a helicopter, powering around the Paul Ricard grand prix circuit near Marseilles with a chance for participants to hone their driving skills, staying in smart sport hotels. The total price of DM 3,500 even included the Z1 that was provided for the event. A few months later, in spring 1991, the artist A.R. Penck adorned a Top Red Z1 with black graffiti, thereby adding a new member to the legendary series of Art Cars. Another bright red Z1 was destined to stay in the garage though: a roadster boasting a wide, sporty chassis and an uprated engine under the bonnet, the Z1 M was a prototype model from Motorsport GmbH sporting muscular wheel arches, a low-slung front end and twin headlights. Two air scoops arched behind the head restraints, and sitting atop either side of the deep rear apron were two pairs of circular rear lights. In short, the graceful roadster had been transformed into a beefy racer.
After a run of 8,000 BMW Z1 models, production came to an end in June 1991. It had breathed life back into a segment in the BMW portfolio which continues to enjoy immense popularity today: two-seater sports cars with a Z as their distinguishing letter. The small number that were made, the unique overall design concept and, not least, the tremendous driving pleasure it generated have today earned the Z1 a place amongst the modern classics of BMW automotive history. 25 years on, these cars still have a futuristic look about them and are still in active service: at least one Z1 has a certified mileage of over 330,000 kilometres (205,000 miles). The future never grows old.Source - BMW