BMW Z1: is this the perfect car to really ‘feel the road’? RETROspective

BMW Z1: is this the perfect car to really ‘feel the road’? RETROspective


Meet the BMW Z1, the very first of BMW’s Z cars. A two-seat roadster with a retractable soft-top and a traditional front-engine, rear-drive layout. But that was where the tradition stopped. And that’s because the Z1 was actually one of the most forward-thinking cars ever made. It also had ace doors. But let Magazine’s Jack Rix tell you more as part of our new retro mini-series… Series 29: Geneva Online Motor Show: First Look: Want to watch a bit of on the internet? Welcome to the most comprehensive collection of official clips you’ll find on YouTube. Whether you’re searching for a caravan challenge, Ken Block in the Hoonicorn, cars versus fighter jets, Stig power laps or the latest Chris Harris Drives, you can find all the iconic films here.Want to share your views with the team?

now here’s a question for you what makes a truly great driver’s car is it the pin sharp steering the perfectly weighted pedals the satisfyingly crisp gear shift all of these are very important ingredients but for me it’s all about feeling the road every bump every line of paint the texture of the tarmac and by that measure this bmw has to be one of the very best drivers cars ever made because what better way of feeling the road than actually feeling the road yep tarmac bitumen aggregate if i’m not mistaken classic surface this of course is the z1 the very first of bmw zed cars a two seater roadster with the retractable soft top and a traditional front engined rear drive layout but that was where the tradition stopped and that’s because the z1 was actually one of the most forward-facing cars ever made i mean let’s start with these doors car designers have come up with all sorts of door designs over the years gullwing doors scissor doors suicide doors sliding doors even dihedral doors but drop down doors no one had ever thought of that the idea apart from making it easier to get in and out was to make you feel even more connected to the world outside now you could have the wind in your hair and the wind in your armpits that’ll dry them out as what magazine put it the z1 driver could and i quote pluck sweet clover another ground hugging greenery from the wayside by simply leaning out i mean what other car lets you forage while you drive genius so how did the zeb1 come to be well it all started back in 1985 when bmw set up a sort of special ops department where engineers and designers could let their imagination run wild just six months later they revealed their first creation a rolling demo for pioneering tech new materials and clever construction methods it was essentially a concept car in the shape of the z1 two years later it would go on sale and while it wasn’t exactly space age it was definitely more sci-fi than anything else you could buy in 1988. that zed by the way stands for zukumf a future in which according to this bmw advert we would drive through virtual worlds wearing his and hers boiler suits flying goggles and flappy white hats yeah i’ve no idea either but let’s forget the party tricks and cosplay for a minute what’s the zep one actually like to try well underneath all this the z1 is largely a 325i which means it’s got a 2.5 liter straight 6 engine producing around 170 horsepower and 168 pounds feet of torque not to 62 takes just under 8 seconds and top whack is 140 miles an hour not exactly mind-blowing and only just acceptable in the 80s it could have handled more power for sure here’s a tip i wouldn’t drive at anything over 50 miles an hour if you’ve got the doors down especially if you’re wearing a skirt because it can get all a bit gale force down here on the plus side 50 miles an hour feels more like 80 with all the roads rushing past so what about this engine well it’s super super smooth and it sounds absolutely cracking at high revs so it’s a shame that they’ve limited it to six and a half thousand rpm this gearbox well it’s quite long gearing and it weighs a fair bit this car 1250 kilograms so all in the zeb1 could do with a little less pork and a bit more poke inside there’s certainly not much to distract you from the road a few dials some heated controls a tape deck oh and the doors did i mention the doors while the doors stole the show there was actually all sorts of mad invention going on with the zeb1 take the bodywork for example which was made from what bmw called an elastic synthetic material or plastic panels to you and me it made perfect sense plastic is light plastic doesn’t rust and best of all it’s bendy so virtually impossible to damage as demonstrated by one bmw exec who in front of the world’s media jumped with both feet onto one of the panels which promptly buckled and then sprang back into its original shape once he stepped off again there were other advantages too border the color not a problem with the spare set of panels you could said bmw converter zeb1 from red to blue in the space of an hour using nothing more than a screwdriver and then there was the way it looked with its short overhangs and wedgie silhouette it was a world away from the elegant shapes of classic roadsters and look at this because the floor is sort of a plastic sandwich the underbody is completely flat and the rear silencer acts as a sort of underbody wing combined with the swept windscreen and this streamlined body the z1 is very low drag there was however a slight problem the z1 cost about 37 000 pounds or around 77 000 pounds in today’s money in fact mint condition cards are still selling for 40 50 grand today that second hand 911 money and there was more this allegedly easy to make car wasn’t actually very easy to make those flexi panels for example had three levels of bendability each requiring a different type of paint they literally had to change the chemical composition for different parts of the car and so just three years after going on sale bmw kibosh the z1 just 8 000 cars were made and only 1500 of those made a life outside of germany of course the zed line continued next came the z3 several generations of the zeb4 and james bond z8 but none were quite as inventive as the original with their boring hinged doors and sheet metal the bmw z1 then wasn’t quite the game changer bmw was hoping for maybe it was just too far ahead of its time and you know what i think i know the theme foreign

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