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Christopher Bruce2012-06-06 23:42:15

BMW Looks Back on 25 Years Since the Z1

BMW made the car with a low center of gravity and wide stance

BMWBMWBMWGermany, 1918 > present87 models
8471 photos
43 videos
is taking a look back to 25 years ago when it introduced one of its most quirky models ever- the BMW Z1Z1BMW Z1Germany, 1986 > 19913 photos
. In 1988, when the car was first shown to the press, it was a huge change for BMW. Keep in my, the last two-seat convertible that BMW made was the 507507BMW 507Germany, 1956 > present1 photo
that ended production in 1959. 

Even the development of the Z1 was unique. The BMW Board of Management decided to set up a think tank completely independent of the rest of the company to develop cutting-edge ideas called BMW Technik AG. The group took engineers and designers and allowed them to do whatever they wanted. The Z1 idea was born from this group in 1985 under the codename ZT, and six months later displayed the concept to the board. It sported a novel idea of having the doors slide down into the body and body panels made from plastic. A roadgoing version of the concept was ready one year later. 

When it displayed the car to the public, the response was huge. BMW began working on a production version and realized early on that it would have to be built mostly by hand. On September 11, 1987, BMW displayed the production version of the car at the Frankfurt Motor Show and announced that it would go on sale in June 1988.  The lead time between showing the production version and it going on sale was due to the complicated production process. BMW could make just six cars a day.

Days before the Frankfurt Motor Show, the director of BMW Technik Dr. Ulrich Bez, now head of Aston MartinAston MartinAston MartinUnited Kingdom, 1914 > present62 models
1872 photos
24 videos
, brought together a small group of journalists to demo the car, and to prove its safety, he got on the hood and began jumping on the car's plastic body panels. 

As it turned out, BMW missed the sale date of Z1, and it did not go on sale until October 1988.

The Z1 was built from a steel monocoque. The floor was made from plastic and bonded and bolted to the monocoque. The plastic body panels were screwed onto the monocoque and could be removed in as little as an hour. The panels were made from shock resistant panels on the sides, but the bumpers were a more elastisized plastics that could regain its shape in collissions up to 4km/h. The hood and trunk were made from a third special plastic that included glass fibers, foam sections and fasteners baked into it. 

According to the engineers, “it would appear impossible in the foreseeable future to use a larger amount of plastic for making the exterior of mass-produced vehicles."

Power came from the e30 chassis 325i325iBMW 325iGermany, 1986 > 19913 photos
. It had a 2.5l, inline-six with 170hp located behind the rear axle driving the rear wheels. The rear suspension was competely unique with two transverse control arms and one longitudinal control arm. In German, it was called the “Z-axle," which stood for “centrally guided, spherical double-wishbone axle.” The top speed was 140km/h, and it accelerated to 100km/h in just under eight seconds. 

The Z1 came in four colors: Green metallic, Dream Black metallic, Fun Yellow and Top Red.

The cars unique part were its doors and windows that were each controlled by an electric motor. They could also be operated manually. To make everything work, all of the switches were in the body.The monocoque and low-slung nature of the car brought its own problems, namely the seats. BMW had to develop unique foam-formed seats that sat low in the car.

Despite the delayed production and slow production rate, BMW had 4,000 orders before the car went on sale guaranteeing sales through 1990. It retailed for 83,000DM or about €42,500 today. BMW completed 8,000 cars when production ended in June 1991, and it is still a BMW style icon.

Straight 6
152 cu in
Top Speed
139 mph
5, Manual
Maximum power
173 hp @ 5800 rpm
Convertible (cabrio)
Fuel consumption (combined)
21.38 US MPG
annual ownership cost
$ 2.792




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