Tuesday, 4 May 2010

BMW Z1



The Z1 is quite a rare sight on Britain's roads. Of the 8,000 that were built between 1988-91, only 86 of them officially came to the UK; being left-hand drive and retailing at £40,000 meant that they could only ever be a frivolous toy for the really-quite-wealthy. They certainly looked like toys - the unique and peculiar doors dropped downwards into the sills at the touch of a button, meaning you could emulate sliding-door van drivers of the seventies and cruise around with your door open, if you so wished. Very cool, if rather drafty.

They weren't terribly practical - the boot could accommodate your towel and toothbrush, but little more - and they weren't spectacularly quick either. Power came from the straight-six of its stablemate 325i, offering 170bhp (a respectable figure, but not necessarily in a car weighing an inexplicably lardy 1460kg) and 0-60mph in around the eight second mark.

Of course, what you were really paying for, besides the uniqueness, was a route into BMW's technical development program. The Z1 was a tremendously clever piece of kit. Its plastic body panels bolted to a galvanised steel frame, meaning that owners could theoretically keep a spare set of panels for a quick weekend colour-change. A rollover hoop was incorporated into the windscreen surround, and the rear exhaust silencer was shaped like an aerofoil to create genuine downforce at speed. The sophisticated rear suspension was a precursor to that rolled out across the forthcoming 3-series range. In short, the Z1 was a test-bed for a number of ideas that BMW's engineers had sitting around on their workbenches, and the fact that the car was built at all is testament to their commitment to innovation - it was never going to be a big seller, but it effortlessly earned its place in BMW history.
It's a shame we rarely get to see one...

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