Introduced at the 1999 Frankfurt Auto Show, the BMW Z8 sports car was the company's conception of what its famous 507 roadster would have been if built past the 1950s. Stylistically, it offered many of the same cues, such as a long, sloping hood with round headlight blisters, twin-kidney grille, distinctive vents aft of the front wheels and a striking leather interior with a simplistic layout.
Not all was retro, though. The Z8's aluminum space frame was draped with aluminum body panels, and hidden from view was BMW's typical front strut/rear multilink suspension arrangement. For power, the Z8 relied on the same engine used for the third-generation M5 sedan.
The BMW Z8 was always intended to be a "halo" car, designed to draw attention to BMW and lead to increased sales of other BMW vehicles. BMW produced it for just four years with an annual production rate of about 1,500 cars. Naturally, Z8 ownership is an exclusive club. Given that the 507 is coveted by collectors and a good one can fetch more than half a million dollars, a similar future might be in store for the Z8.
Most Recent BMW Z8
The BMW Z8 roadster was produced for the 2000-'03 model years. It possessed all the necessary ingredients of a true sports car: superior performance, outstanding design and rarity.
Its all-aluminum chassis was exceptionally stiff and light, resulting in exemplary road feel. Driving hard, one could feel what was happening -- and, more important, what was going to happen -- better than seeing it. This lent extraordinary confidence when exploring the outer limits of its performance envelope.
Likewise, the steering, suspension and braking systems connected to this super-solid chassis operated with pinpoint precision. Many chassis components were borrowed from BMW's world-class sedans and recalibrated, and the resulting ride wasn't quite as supple as those vehicles but certainly not harsh either.
Under the hood was a 4.9-liter V8 producing 394 horsepower and 368 pound-feet of torque. Power was sent to the rear wheels through a standard six-speed manual transmission. (The one-year run of the Z8-based BMW Alpina came with an automatic transmission.) Thanks to its electronic variable valve timing system, the Z8 could purr about town, and then let loose with a shriek once pointed down a deserted road. In tests of the time, the Z8 typically posted 0-60-mph times in the mid-4-second range.
In general, the BMW Z8 was a pretty easy car to drive. And thanks to BMW's effective Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system, the Z8 was kind to drivers who weren't professionally trained. It combined antilock brakes, traction control and cornering stabilization to ensure that over-eager drivers were appropriately reined in before they completely lost their substantial investment in a smoldering heap.
Due to its stellar performance, early association with James Bond in The World is Not Enough and the reaction of people on the street, there was always a feeling that you were driving a surreal Hollywood creation. When it rolled down the boulevard, people were mesmerized by its stunningly unique styling and the sonorous note of its exhaust system.
Perhaps even more beguiling was its interior. In a nod to the past, BMW moved the speedometer, tachometer and other gauges to the center of the dash. The retro-styled steering wheel also evoked classic sports cars with its three metal-rodded spokes and fat, leather-wrapped rim. What wasn't brushed aluminum was covered in supple leather, including parts of the dash, center console, door skins and even the rollover bars. The final touch was a viscerally black push-button starter located next to the steering wheel. Turn the ignition key to On, depress that button and the muscular V8 roared to life -- a thrill every time.
Though we've raved over nearly every aspect of the BMW Z8, there were several gripes: an outlandish price, a fussy manual tonneau cover and excessive top-down cockpit noise. But these complaints weren't enough to turn us off, for the Z8 provided as much joy to sit in as to drive.