BMW Z1: The Peculiar Roadster That Time Forgot

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BMW Z1 was originally a concept car, but demand was so high that it became BMW’s strongest production car yet.

When you think of the BMW Z1, the inevitable first thing you remember are the vertically sliding doors. They were clever, interesting and, ultimately, a gimmick on a concept car. The fact that gimmick got into production is part of the reason the Z1 is BMW’s strangest production car yet. The more pragmatic idea of plastic body panels designed to be easily removable and replaceable cements the Z1’s place in history. As this video from Business Insider’s Youtube Channel points out, it was a revolutionary car but not for the doors and body panels alone.

BMW Z1 concept car

The BMW think tank mentioned was BMW Technik GmbH, a division set up to develop new concepts and technology in 1985 and is still running to this day. The BMW Z1 was the division’s first concept, and the popularity of the concept model they persuaded BMW to put it into production in 1988. Sales were initially strong, but the Z1 was hand-built, making production Tesla slow and social media wasn’t around to keep the hype strong. It did an important job for BMW though, despite its short run of just 8,000 units over two years.

BMW Z1 concept car

First, it cemented the Technik GmbH division’s value, and a lot of its research has made it to production cars over the years. Most overtly, we’re seeing the success of the hybrid technology they started developing in the 1990’s. The Z1 itself pushed aerodynamics technology forward, and was the first BMW with multi-link suspension. Second, it gave birth to the Z Series after there being a long roadster sized gap in BMW’s timeline. That’s something we’re very thankful for as we wait excitedly for the sixth generation Z4 to go into production.

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Ian Wright has been a professional writer for two years and is a regular contributor to Corvette Forum, Jaguar Forum, and 6SpeedOnline, among other auto sites.

His obsession with cars started young and has left him stranded miles off-road in Land Rovers, being lost far from home in hot hatches, going sideways in rallycross cars, being propelled forward in supercars and, more sensibly, standing in fields staring at classic cars. His first job was as a mechanic and then trained as a driving instructor before going into media production.

The automotive itch never left though, and he realized writing about cars is his true calling. However, that doesn’t stop him from also hosting the Both Hand Drive podcast.

Ian can be reached at [email protected]

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