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Manufacturer BMW
Production March 1989 – June 1991
Designer Harm Lagaay (1986)
Body and chassis
Class Compact luxury sports car (S)
Body style 2-door roadster
Platform BMW E30
Related BMW 3-Series
Engine 2.5 L BMW M20B25 I6
Wheelbase 2,447 mm (96.3 in)
Length 3,921 mm (154.4 in)
Width 1,690 mm (67 in)
Height 1,227 mm (48.3 in)
Curb weight 1,250 kg (2,760 lb)
Predecessor BMW 507
Successor BMW Z3

The BMW Z1 is a two-seat roadster automobile developed by BMW inspired by its famous predecessor the 507. It was produced from March 1989 to June 1991.[1] The Z1 featured doors which dropped down into the door sills. A total of 8,000 cars were produced. All the Z1s were left-hand drive.


The first example of the Z1 was released by BMW to the press in 1986 and later officially presented at the 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show. Initial demand was so fierce that BMW had 5,000 orders before production began. However, demand dropped significantly around 1988 and BMW ended production in 1991. There is speculation that the drop in demand was due to the early inflated demand from speculative investors.[2] In 1988, however, BMW was quoted as saying that they had 35,000 orders for the Z1.

The BMW Z1 was designed over a three-year period by an in-house division of BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH. The development of the Z1 is attributed to Ulrich Bez and his team at BMW Technik GmbH (Harm Lagaay, Alexander Pregl, Rudolf Müller, Lutz Janssen, Wolf-Henryk Menke, Dieter Schaffner, Klaus Faust, Sabine Zemelka, Patrick Ayoub and Stephan Stark). Control of the project was turned over to Klaus Faust when Bez left for Porsche in October 1988.

The BMW Z1 was used to develop and debut several technologies. Z1 designer Harm Lagaay mentioned that Z1 production helped generate patents for BMW's high-intensity discharge lamp, integrated roll-bar, door mechanism, and underbody tray.

Z line[edit]

The Z in Z1 originally stood for Zukunft (German for future) and would later be used on other cars in the line: the Z3, Z4, and Z8). All of these vehicles (including the Z1) are two-door roadsters (except for the few M coupe and Z3 and Z4 hardtop models).




The chassis was specially designed for the Z1 and features a number of innovative features: removable body panels, continuously zinc welded seams, a composite undertray, and the unusual dropped doors. Parts of the car (including the engine, gearbox, and front suspension) were borrowed from the BMW E30 325i and 325Ix, but the Z1 remains largely original.[3]

The body was made from plastic and could be removed completely from the chassis. The side panels and doors are made of General Electric's XENOY thermoplastic. The hood, trunk, and roof cover are GRP components made by Seger + Hoffman AG. The car is painted in a special flexible lacquer finish developed jointly by AKZO Coatings and BMW Technik GmbH.

During the Z1s launch, BMW suggested that owners purchase an additional set of body panels and change the color of the car from time to time. The car could actually be driven with all of the panels completely removed, similar to the Pontiac Fiero. BMW noted that the body could be completely replaced in 40 minutes, although Z1 owners have reported that this may be optimistic.[4]

The entire vehicle was designed with aerodynamics in mind. Specifically, the entire undertray is completely flat and the muffler and rear valance were designed as integral aerodynamic components to decrease turbulence and rear lift. The front end reportedly induces a high-pressure zone just forward of the front wheels to increase front-wheel traction.[5] The Z1 has a drag coefficient of 0.36 Cd with the top up or 0.43 Cd with it down.


The doors retract vertically down into the car's body instead of swinging outward or upward. The Kaiser Darrin was the first car to have retractable doors; they slid forward into the front fenders. The inspiration for these doors came from more traditional roadsters which often feature removable metal or cloth doors. Because removable doors did not fit within BMW's design goals, the retractable doors were installed instead.

The body with its high sills, offers crash protection independent of the doors, the vehicle may be legally and safely driven with the doors up or down, although this is not legal in the U.S.

The windows may be operated independently of the doors, although they do retract automatically if the door is lowered. Both the window and door are driven by electric motors through toothed rubber belts and may be moved manually in an emergency.[6]


Both the engine (the BMW M20B25) and the five-speed manual transmission (the Getrag 260/5) were sourced from the E30 325i. The 2.5 L (2,494 cc) 12-valve SOHC straight-six engine sits tilted 20 degrees to the right to accommodate the low hoodline.[2] The engine produces 168 hp (125 kW) at 5,800 rpm and 222 N·m (164 lb·ft) of torque in its original form.[7]


The rear suspension, called the Z Axle, was specially designed for the Z1.[6] It was one of the first BMWs to feature a multi-link design. In the 1990s, the Z Axle would be used on a variety of BMW Group vehicles, including the E36, 3 series, and the R40 Rover 75.

The Z1 was outfitted with 15-inch-diameter (380 mm) by 7-inch-wide (180 mm) wheels on both the front and rear, equipped with 205/55VR-15 tires.[8]


BMW only produced 8,000 Z1 models. The majority of these (6,443) were sold in BMW's native German market.[9] The country to receive the second-greatest number of Z1s, Italy, received less than 7% of the total sold domestically. BMW was reportedly unable to build more than 10 to 20 Z1 vehicles each day.[10] None were initially sold in North America, although examples have been independently imported since the car's launch.

There are reports that BMW built 12 Z1 vehicles during 1986 and 1987, bringing the total to 8,012 vehicles.[11][12] However, most sources report the 8,000 figure.

More than half of all Z1 vehicles (specifically, 4,091) were produced for the 1990 model year. Seventy-eight Z1 vehicles were reportedly used as test mules, although most were later sold without a warranty and, presumably, at a lower price.

The Z1 was available in six exterior colours and four interior colours. Most (6,177) were red, black, or green with a dark grey interior.[12] Light yellow exterior (fun-gelb in German or fun yellow in English; 133 examples made) or red interior (38 examples made) are the rarest Z1 colours. The colours swimming pool blue and oh-so-orange were reserved for the car's designers, Bez and Lagaay.

Reportedly, some 1,101 Z1 vehicles were delivered without a factory radio installed. In these vehicles, BMWS AG installed an aftermarket Sony radio in its place.

None of the Z1 vehicles were sold with air conditioning. The vehicle's dashboard is very small and there was no room for both heat and cooling units. Some Z1 vehicles were converted using BMW E30 parts to have air conditioning, but reportedly the heater elements had to be removed.

BMW Z1 vehicles officially imported to France for sale there have yellow headlights instead of the clear ones found elsewhere.[13]


New Z1 vehicles sold new for 83,000 to 89,000 DM[10][14] or between €42,000 and €45,500. As of 2001, used BMW Z1 vehicles were selling for between FF125,000 and 250,000 (between €19,000 and €28,000) in France including a 19.6% VAT.[15] One example fetched just over £20,000 at Bonham's 2004 Olympia auction.[2] In 2006, cars could be bought in France for a price between €25,000 and €30,000 the upper being reach for cars in perfect condition with low mileage.

Paraphernalia and other information[edit]

Minichamps, Schabak, Revell, and Herpa have made die-cast and plastic models of the Z1. Additionally, 16,000 phone cards (10,000 in February 1992 and 6,000 in November 1997) featuring pictures of the Z1 were issued in France.[16]

The BMW Z1 also had a very small part in the Jackie Chan film, Armour of God II: Operation Condor.

The BMW Z1 was featured in an episode of Wheeler Dealers in 2014. They bought the car as a nonstandard yellow and featured the removable panels to respray them back to red. Edd China states that BMW offered extra body panels as an accessory touted that the panels (hence the car color) could be changed within 40 minutes. Unfortunately, they took six hours to strip all of the body panels from the car.


  1. ^ Oswald (2001), p. 258; production was to commence in June 1988, but it was delayed until March 1989.
  2. ^ a b c "1988 - 1991 BMW Z1 - Images, Specifications and Information". Archived from the original on 11 March 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  3. ^ Dinkel, John (March 1989). "Munich's Marvel". Road & Track: 72–73. 
  4. ^ "Construction". Retrieved 27 September 2009. [self-published source]
  5. ^ "Aerodynamics". Retrieved 27 September 2009. [self-published source]
  6. ^ a b "Home". Retrieved 27 September 2009. [self-published source]
  7. ^ Oswald (2001)[page needed]
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Numbers". Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  10. ^ a b "BMW Z1 Roadster". Retrieved 27 September 2009. 
  11. ^ Broussaud (2001), p. 7.
  12. ^ a b Archived from the original on 4 February 2005. Retrieved 2 January 2005.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Broussaud (2001), p. 8.
  14. ^
  15. ^ Broussaud (2001), p. 18.
  16. ^ Broussaud (2001), pp. 26-28.
  • Brossaud, Frederic (2001). "BMW Z1" (PDF). Retrieved 2 January 2005. 
  • Kittler, Eberhard (1996). Essential Bmw Roadsters & Cabriolets: The Cars and Their Story from 328 to Z3. Bay View Books. ISBN 1-870979-77-X. 
  • Mueller, Thomas G.; BMW (2002). Die Grosse BMW Z1 Chronik Erstauflage. 
  • Oswald, Werner (2001). Deutsche Autos 1945–1990, Band 4 (1st ed.). Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-02131-5. 
  • Zeichner, Walter; BMW (1998). Typenkompaß BMW Personenwagen seit 1952 Erstauflage. Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-01873-X. 

External links[edit]