When it comes to the 1980s, there’s no doubt that things got a little weird. From Cabbage Patch Kids to shoulder pads, to the biggest hair Aqua Net could provide, things got more experimental as the decade went on. Which brings us to 1988. Though it had been around 30 years since BMW had last released a two-seater roadster, they were back with a concept that was cool, sleek, and had that touch of 1980s tech which makes people continue to remember the car today.
Introducing the BMW Z1: A Modern Car Full of Modern Tech
Let’s face it, people love a gimmick. And even though this was BMW’s first roadster in three decades, it looked fantastic, and it was a convertible, there’s really one thing that pops into most people’s heads when they think about the BMW Z1. It’s the futuristic BMW electrical doors. But let’s come back to those in a bit.
The Z1 2.5 L engine was adequate, but admittedly not overwhelming. The real innovation in the car was everything else. From injection-molded plastic body panels that could be removed and changed on a whim—the car could even be driven without them—to a fully aerodynamic shape that didn’t rely on spoilers, it was a car that was built on modern technology from the ground up.
The Real Question: Have You Seen Those Iconic Doors?
If you aren’t familiar with the Z1, imagine an electric garage door opening by going up and seeming to disappear into the garage. Turn it upside down. Now you have an idea of what the Z1’s doors are like. Want to see it in action? Here is a video of a cutaway model from a car show which demonstrates the door’s action with the gears in full view, and another shakier video of a closeup of the mechanism while attached to a car. Not only was this a fantastic piece of engineering, it also looked—and still does look—so cool. It’s also perfectly legal (in some places) to drive with the doors down, though the general consensus is that it gets too windy for it to be a pleasant experience over about 40 mph.
As with every single cool thing, it wasn’t perfect. Though the doors have mechanically held up well over the years, if they aren’t aligned just right they have a tendency to scratch the paint on the doors when they disappear into the abyss. Overall, however, the Z1 has held up well over the years. It drives well, is mechanically sound—just keep on top of regularly replacing the cambelts—and let’s face it, looks amazing.
Can I Get My Own Z1? In the U.S.? Good Luck, My Friend
In the end, the Z1 was a concept car that earned enough hype to make it into production, albeit a very limited one. Only 8,000 were produced overall, and a majority of around 6,500 of them were sold in Germany. In addition to the small production run, purchasing one on this side of the pond these days is further complicated by the fact that they were never actually sold in America when they were new. So, there are surely at least a handful or two that have been imported to the U.S. over the years—we’d be surprised if Jay Leno didn’t have one squirreled away somewhere—but they aren’t terribly common. But if you get your hands on one and need a tune-up, you’d be your BMW technician’s favorite person. Any BMW mechanic worth their salt will be over the moon to get their hands on something so rare and unique.