From BMW Tech
Jump to navigation Jump to search
ProductionMarch, 1989–June, 1991
SuccessorBMW Z3
PlatformBMW E30
Engine(s)2.5 L BMW M20B25 I6
Wheelbase2447 mm (96.3 in)
Length3921 mm (154.4 in)
Width1690 mm (66.5 in)
Height1227 mm (48.3 in)
Curb weight1250 kg (2755.8 lb) empty
1460 kg (3218.7 lb) fully loaded
RelatedBMW 3-Series
ManualsService Manual

The BMW Z1 is a two-seat roadster developed by BMW Forschung und Technik GmbH and produced from March 1989[1] to June 1991. The Z1 featured unusual doors which, instead of opening outward or upward, dropped down into the door sills. Only 8,000 examples of the Z1 were produced.


The first example of a 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. Unfortunately, demand dropped significantly around 1988 and BMW ended production in 1991. There is speculation that this drop in demand was due to the introduction of the Mercedes-Benz SL (Brossaud, 1) and the early inflated demand from speculative investors.[2] In 1988, however, BMW was quoted as saying that they had 35,000 orders for Z1s.

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 Dr. Ulrich Bez, not to forget the core of his team at BMW Technik GmbH (Alexander Pregl, Rudolf Müller, Lutz Janssen, Wolf-Henryk Menke, Dieter Schaffner, Klaus Faust, Sabine Zemelka and Stephan Stark). Control of the project was turned over to Dr. Klaus Faust when Bez left for Porsche in October, 1988.

BMW considered building an all-wheel drive model but this was later scrapped.[3]

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

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.




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, but the Z1 remains largely original.

The body was reportedly made from three (or five, depending on the source) different types of 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. In specific, 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.


One of the most interesting features of the Z1 is its unusual doors. These doors retract vertically down into the car's body instead of swinging outward or upward. 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.

Because 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 they are 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]


As mentioned above, both the engine (the BMW M20B25) and the five-speed manual gearbox (the Getrag 260/5) were sourced from the E30 325i. The 2.5 L (2494 cc) 12-valve SOHC engine sits tilted 20 degrees to the right to accommodate the low hoodline. [1] The engine produces 170 hp (127 kW) at 5800 rpm and 222 N·m (164 ft·lbf) of torque in its original form, although several tuners have programs for increasing the performance of the Z1 by either upgrading or replacing the engine (see modification, below). A common complaint is that the gearbox isn't well-matched to the engine or the car's sportiness.[7]


The rear suspension, called the Z Axle, was specially designed for the Z1.[8] It was one of the first BMWs to feature a multi-link design.[9]

The Z1 was outfitted with 15 in (381 mm) diameter by 7 in (178 mm) wide wheels on both the front and rear, shod with 205/55VR-15 tires.[10]

Technical data


Error creating thumbnail: File missing

Although the unique doors are innovative, larger customers have commented that the high door sills make exits and entries difficult. Additionally, the interior is hand-assembled and may suffer rips and tears after years of use.[12]

The instruments on the Z1 are styled like motorcycle gauges, and the tachometer on the Z1 has a red needle, whereas all other gauges have a white needle.


As mentioned above, BMW only produced 8,000 Z1s. The vast majority of these (6,443) were sold in BMW's native German market.[13] 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 10–20 Z1s each day.[14] 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 Z1s during 1986 and 1987, bringing the total to 8,012 vehicles.[15][16] However, most sources report the 8,000 figure.

More than half of all Z1s (specifically, 4,091) were produced for the 1990 model year. Seventy-eight Z1s 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 colors and four interior colors, although the vast majority (6,177) were red, black, or green with a dark grey interior.[16] 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 colors. The colors swimming pool blue and oh-so-orange were reserved for the car's designers, Bez and Lagaay.

Reportedly, some 1,101 Z1s were delivered without a factory radio installed. In these vehicles, BMWS AG installed an aftermarket Sony radio in its place.

None of the Z1s 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's were converted using BMW E30 parts to have air conditioning, but reportedly the heater elements had to be removed.

BMW Z1s officially imported to France for sale there have yellow headlights instead of the clear ones found elsewhere.[17]


New Z1s reportedly sold new for 83,000–89,000 DM[14][18] or between €42,000 and €45,500. As of 2001, used BMW Z1s were selling for between FF125,000 and 250,000 (between €19,000 and €38,000) in France including a 19.6% VAT.[19] 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.


German motor tuners Alpina, Hamann-Motorsport, Schnitzer and Kelleners reportedly had programs for the enhancement of the Z1.[9] The Hamann program included a 220 hp 2.7 L or a turbocharged 245 hp 2.5 L engine. Schnitzer did the 2.7 conversion with 200 bhp (150 kW), delivered a 5 stud conversion with bigger brakes and lower suspension in combination with their rennsport wheels. Kelleners' included a 286–330 hp 3.0 L engine.

Alpina had a special arrangement with BMWS AG to modify BMW Z1s into RLEs, or Roadster Limited Edition. Alpina reports having built 66 of these, although BMW notes that 82 can be tracked through Alpina. The RLE featured an upgraded 200 hp 2.7 L engine, sport muffler, tires, and assorted plaques and stripes. The 0–100 km/h time dropped from 8.4 s to 7.1 s, top speed increased from 219 km/h (136 mph) to 228 km/h (142 mph), and price increased to 116,000 DM.[14]

At least one Z1 has been modified with a 330 PS (325 hp/243 kW) E34 M5 engine.[20]

Paraphernalia and other information

It is reported that 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.[21]

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

BMW World reports that Z1s can be imported to the United States for show or display purposes.[22]


  • Brossaud, Frederic (2001). "BMW Z1." Accessed on January 2, 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 (paperback). 
  • Zeichner, Walter; BMW (1998). Typenkompaß BMW Personenwagen seit 1952 Erstauflage. Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-613-01873-X (paperback). 
  • Mueller, Thomas G.; BMW | DIE GROSSE BMW Z1 CHRONIK Erstauflage | publisher = | year = 2002 |

External links