History of the BMW Z Roadster
Back before World War II, BMW had identified a certain niche of people who had a yearning for a specific kind of car. “These are people who, once they see an aerodynamic car body with a long and sleek engine compartment, as well as a speedometer extending all the way to 150 kph, feel that strong yearning for wide open roads simply perfect for driving fast, for Alpine passes just begging to be conquered, and for competitors so easy to overtake.” Those were words spoken by BMW when they launched their first roadster in 1934.
Indeed, that first two-seater convertible, called the BMW 315/1 Roadster, started off a series of expensive rag-tops through the better part of last century, including the BMW 328 Roadster in 1936 and the BMW 507 in 1955, before the German company abruptly ended their roadster line in 1959. It was revived again in 1988, under the Z nomenclature.
With the roadster coming under increasing criticism in the ’60s and ’70s in terms of both safety and comfort, it took 29 years before the next roadster bearing the propellor logo entered the market. In 1988 came the BMW Z1, launched ahead of its time in technical terms.
The body of the Z1 was a steel monocoque made of pressed and welded metal panels and with its plastic floor bonded into place. The entire outer skin was made up of plastic elements and panels likewise bolted on to the car, with the doors retracting on request into the high side-sills even while driving.
The 170-horsepower 2.5-litre inline-six power unit and most of the car’s axle components came from the 3 Series. With the engine being fitted behind the front axle, the BMW Z1 was a front mid-engined car.
Acceleration from a standstill to 100 kph came in less than eight seconds and the car’s top speed was 225 kph.
Through its extremely harmonious combination of materials and technologies, the BMW Z1, weighing just 1250 kg, was a truly dynamic roadster still thrilling today in terms of stiffness, its low centre of gravity, and stability in bends. The first units of the car were built largely by hand and delivered to customers as of January 1989, with a base price ensuring exclusivity. Production of the BMW Z1 finally ended in June 1991, after a production run of exactly 8,000 units.
As more enthusiasts showed growing interest in an open-top BMW two-seater, BMW launched a mass-production roadster in 1995, debuting in the James Bond movie Goldeneye no less.
The BMW Z3 entered the market with a choice of two engines. Featuring a 1.8-litre four-cylinder two-valve power unit developing maximum output of 115 hp, the “regular” model accelerated to 100 kph in 10.5 seconds and reached a top speed of 194 kph. The other option was a four-valve 1.9-litre four-cylinder delivering maximum output of 140 hp for acceleration to 100 kph in 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 205 kph. As many as 46,000 were sold in just the first year, before the six-cylinder models were even released.
In April 1997, one year after the Z3’s debut, BMW lived up to what the Z3 aficionados were probably most eagerly awaiting. The 2.8-litre six-cylinder power unit producing 189 hp was added to the model range in the form of the Z3 roadster 2.8. On top of it, the model range was complemented by the M roadster featuring a 3.2-liter six-cylinder engine carried over from the M3 offering an ultimate peak power of 321 hp and a limited-slip differential. From the outside these top-of-the-range M models can be recognized by their muscular rear end with more sharply contoured wheel arches for the reinforced rear axle and the more elegant “gills” incorporated into the side panels. Moreover, the four exhaust tips make the M roadster stand out against the other models.
A facelift came in 2001, while engine updates added a 2.5-litre and a 3.0-litre inline-6, and for the M, a revised 325 hp 3.2-litre inline-6. Eventually, almost 300,000 Z3 Roadsters were sold, making it a surprising hit at the time.
Entering the new millennium, BMW proudly presented a very special new model. The BMW Z8, with its sleek proportions, classic lines and soft folding roof, was truly one of the most outstanding cars of its time through its looks alone. It was indeed a modern interpretation of the former BMW 507.
Like its classic role model, BMW’s new roadster offered the very best technology available at the time in automobile production. Within the outer skin bolted on to the car, a monocoque aluminium frame, that is spaceframe technology, provided the load-bearing structure and gave the driver and passenger an extremely direct feeling of the road and the driving experience.
Within its engine compartment the BMW Z8 featured a high-performance 5.0-litre V8 sports engine delivering no less than 400 hp. Combined with a manual six-speed gearbox, this supreme engine enabled the driver to enjoy the utmost in performance at all times and under all conditions. Indeed, this superiority translated into equally clear facts and figures, the ambitious driver being able to lap the 20-km Nordschleife of Nürburgring in the Z8 in 8:15 minutes.
The latest member of the BMW roadster family is the BMW Z4 presented for the first time at the Paris Motor Show in September 2002. From the start, this open two-seater not only marked a further highlight in BMW design language, but also set new standards in its class as a performance car. The exciting design of the car was determined by the highly attractive interplay of convex and concave surfaces, hard edges and smooth, sweeping curves.
Available from the start with a choice of two high-torque straight-six power units, the Z4, either in the guise of the 231 hp Z4 3.0i or as the 192 hp Z4 2.5i, guaranteed roadster motoring at its best. Smaller engines were available in the European market.
The outstanding agility of the BMW Z4 is ensured by the car’s wide track, an extremely low centre of gravity, optimum 50:50 axle load distribution, and the very precise electric power steering. Fading-free high-performance brakes, runflat tyres featured as standard, and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC III) with an add-on traction mode finally, guaranteed supreme driving safety under all conditions.
During the production cycle, a Z4 M Roadster was also introduced, powered by the same inline-6 as the previous Z3 M.
New BMW Z4
The modern interpretation of the classic roadster launched in spring 2009, the new BMW Z4, combines more power with more style than ever before. Indeed, this is the only car in its segment to combine classic roadster proportions with the seating position moved far back close to the rear axle, rear-wheel drive and a fully automatic retractable hardtop.
Engines now include a 2.5-litre, a 3.0-litre and a turbocharged 3.0-litre, with available manual or dual-clutch automanual gearboxes. It is also saddled with technology such as adaptive suspension and active steering.
The latest BMW Z4 attempts to offer all the driving pleasure of a BMW roadster in a more refined style. With the hardtop closed it ensures the same level of all-round comfort as a sporting coupé in the premium segment.
BMW is currently celebrating 75 years of roadster history. Here again, the German company feels it is appropriate to quote their original BMW leaflets for the BMW 315/1 from 1934: “In a nutshell you can describe BMW’s new sports car as the fast, beautiful and reliable car bound to give the ambitious sports driver one exhilarating experience after another, at the same time combining all the advantages of an economical touring car.”