Rare Rides: The 1990 BMW Z1, a Little Bimmer Time Forgot

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

Though not the first BMW-powered vehicle in our Rare Rides series, and not the first with two doors, it is the first BMW convertible we’ve seen here. And the two aforementioned doors on this little convertible have One Simple Trick up their sleeve — disappearing into the body of the car. It’s the kind of detail you’d only expect on some crazy old Citroën.

But that’s not the only unique aspect of the Z1. Want to learn something?

Decades ago, BMW decided upon a new Z-series of cars, all of which were to be two-seat roadsters. The first Z was of course the Z1, sold between 1989 and 1991.

The tidy dimensions of the 154 inch-long roadster were also unique in composition. The body was covered in removable plastic panels (kind of like a Saturn). During the model’s initial run, BMW suggested owners might purchase an additional set of panels in order to change the car’s color from time to time.

The Z1’s interesting design is credited to Harm Lagaay. After working at BMW from 1985 to 1989, Lagaay would leave to work for Porsche (for the second time) and rack up quite a list of notable designs. See if you’ve heard of any: Porsche 911, 924, Boxster, Cayenne, 996, Carrera GT.

Having designed everything of importance at Porsche, he retired in 2004.

But back to this Rare Ride. Z1s are motivated by a 2.5-liter inline-six engine, paired with a five-speed manual — both items borrowed directly from the 325i. Interior components are standard BMW of the period, apart from jazzy camo-pattern seats. The small overall dimensions put space at a premium, and meant zero Z1s were sold with air conditioning.

The roadster’s doors are electrically driven (along with the windows) via motors attached to rubber belts. Because of the high sills — which made entry and exit a graceful affair spectacle — the Z1 is operable with the doors in the down position.

As speculative buyers snapped up early models as investments, sales were always hampered by slow production. BMW was only able to build a maximum of 10 to 20 Z1s in a day. Demand preceding the model’s debut was overhyped, and didn’t translate into real sales. After production ended after just three years, BMW took time off from the Z-game, remaining roadsterless until the launch of the far more practical Z3 in 1995.

Here’s something you don’t see every day; a car built beyond the Berlin Wall, in West Germany.

Our particular example today is presently found on Craigslist of New York. The seller indicates (much like the Hooper Bentley) that the Z1 was a special order left-hand drive vehicle for a Japanese owner, and only recently made its way to the United States.

With just 1,500 miles on the clock, this is surely one of the cleanest and least-traveled Z1s of the 8,000 produced. It’s yours for $135,000.

[Images via seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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  • Bd2 Geeze, Anal sure likes to spread his drivelA huge problem was Fisher and his wife - who overspent when they were flush with cash and repeatedly did things ad hoc and didn't listen to their employees (who had more experience when it came to auto manufacturing, engineering, etc).
  • Tassos My Colleague Mike B bought one of these (the 300 SEL, same champagne color) new around June 1990. I thought he paid $50k originally but recently he told me it was $62k. At that time my Accord 1990 Coupe LX cost new, all included, $15k. So today the same car means $150k for the S class and $35k-40k for the Accord. So those %0 or 62k , these were NOT worthless, Idiot Joe Biden devalued dollars, so he paid AN ARM AND A LEG. And he babied the car, he really loved it, despite its very weak I6 engine with a mere 177 HP and 188 LBFT, and kept it forever. By the time he asked me to drive it (to take him to the dealer because his worthless POS Buick Rainier "SUV" needed expensive repairs (yes, it was a cheap Buick but he had to shell out thousands), the car needed a lot of suspension work, it drove like an awful clunker. He ended up donating it after 30 years or so. THIS POS is no different, and much older. Its CHEAPSKATE owner should ALSO donate it to charity instead of trying to make a few measly bucks off its CARCASS. Pathetic!
  • RHD The re-paint looks like it was done with a four-inch paintbrush. As far as VWs go, it's a rebadged Seat... which is still kind of a VW, made in Mexico from a Complete Knock-Down kit. 28 years in Mexico being driven like a flogged mule while wearing that ridiculous rear spoiler is a tough life, but it has actually survived... It's unique (to us), weird, funky (very funky), and certainly not worth over five grand plus the headaches of trying to get it across the border and registered at the local DMV.
  • Kat Laneaux I get the point that Musk is making. I wouldn't want everyone to know my secrets. If they did, they could or would shout it out to the world. But then, if Musk certified certain folks and had them sign Confidentiality agreements, which would allow them to work on cars that Musk had made, that could allow others to work on his cars and not confine vehicle owners to be charged an arm and a leg for the service. It's a catch 22. People are greedy little buggers. If they can find a way to make money, they will even if it wrong. People...sad.
  • 285exp I have been assured that EVs don’t require maintenance, so this seems pointless.