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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
rare rides the 1990 bmw z1 a little bimmer time forgot

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 [s]graceful affair[/s] 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]

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  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down. https://academic.oup.com/dh/article-abstract/42/4/548/5063004
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro processors...in today's vehicles?
  • Ravenuer The Long Island Expressway.
  • Kwik_Shift A nice stretch of fairly remote road that would be great for test driving a car's potential, rally style, is Flinton Road off of Highway 41 in Ontario. Twists/turns/dips/rises. Just hope a deer doesn't jump out at you. Also Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Great scenery with lots of hills.