By on August 31, 2017

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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.

Image: 1990 BMW Z1, image via seller

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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32 Comments on “Rare Rides: The 1990 BMW Z1, a Little Bimmer Time Forgot...”

  • avatar

    I saw this car in a Jackie Chan movie – Operation Condor – and thought it was just a normal 3-series convertible until the doors went down. Woah!

    edit – found the scene on youtube

  • avatar

    Pffft … ‘Wheeler Dealers’ covered this car thoroughly years ago. Edd had his hands full getting the doors to work properly.

  • avatar

    I remember seeing my first Z1 near the casino in Scheveningen, the Netherlands during June of 1990. Neat little car. It was painted all white which I found to be less captivating than the colors I first saw in print. I still thought it would be a fun drive.

  • avatar

    Goofy lines and no air. Pedigree or not, CP.

    • 0 avatar

      Your cynicism is intact, good. I was getting worried from all the happy things on The Facebook.


    • 0 avatar

      I would prefer my small roadster (or any drop-top) to have no A/C. For me, having it would miss the point. Its added weight and, to use it properly, you’d have to drive the car on a warm day with the top closed. Not on my watch.

      If one wants to be protected from the elements (including heat), then buy/drive a car with a fixed roof instead.

      I get irritated when I see a convertible being driven on a nice sunny day with the top up. Why did you buy a convertible again? So you can have the *option* of putting the top down, only to rarely (if ever) exercise that option? Again, why not just buy a coupe instead?

      I don’t look at having 4wd as being similar to what I’m getting at. No, you don’t need 4wd to go down the interstate at 70 on a nice day, but having 4wd isn’t nearly the compromise that putting up with a noisy, hard-to-see-out-of, venerable (to theft), often leaky soft top is.

      You may lose a couple MPG by having 4wd vs. the same vehicle without it, but at least it doesn’t make the vehicle a PITA to live with on a daily basis if you do choose it. Before anyone calls me out for it adding weight, the types of vehicles normally offered with 4wd aren’t generally supposed to be fun little canyon-carvers. A GMC Canyon or Toyota 4Runner isn’t going to be any more fun to drive if it weighs slightly less, and nobody is buying such a vehicle for its ability to hang with a Miata on a twisty road. The same cannot be said for the car featured in this article, or one like it.

  • avatar

    Surprised these doors weren’t involved in some wardrobe malfunctions by starlets back in the day…

    • 0 avatar

      I wonder if you have to sort of step way over the ledge to get out, or if you can only swing your legs over, and take all the road dirt on the car with you.

      Failing that, I guess you could grab the windshield and pull yourself up.

      There is not a good option for getting out of this car.

    • 0 avatar

      I distinctly remember some show doing a demonstration showing that there was no modest way a woman wearing a skirt or dress could get in and out of these cars.

      Top Gear? Wheeler Dealers? Seriously doubt the latter, as I remember the episode very well with what Edd went thru to get the doors to work properly.

      “There is not a good option for getting out of this car.”

      Which may have something to do with why it was never tried again.

  • avatar

    I doubt that’ll fetch even half of the asking price, even if it’s the last one in existence with that low mileage.

    Z1 seems to have gotten an odd amount of attention as of late, I’m sure I’ve seen at least a couple other write ups online in the last year.

  • avatar

    I’ve seen it in 1995 in Kiev, Ukraine.

  • avatar

    If I was a zillionaire, I’d probably snatch it up, but I still wouldn’t go to $135k. The rubber belt drive for the doors sounds like a real problem.

  • avatar

    Here’s the perennial problem with any car so stratospherically-priced:

    I negotiated and just gave this guy a $120k wire. He gave me the car, title, and the keys.

    Now what?

    Do I drive this? What if it breaks? What if I wreck it? What if someone wrecks into ME?

    Or do I put $120k in a hermetic showroom so I can wax poetic on how rare of a car this is to the average person who thinks this is some ugly older Z3?

  • avatar

    Wow that car is sweet. I learned something today. Didn’t even know this existed.

    • 0 avatar

      Neither did I.

      I’m reminded of the Lincoln Mark VIII experimental test car where the doors were retracted under the car to allow entry/exit. The door had a frameless window, which was automatically lowered into the door before it was whisked away under the car.

      If memory serves, it was built for Ford by an outside company, and although the contraption on the test car *did* work, it was decided that it was unfeasible for mass production.

  • avatar

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

    Who cares?
    Who is Core Lewis?

    What I want t know: Where is my BMW pickup truck?


  • avatar

    Looked at the ad. The front is fugly. Neat car, otherwise. Nice find, Corey.

  • avatar

    Gads, am I that old to where I actually remember this car (or are so many of TTACs readers that young?)…or just that nutty of a BMW fan (well, at least a fan of the majority of stuff made E46 and older?)? Well…I would consider a nice, clean manual variant of either the 128i/135i.

  • avatar

    Is it cool? Yep.

    Is it $135,000 cool? Only if you’re on peyote.

  • avatar

    One point to pick >

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

    Most every German thing we have here was made in West Germany before unification. Rare would be for it to say Made in East Germany (the communist side).

    We are the west, the soviets were the east

  • avatar

    It’s still cheaper than a Z8.

    So that’s something, I guess…

  • avatar

    One of the few BMWs to hold any appeal to me. Always liked them, never seen one in person, but the price is double what it should be. Even Goo-Net has them for less than 60k. These are never going to be major collectibles like a Z8 so the mileage doesn’t mean a whole lot”.

    @Corey when is this going to be featured?

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