The BMW Z8 is a roadster supercar produced by German automaker BMW from 2000 to 2003. It was given the E52 BMW model code.
The Z8 is the production variant of the 1997 Z07 concept car, which was designed by Henrik Fisker at BMW’s Designworks in Southern California. The Z07 originally was designed as a styling exercise intended to evoke and celebrate the 1956-’59 BMW 507. The Z07 caused a sensation at the ’97 Tokyo Auto Show. The overwhelming popularity of the concept spurred BMW’s decision to produce a limited production model called the Z8. 5,703 Z8s were built, approximately half of which were exported to the USA.
The original Z07 was designed with production in mind. As a result, very little of the concept’s impact was lost to practical and regulatory considerations. Nevertheless, the windshield of the Z8 was extended upward, and a larger front airdam was fitted. Both changes were implemented in the interests of providing aerodynamic stability and a reasonably placid cockpit environment. The four spoke steering wheel of the concept was replaced by a three spoke design in order to improve ergonomics. The hardtop was changed from a double-bubble form with a tapering faring to a single dome with a truncated convex backside. The concept’s exotic driver’s side helmet fairing was eliminated in order to allow easy operation of the power soft top. Despite these changes, the Z8 remained extremely faithful to the concept car. The side-mounted turn indicators were integrated into the side vents in a fashion that rendered them invisible until activated. The vintage simplicity of the interior was preserved by hiding the modern equipment under retracting panels. Complex compound curves were preserved through the use of an expensive MIG-welded aluminum space frame. The Z8 even retained the concept’s five spoke wheel design, albeit without the race-style center lug nut.
The $128,000 car had an all aluminum chassis and body and used a 4.9 L (4941 cc) 32 valve V8, which propelled the vehicle with 400 hp (294 kW) and 500 Nm (363 lb-ft.). This engine was built by the BMW Motorsport subsidiary and was shared with the E39 M5. The engine is located behind the front axle in order to provide the car with 50/50 weight distribution. The factory claimed a 0 to 100 km/h (0 to 62.5 mph) time of 4.7 seconds. Motor Trend magazine achieved 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. Road and Track measured the car’s lateral grip at an outstanding .92. Car and Driver magazine also tested the car and found that it outperformed the benchmark Ferrari 360 Modena in the main three performance categories: acceleration, handling and braking. Like most BMW products, the top speed is electronically limited to 155mph, but magazines have achieved over 160 by “bouncing” the car against its fuel cutoff.
The Z8 was the first production car to feature neon exterior lighting. The tail lights and turn indicators are powered by neon tubes that offer quicker activation than standard lightbulbs and are expected to last for the life of the vehicle. Every Z8 was shipped with a color matching metal hardtop with rear defroster. Unlike many accessory hardtops, which are provided for practical, not stylistic considerations, the Z8 hardtop was designed from the outset to complement the lines of the roadster. With the hardtop in place, the Z8 becomes a handsome coupe. In order to keep the interior uncluttered, a number of convenience functions were integrated into multifunction controls. For example, the power windows and mirrors are controlled by a single instrument. The design goal of an unadulterated performance driving experience is served by a center mounted instrument cluster that cants slightly toward the driver. The displacement of these gauges to the middle of the dash is intended to offer an unimpeded view of the hood and the road ahead.
In order to promote the Z8 to collectors and reinforce media speculation about the Z8′s “instant classic” potential, BMW made the promise- unprecedented in the auto industry- that a 50 year stockpile of spare parts would be maintained in order to support the Z8 fleet. Due to the limited volume of Z8 production, all elements of the car were constructed or finished by hand, thereby compounding the importance of ongoing manufacturer support for the type. The price point and unique production process allowed BMW to offer custom options to interested buyers. A number of Z8s with nonstandard paint and interior treatments were produced over the course of the four year production run.
For 2003, the final model year, the Z8 model was augmented by the Alpina V8 Roadster. The Alpina was a departure from the hard-edged sporting focus of the original car, and elements of the new grand touring intent were in evidence throughout this final edition. Instead of the original six speed manual and 4.9 liter (S62) engine featured in earlier Z8′s, the Alpina came only as an automatic, using a 5-speed BMW Steptronic transmission allied to an upgraded 4.8L Alpina-tuned V8 motor from the BMW X5 SUV. In order to complete the car’s transition from sportscar to boulevardier, relaxed suspension tuning was used. The standard Z8′s run-flat tires and 18 inch wheels were discarded in favor of conventional tires with softer sidewalls and 20 inch wheels. A new and softer grade of Nappa leather replaced the Z8′s less supple specification, and special Alpina gauges are featured on the dash cluster. An Alpina steering wheel with three solid spokes replaced the original, which could not be retrofitted with shift paddles for the automatic. Gear selection is displayed in an Alpina-specific display mounted in front of the wheel.
Performance of the Alpina Z8 differed from the standard car in that peak power was reduced to 375hp while peak torque was raised to 383 lb-ft; this torque was available at significantly lower rpm than the original in order to enable more relaxed cruising. Curiously, the electronically limited top speed officially was raised to 161mph. Only 555 of these were built, most of which were exported to the United States market. In America, this special edition of the Z8 was sold directly through BMW dealerships, marking a first for Alpina, whose cars had never been sold through retail channels in the USA.
The Z8 held BMW’s production car performance records for several years, but not all journalists praised the car. Jeremy Clarkson, whilst reviewing the Alpina edition of the Z8 on Top Gear (Series 2 Episode 3), described the car as having terrible handling and being an example of a car that never knew what it was supposed to be (supercar or roadster).
The lack of a limited slip differential is considered to be one of the Z8′s greatest shortcomings. The Z8 is equipped with an open differential that allows one wheel to break free under hard acceleration. The presence of traction control and stability control prevent the absence of an LSD from becoming a safety concern, but owners and journalists agree that such an oversight is unacceptable in a performance car of this caliber. Many owners have fitted Quaife LSDs in order to rectify this obvious design flaw.
More generally, some road testers have complained about ineffective airflow management with and without the soft top in place. Excessive wind noise and turbulence have been reported at speeds of over 70 miles per hour. The detachable wind blocker is said to mitigate but not eliminate the problem. Some ergonomic issues are said to arise as consequence of the interior’s uncompromising commitment to aesthetic purity. The vintage-look spoked steering wheel lacks the auxiliary audio, cruise, or climate control that are considered mandatory in the Z8′s price class.
Reports that the front and rear shock towers may deform and bend the aluminum space frame are gaining increasing attention. The alleged tendency of the Z8′s frame to warp under normal driving conditions has received mainstream press coverage in BusinessWeek, and the online Z8 owners’ forums have been abuzz over this issue since early 2006. Some owners contend that only a full frame replacement can preserve the investment value and physical integrity of the car. BMW has issued a strut tower brace kit that it describes as a “performance package” in order to address the issue, but the unproven effectiveness of this package and the unclear fates of damaged cars suggests the frame-warp controversy will continue to smolder.
The car was featured in the James Bond movie The World Is Not Enough in late 1999. The presence of the car in the plot was due to a three movies product placement deal that started with Goldeneye (BMW Z3) and continued with Tomorrow Never Dies (BMW 750 iL).
The combat role of the Z8 in BMW’s final Bond appearance is abbreviated in comparison to the 750i’s epic fight sequence, but the roadster receives considerable screen time throughout the film. During a dockside battle with buzzsaw equipped helicopters, Bond remotely instructs the Z8 to destroy one of the aircraft with a surface-to-air missile. The second helicopter subsequently bisects the Z8 with a saw attack, but Bond is able to outwit the pilot and prevail. Bond’s Z8 is loaded with several Q refinements including the aforementioned SAMs, a key chain that can control the car remotely, and as R proudly points out, six cup holders. Mercifully, as the car was not ready for production stage at the time, a real BMW Z8 never appeared in the film. All Z8s used in in the production of “The World is Not Enough” were fascimilies built on Shelby Cobra kit car frames.
The Z8 made its broadcast television debut during NBC’s coverage of the 1999 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. A silver Z8 was driven at slow speed over the parade route in order to promote both the new model and the corresponding James Bond film. Willard Scott and Katie Couric discussed the Z8′s performance, price, exclusivity, and Bond connection while the camera captured close shots of the car.
The BMW Z8 is also featured in a number of racing video games and was used as a pace car for the 2000 FIM Motorcycling Grand Prix.