TEST DRIVE: BMW Z8 – Timeless Tribute

Test Drives | August 21st, 2019 by 12
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Cars typically follow a pattern. They are launched, introduced to the world, sold at a certain price tag and then forgotten after a certain period of time. That patten is broken from time to time though, as some of those cars are so loved they end up becoming legends. You can tell that’s the case usually by looking at their ever increasing price tag.

And that’s when you might notice that instead of diminishing values, some of them not only remain just as valuable, but actually demand a heftier price tag.

The History Of The Z8

It’s exactly the case of the BMW Z8.

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When it was launched back at the end of the 20th century, it cost you $130,000. Today, if you want a BMW Z8, you need to spend in excess of $200,000, sometimes even more. So how can one justify such a price tag? In there any logical explanation?

In short, logic has nothing to do with it. As it is the case most of the time with extremely valuable cars, they are not to be judged by reason, but by heart. After all, the heart wants what it wants and logic flies out the window. Take one look at the Z8 and your heart starts pounding, being the most sincere witness to the grace that has been bestowed upon its generous shapes.

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Initially, the Z8 was meant to be just a concept, a throwback to the original roadster that made hearts tremble from Bavaria, the 507. That car was so loved after it went out of production, it still remains a symbol. Just don’t look at the price tags for the mint ones, that might scare you away.

Even though the plan was just to showcase how a “modern” take on the 507 would look like, the Z8 Concept, revealed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1997, electrified not only the crowds but also the world.

The Design

This stunner was the result of four years of hard work by a design team working under the guidance of a certain Chris Bangle. The eccentric and bold designer was asked by BMW management to try his best to re-create the magic the 507 had, following the successful launch of the first ever Z car, the Z1.

Joining forces with Henrik Fisker, the end result was not just beautiful but, as it turned out later, timeless. Therefore, something had to be done to put this thing into production and thus the story behind the Z8 was born. The production car was disturbingly close to the Z07 Concept, only the windshield being slightly altered, to make sure it coped with the current regulations. Other than that, this was basically a concept car you could buy.

In order to be as efficient as possible, the underpinnings were shared with other cars. Sure, the Z8 had a bespoke aluminum chassis meant to keep the weight low for a sporty pedigree, but that wasn’t all they needed for a new car. Looking around for what they could use, the engineering team decided that the 4.9-liter V8 S62 engine from the E39 M5 and its manual 6-speed Getrag gearbox might be a good addition to the mix.

The limited slip differential at the back was left out though because this wasn’t meant to be a full-on M car but more along the likes of a collector’s car. They went even further and got the same brakes from the 750i on it, to make sure there was plenty of stopping power. There was a multi-link suspension thrown in the mix for good measure and, for the first time on a V8 BMW, the car was fitted with a rack and pinion setup for the steering. It may sound like just another car made of the spares bin but the end product proved to be so much more than just the sum of its parts.

Oh so much more!

With everything ready, production commenced at the end of 1999 and it lasted up until 2003, only three years but enough to made about 5,700 units out of which roughly half reached the US. The car was actually bespoke and the chassis for it was made in Dingolfing. After that, it was sent down to Munich – some 60 miles away – where it was given the worldly shape we all know today by hand.

Yes, the Z8 was one of the last BMWs to be assembled by hand. To entice collectors even more, BMW promised that they would keep making spare parts for this unique roadster for 50 years, just to put their minds at ease. Sales were decent before the car arrived in showrooms, but really took off when one certain movie came out.

James Bond And The Z8

It was Pierce Brosnan who had the ingrate responsibility to steer away from driving Aston Martin cars in James Bond movies and introduce the coolness of BMWs to his audience. It started with the BMW Z3, followed through with the BMW 750iL and now he had a new toy on his hands, the BMW Z8.

The story goes that Hollywood execs behind the movie saw the Z8 behind closed doors and fell in love with it immediately. Next, they demanded BMW provide some cars for the shooting of the film. The problem was that the Z8 wasn’t ready and therefore some glassfiber mock-ups were created to allow the creative minds behind the special effects to get things done.

The development of the car continued. In the end, the Z8 made such a good impression in the movie – even though it does end up being cut in half – that interest in the car surged.

With such a history behind it, and a limited number of cars still on the road today, I couldn’t be more excited to drive this car when BMW invited me to do so. It wasn’t just that it is a symbol today, but also the fact that I grew up with Pierce Brosnan playing Bond and his movies. I know I might be in the minority here but I think he was one of the best Bonds out there. Thus, driving the same car he did so awesomely in the movie would be a life-changing experience.

The moment you see the Z8 in the metal you realize it’s a lot better looking than  the pictures can show. Looking at a photo of this legend, you might be tricked into believing the rear end is awkward and too round, the front-end might seem frumpy and the interior too small.

Get next to it though and you’ll instantly understand what it was meant to be: the true tribute to the 507. The side gills look like they come straight from the original, with the BMW roundel thrown in for good measure. The rear-end is stylish and features slim taillights animated by neon underneath the colored glass – BMW chose neon as they claim this way they will never have to be changed. The front end is just one endless curve, with the high beams integrated into the grille while the headlamps are seamlessly infused into the body.

It all works!

Inside it you feel snug and comfortable. Sure, it’s not as spacious as a 7 Series but that’s not the point. It’s meant to wrap itself around you and make sure you feel confident behind the wheel. Scott Lempert was tasked with making everything feel as minimalistic as possible, without straying too far from the 507 and he knocked it out of the park.

 

The dash is as simple as it gets, with four round gauges looking at you from the middle of it, with analogue designs and illuminated needles in the middle. Everywhere else you look inside the Z8, you feel like nothing was left to chance and the materials used are of great quality.

Simple knobs allow you to adjust everything to your liking and even the more modern tech inside it – like the board computer or the radio – are covered by slowly retracting panels. The steering wheel is simple and of just the right size while the seats are comfortable.

It all fades away the moment you start the engine though.

The Driving Experience

As we already established, there’s a proper M engine under that long hood, a naturally aspirated V8 mind you and one of the best sounding mills to come from Bavaria ever. On cold startup it keeps the revs a bit higher than usual, giving you a baritone sound that just gives you chills. Rev it just a little and the whole car tilts a bit as if you giving you approval to take it out and just enjoy what it has to offer. The clutch is just right, not too light and not too heavy while the gearbox has precise throws, albeit a bit long by today’s standards. Not an issue though, as this wasn’t meant to be a sports car in the first place.

You can tell this is not an agile car too, once you get going. Our route was around the Alps and it included tight bends as well as long stretches of road where you could let that V8 unleash its might upon you. While diving into a corner reveals some body roll, once you exit it you can rev it up and just enjoy the ride, joined by a glorious sound coming from the back.

Tunnels were especially attractive since in a roadster it may be hard to hear the engine due to wind noise. Once inside a tunnel though, you’d have the perfect setup to actually hear it roar and it is mighty impressive. Some might be disappointed to hear that the steering isn’t all that great, feedback might be lacking and that having such a long nose doesn’t do wonders for the agility of the entire package.

But that doesn’t really matter. This car was meant to be enjoyed on longer, relaxing cruises and at that, the Z8 is almost unbeatable.

Just get going, let the V8 waft you in its seamless never-ending torque, and enjoy the ride.

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