The Z8 is one of the most spectacular roadsters that BMW ever built, embodying powerful styling cues from the original 507 of the ’50s into a modern, timeless design. The automotive world got an indication of BMW’s serious plans when the Bavarians introduced the Z07 concept in 1997 at the Tokyo Motor Show. The roadster show prototype was immediately labelled as a profound tribute to the classic 507 Roadster.
Two years later, at the IAA Frankfurt 1999 edition, BMW officially premiered the series model inspired by the Z07 showcar: the Z8. Both the 1997 concept and the serial-production model were penned by the famous designer Henrik Fisker, under the strict guidance of the equally-renowned Chris Bangle.
The then-new BMW Z8 was exclusively powered by the 4,941-cc BMW S62 V8 engine also installed in the E39 M5 generation. The peak output of 295 kW / 400 PS (394 hp) reaches the rear-axle wheels chaneled through a 6-speed manual transmission.
In proper BMW policy, the Z8 achieved the ideal 50:50 weight distribution over the two axles. The powertrain was further enhanced with the standard DSC system and an auto-lock rear differential. The Z8 also premiered the tire pressure control function, a real novelty in the automotive industry at that time.
Furthermore, the E52 model series was the first pan-European model to be fitted with run-flat tires. All in all, the fitted drivetrain was able to propel the Z8 from standstill to 100 km/h in just 4.7 seconds, whereas the top speed was electronically limited to 250 km/h.
Up to summer 2003, when the production ceased, exactly 5,703 units of the Z8 have been manually assembled at the home plant in Munich in a specially-developed facility, further highlighting the exclusive status of the E52 roadster model.
ALPINA also took the Z8 to convert into the limited-edition BMW ALPINA Roadster V8. Produced in just 555 examples, the Buchloe-tuned Z8 was powered by the BMW M62 8-cylinder engine instead of the S62, which produces a peak output of 280 kW / 381 PS (375 hp). The M62 engine, coded ALPINA F5, also powered the ALPINA B10 V8 S model based on the E39 5 Series.
During its short career, the Z8 Roadster also served as Official Safety Car of the MotoGP competition during the 2001 – 2003 seasons, also employing a fixed, rigid roof to ensure a higher level of security and to allow for the installation of the light panel.
Last, but not least, the Z8 gained further appeal and raised fans awareness by starring in the Bond series and being driven by Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in the 1999-released “The World Is Not Enough” movie.
Albrecht von Goeritz, designer of the legendary 507 Roadster, said in 2003 about the Z8: “If I had to design the BMW 507 now, it would be like the BMW Z8.” This pretty much sums up everything about the E52 series.
Certainly, as roadsters become more and more of a rarity, with the Z4 rumored to be facing the axe after the current G29 generation, it is only a matter of years until the modern BMW open-top two-seaters will become modern classics one day. They will then join a rich gallery of roadsters, that also includes the Z3, the Z1 and the 315/1 forerunner model.
The Z8 is surely very close to this milestone, as it is a real, highly sought after collectors’ gem.