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Haunted Highways: The BMW Z8 - A Masterpiece From Munich

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On: Mon, Jan 11, 2016 at 9:46AM | By: Lou Ruggieri


Haunted Highways: The BMW Z8 - A Masterpiece From Munich

In 1997 BMW debuted a concept car called the Z07. It was an instant success on the show circuit, and not being a company to rest on its laurels BMW quickly got the Z07 onto the production line only two short years later and dubbed it the Z8—and the world was instantly better for it. The Z8 was built from 1999 through 2002 and was given the model code E52. It seemed that Bimmer had an idea that its newest flagship was going to be a success, as it guaranteed potential owners that it would continue to build replacement parts for it for the next 50 years. Presumptuous? Perhaps, but not as much as some may think...

The Z8 started off as a design from none other than Henrik Fisker (yes, that Fisker). The retro-themed hot rod was blessed with an all-aluminum chassis that gave the car incredible strength but a very sports car friendly curb weight—about a headlight shy of 3,500 pounds. Far from just all show, the Z8 was also given plenty of go. Powered by the S62 M-built 4.9-liter V8—the very same V8 that made the 500-pound heavier E39 M5 the fastest sedan in the world at one time. The 32-valve aluminum motor made an incredible 400 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque, and, as you can imagine, helped this convertible haul. Thanks to its prodigious amount of power funneled through six forward gears, as well as its lighter weight and a shorter rear end ratio than the M5 (3:38:1 vs. 2.81:1), the Z8 put down some of the most impressive performance numbers any BMW has ever produced. The Z8 ripped to 60 mph in an incredible 4.5 seconds, 0–100 mph in 10.4 seconds, and through the quarter mile in 12.8 seconds at 111 mph on the way to its 155 mph electronically limited top speed. The suspension borrowed the best pieces from both the 7- and 5-Series, and posted a perfect 50/50 weight distribution as well as a 0.92 g on the skidpad.

Inside the Z8, BMW continued to offer a unique and artistic experience for its prospective drivers. The gauges were set in the center of the single-color panel dashboard that runs the full width of the car. Brushed aluminum combined with a very simple, yet effective, style made the interior of the Z8 look and feel more like a show car than a production vehicle. And talk about a car of the future, how about neon lighting the Z8 employed for its exterior lighting? That might look a little familiar to quite a few of the cars of today, except that these days carmakers have figured out LED lights are cheaper but the look and net-result is still the same. Now, that is very forward thinking.

If you were one of the lucky few to be able to plunk down the $135,000 required for one of these very limited automotive masterpieces, you were also given a a metal hardtop that matched the color of your Z8. Thankfully, Mr. Fisker was smart enough to realize that the Z8 should still be beautiful even with its hardtop in place, and designed the roof to compliment the lines of the Z8 rather than just mimic so many of the toupee-style caps we have seen in the past with convertible sports cars.

It also should be noted that although Z8 production was finished in November of 2002, BMW did produce the Alpina V8 Roadster in 2003. The Alpina was essentially a watered down version of the Z8, created for those that felt the original car was a little too... sporty. The 400hp E39 motor was replaced with a 4.8-liter E39 B10 V8 that produced 25 less horsepower, but 13 more pound-feet of torque, presumably to make driving around town easier. Shifting was also taken out of the equation, as the six-speed manual was replaced with a five-speed automatic. Inside, the Z8's materials were all made a bit cushier to go along with this-is-now-a-GT-car-and-not-a-Ferrari-fighter-anymore motif. Only 450 of the Alpina V8 Roadsters were sold in the US.

In terms of construction of the Z8, if it wasn't completely constructed by hand, it was hand-finished, which definitely helped the collector value of this car. In fact, everything about this car was just short of intoxicating. If you have any doubt, go rent the 1999 James Bond movie 'The World Is Not Enough' and watch Pierce Brosnan drive this car for not nearly long enough. In full disclosure, yours truly went to see that movie in the theater quite literally just to see the Z8 in action. After seeing and hearing this car do what it does best, there should be no question as to whether or not the Z8 has stood the test of time. Although it may have seemed confident to the point of arrogance by BMW to promise to keep spare parts on hand for half a century to repair a car with a total production run of just 5,703 examples, we are already more than a fifth of the way there since the last Z8 rolled off the line, and there is no doubt, we still love this car.


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