Throwback Thursday: The BMW Z1, a Roadster With a Party Trick

BMW hopped on the small roadster bandwagon in 1989, with the Z1 model. It was the first roadster for the company since the model 507. It joined other roadsters that were available in the market such as the Mazda Miata, and the Buick Reatta. However, the BMW Z1 was never officially sold in the United States. Most were sold in Germany and Italy. A few have been exported to the United States since then. 

1990 BMW Z1 Roadster Convertible
1990 BMW Z1 roadster convertible with its doors and top Down |

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BMW’s trial run

The BMW Z1 was the trial run for BMW’s Z roadster series formula. It would be the precursor to the popular Z3 that people in the United States are more familiar with. As a new segment in the lineup for BMW, the company was willing to explore new avenues of putting together a vehicle. Zinc welding was used in the makeup of the car. Also, plastic swappable panels were used for the body, and a roll bar was built into the windshield. A very limited run of only 8,000 units was made overall of the Z1.

What’s with the Z1’s doors?

The unique thing about the car, however, was the Z1’s doors. The car had its own party trick. The doors were not your traditional swing-out or swing-up doors. Instead, the car’s doors slid downward into the body. They also had no external door handles. 

In addition to the peculiar doors, the little car benefitted from a straight 6-cylinder engine. The engine put out 168 horsepower – enough for the small roadster, but not great. Zero-to-sixty times came in at 9.0 seconds for the 3,200-pound convertible. The engine was mated to a five-speed manual transmission. The powerplant was used in the E30 325 model of the day. 

The Z1’s Airflow control

The car was designed with slick aerodynamics in mind. The wedge-shaped nose, of course, contributed to that. But, airflow was also considered under the car. The underside was designed to be as flat as possible. Even the muffler was designed to provide downforce to keep the rear end planted at speed. 

1990 BMW Z1 roadster convertible rear
1990 BMW Z1 roadster convertible rear |

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The Z1’s price

The BMW Z1 was also expensive. It cost the equivalent of $100,000 in today’s money. It was about the same amount of money that of a 7-Series or Porsche 911 of the day. As novel as the car was, its cost and lack of demand quickly led it to its demise during 1991. 

Today, Hagerty puts the value of the first year Z1 cars, the 1989 model, from $30,600 in fair condition to $67,800 for excellent condition. Concours quality value is around $106,000. The market value is holding mostly steady at this point in time, since January of 2019.

1990 BMW Z1 Roadster Convertible Interior - Bringatrailerdotcom
1990 BMW Z1 roadster convertible interior |

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All in all, the Z1 is a nice little roadster with quirky doors. It holds the distinction of being the first Z series car from BMW, and it is old enough that some collectors may be giving them a second look. If you spot one, get a good look at it, you may not see another one like it for a long time.