Despite its polished looks and its superb handling and performance, the 1989 BMW Z1 was conceived as a rolling laboratory, or experiment more than anything. The Z in ‘Z1’ stands for Zukunft, or ‘future’ in German; the car was developed by an internal but separate division of BMW called Technik GmbH, which was created as the engineering and development counterpart of the Motorsport Division, responsible for all the ‘M’ cars.
The BMW Z1 was truly innovative on many levels. First off was the suspension, which was a version of the very advanced system soon to be seen in the 1991 BMW 3-Series, as well as the frame; the Z1 was extremely rigid for a convertible, relying on a steel chassis and a space-age high-tension foam-core ‘sandwich’ for the floor pan, which was bolted on the chassis. The body panels of the car were plastic and provided zero structural integrity.
The BMW Z1 could count on a 2.5-liter inline straight-six engine, which developed 170 horsepower, more than enough to give this little car plenty of oomph. The BMW Z1’s top speed was 141 mph (226 km/h), and it could accelerate to 60 in 7.5 seconds.
The chassis excellent rigidity contributes to make this car a real joy to drive, as did the advanced suspension. The Z1 also came standard with ABS-equipped disc brakes.
Unfortunately, the BMW Z1 did not have a long life span, and was cancelled in 1991; it had served its purpose, however, and the development of future BMW cars could not have possible without it.