Take one of the most alluring cars of all time for inspiration. Combine it with cutting-edge engineering, most notably in the form of a strapping eight-cylinder powerplant. Let talented designers work some magic on the body and interior, even devote one of them to the steering wheel alone. Build the whole thing meticulously by hand – only for a few years and in small numbers. It’s a perfect recipe for the car of all our dreams. And the BMW Z8 never set out to be anything else.
Outside the brightly lit glass frontages of car dealers, sighs of the deepest intent could be heard on their way to the skies, sent in prayers but destined for immortality in the memory. These were the yearnings of schoolkids too young to have a driving licence, of new fathers who knew practical considerations must outweigh fantasy, of all the dreamers whose earthbound bank balances belied soaring plans. These were the days when crowds would gather at the behest of the BMW 507, but also times when worries far outweighed pennies and pounds. So it was that the sighs rarely turned into sales. It could never be any other way; with only 254 built, the 507 was always a rare thing, then as now out of the reach of all but the deepest pockets.
When it first appeared in showrooms, the Z8 appeared to represent some kind of redress for all those dreams its forebear had left unfulfilled. Heart-melting design with a clear nostalgic nod to the 507 met state-of-the-art technology with an aluminium spaceframe, performance that was a cut (or two) above thanks to the presence of a mighty M eight-cylinder powerplant, and a price tag back within the realms of reality – at least the reality of high earners, who were in rather greater supply as the new millennium dawned than in 1956.
When the standard version is not enough.
The honour of the first drive in a Z8 went to a certain James Bond. Pierce Brosnan, custodian of the role at the time, promptly slipped behind the wheel of a pre-production model to pursue the bad guys – relentlessly and with great style – in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough. As the film’s title implied, this latest batch of villains sought nothing less than total global destruction. A new sports car could hardly wish for a more impressive introduction.
Definitely not a relic of the past.
The design of the BMW Z8 is anything but old-hat – and that’s where the magic lies. The Z8 was more than happy to borrow not only from its historic stablemate, the 507, but also any other classic 1950s sports car you’d care to mention (long bonnet – check, short tail – check, seductive wiggle of the hips in between – oh yes!). The Z8 saw chief designer Chris Bangle and his team at the top of their game, the body penned by Henrik Fisker. The central arrangement of the main instruments was certainly unusual, but the exquisite workmanship and material quality of the interior as a whole brooked no argument. And after decades of combined ignition/steering wheel locks, BMW brought back the started button – a feature that has since become an almost standard inclusion in new cars.
Simply the most.
In the year 2000, the eight-cylinder engine from the M5 stood alone as the company’s most powerful unit. 400 hp and 542 Nm (400 lb-ft) of torque ensure the Z8 still makes an entrance that provokes open mouths and smiling faces. 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in under five seconds, 0 to 200 km/h (124 mph) in 16 seconds and a governed top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph) were the vital statistics. A future in which such performance could be considered commonplace or even slightly puny is inconceivable. And then there is the type of soundtrack only an eight-cylinder ensemble can produce. In a roadster with the roof down, it is perfect.
Getting what you pay for.
A BMW Z8 cost 235,000 German marks in 2000. Granted, that was a lot of money. But it doesn’t take much trawling online to find a healthy selection currently for sale. In contrast to the 507, which was produced in such limited numbers, 5,703 examples of the Z8 saw the light of day over three years. That was enough to ensure it remains far from a rarity today. Starting prices have now reached the 190,000 mark and are moving back up towards that turn-of-the-millennium figure when new. Just a moment, though – that’s 190,000 *euros*! And there were two marks to the euro when the single currency was introduced. So back then, in the midst of the dot-com bubble, it turns out there were definitely worse places to put your money.
The only thing, then, that BMW Z8 owners have to fear is the arrival of 2053. That’s when BMW’s 50-year parts-supply guarantee for the Z8 is due to expire. Which is a shame, admittedly, but there’s still plenty of time between now and then to enjoy this dreamy roadster’s myriad, extraordinary gifts.