New & Used BMW Z8: In Depth
2001 BMW Z8Enlarge Photo
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Chances are good that you're unfamiliar with the BMW Z8, or E52 as it's known in BMW's internal model code--at least in person. It was a rare and low-volume car, with just 2,543 examples built for U.S. consumption, and only 5,703 built in total.
Born from the Z07 concept car, designed as an homage to the legendary BMW 507, the Z8 entered production in 1999 and ceased in 2003, though sales in the U.S. continued through 2006. The exterior design was executed by a man who would later start up his own extended-range electric vehicle company, the ill-fated Fisker, producer of the Karma.
Priced above $125,000, the Z8 used an all-aluminum build for its structure, and hosted the Z62 4.9-liter V-8 engine under its hood. Good for 400 horsepower, the Z8 was a quick car, hitting 60 mph from a stop in the low-to-mid four-second range. The Z8 was also very well balanced, clocking in with 50/50 front-rear weight distribution thanks to the V-8 engine's mounting position behind the front axle, effectively making it a front-mid-engined car. The BMW Z8's top speed was limited to 155 mph.
On the transmission front, the Z8 was only offered in the U.S. with a six-speed manual transmission, though the limited-run Alpina version of the Z8 (only 450 units were built to U.S. spec) offered a five-speed automatic transmission. The Alpina Z8 also offered slightly reduced horsepower, but greater torque for easier low-speed cruising.
One unusual feature for the Z8 was its use of neon tubes for some of the exterior lights, including the tail lights and turn indicators. BMW argued that the neon tubes were superior to conventional lights because of their durability (they were expected to last the life of the vehicle) and their quicker activation times.
Though all BMW Z8s were roadsters, each car came with an included metal hardtop (with glass rear window), painted to match the Z8's body. Aesthetically pleasing and eminently useful, the hardtop effectively transformed the Z8 into a coupe.
Widely regarded as an instant classic, the BMW Z8 also impressed with its performance. The Z8's aesthetic qualities also led it to be used in several movies and video games, including the James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, and video games like Forza Motorsport 4.
Though the Z8 lived a short life in automotive terms, it remains a coveted item for Bimmer enthusiasts, and one of the iconic designs of the late 20th century--a fitting tribute to the 507 it was built to honor.