I've been getting brand-new cars to test drive for almost a decade now — and not once during all those years did I have the urge to do what I almost did when the BMW Z8 roadster showed up in my driveway.
The weather was turning bleak; an ice storm was on the way
. . . and for a moment, I actually thought seriously about rolling one of
the antique cars I keep snug n' safe in my garage outside, so that the cobalt
blue BMW press car would not have to suffer.
I didn't do it, of course. But the fact that I entertained the idea at all says something about the allure of the Z8 — a 400-horsepower V-8 uber-roadster that makes a new 911 Turbo look almost common.
With production of the Z8 limited to just 5000 copies — only 1600 of which are designated for the North American market — BMW has secured the exclusivity of its new sports car. (If you haven't already put down serious coin and got something in writing, it's probably already too late.)
But the mojo radiating from the Z8 is not defined by money or performance alone. Like its spiritual ancestor, the 1955 BMW 507 roadster, the Z8 is among the very few ultra-exotics that isn't overdone. It's obviously expensive. But so is a Lamborghini Diablo — a car that is the Pontiac Trans Am of the chest-wig-wearing, six-figure set.
The Z8, like the old 507s, has classic roadster lines: long hood, short deck; subtle arches over each wheel as the bodywork tapers to the rear, a timeless look shared by early '60s Ferraris and later "borrowed" with open enthusiasm by legendary GM stylist Bill Mitchell, who adapted the themes wonderfully to such American classics as the 1963-1967 Sting Ray Corvette and 1967 Camaro. (Mitchell himself once frankly admitted his inspiration and said simply: "If you are going to rob someone, you might as well rob a bank, not a liquor store.")
2001 BMW Z8
BMW, for its part, only had to emulate the styling genius of Count Albrecht Goertz, who designed the 507, right down to the chromed and slotted fender vents ending in the famous BMW "spinner."
Inside, the retro theme continues, with an off-center instrument cluster, metal-spoked steering wheel, brushed aluminum and trim pieces that are painted body color to echo the building techniques of the past. (Instead of metal, these trim pieces are plastic composites.)
2001 BMW Z8Enlarge Photo
Hit the push-button starter and the 400-hp DOHC V-8 burbles to life. Except for some exhaust tuning differences and a reworked oiling system, this is the same engine as found in the M5 supersedan. In the lighter Z8 body, the BMW V-8 launches you with even more authority. Before you're much out of second gear (there are six to play with), you've nailed 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. Things happen so quickly you're grateful for the rev limiter. The car's gearing and power-to-weight ratio are such that you are in each of the lower three gears very briefly; even fourth gets you to redline almost before you have time to ponder the upshift. By now of course you’re going fast enough to need Johnny Cochran's home number in your wallet — which is probably why BMW electronically limits the Z8's top end to 155 mph.
Other modern refinements include BMW's Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system and 18-inch rims mounting run-flat, 40-series ultra-performance tires. A limited slip rear differential and high capacity four-wheel discs with ABS keep things controllable for all but the deliberately lunatic.
Also tucked into this package are heated front seats, dual zone climate control and even the BMW navigation system — though the Chiclet-sized display screen will test your visual acuity.
Of course, it hardly matters where you're going when you're in the Z8; it's like making it to the NFL, or being named a partner in your firm at 35. Getting there is not what matters.
Being there, on the other hand, is everything.
BMW Z8 roadster
Base price range: $128,000
Engine: 5.0-liter V-8, 400 hp
Transmission: six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 98.6 in
Length: 172.2 in
Width: 72.1 in
Height: 51.9 in
Curb Weight: 3495 lb
EPA (cty/hwy): 13/21 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, traction control, stability control
Major standard features: V-8 engine, power convertible top, leather and aluminum interior trim, climate control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
The Car Connection Consumer Review
This car is truly a classic, a real keeper!
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