Text: Sebastien Morand Photos: Thomas Chatton
A roadster of exceptional charm, unanimously considered as a true beauty queen, it is with great pleasure that Timeless Addict offers you today the test of the BMW Z8. A worthy descendant of the exceptional 507, this Z8 stands out in my eyes as the most beautiful car of the early 2000s and probably one of the most beautiful BMWs of all time. We'll find out whether the bird's eye view matches the bird's eye view.
A few weeks ago, at the dawn of the last day of 2022, at the conclusion of my article on the M3 (E30), I wrote that we would have to make sure to continue the beautiful line of BMW tests and I mentioned a few models. Finally, we are at the beginning of the year 2023 and it's not bad to already be able to offer you a report on the sublime Z8, isn't it?
This car is well known to many, especially for its appearance in the 19th instalment of the James Bond film saga 'The World Is Not Enough', but it is not often thought of when talking about cars. Its flawless beauty is mixed with relative discretion, although 5,703 units were produced between 2000 and 2003. Its German origins and the metallic grey colour it is most often seen in play a role. However, at the mere mention of the name Z8, many people's eyes start to glaze over, mine for a start!
It all started in 1997, when BMW presented the Z07 concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show as a tribute to the 507. This mid-50s roadster had been launched to compete with the legendary Mercedes SL. The expected success did not materialise and the 507 remained a failure for the Bavarian manufacturer. Only 254 were sold and today it has become a myth. In my eyes, it is the most beautiful BMW ever produced. It's one of the cars I'd really like to be able to offer you on Timeless Addict, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
As the Z07 received a lot of positive feedback, BMW decided to give it a try and the Z8 was born in 2000. More precisely, it was unveiled at the 1999 Frankfurt Motor Show. Personally, I had totally forgotten about the Z07 before writing this article and I think that many people did as the Z8 made its mark on the world. While the Z07 was presented in two versions: Coupe and Roadster, only the Roadster was chosen for the Z8. The design is almost identical, the biggest change being the disappearance of the boss behind the driver's seat, reminiscent of a Jaguar D-type. Logically enough, a soft top had to be integrated which was not present on the concept car.
In terms of lines, this Z8 is for me a success in every respect. At that time, BMW's design department was led by Chris Bangle, who was rather controversial for the brand's enthusiasts. But the body of the Z8 was designed by Henrik Fisker who, a few years later, would design the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, another aesthetic success. The interior was designed by Scotty Lempert but I'll come back to that in a moment.
During my test drive, I spent many minutes walking around the car to see if anything stood out. But no, nothing at all appeared to be wrong or badly designed. When discussing the Z8 with different people, the findings are the same: it is beautiful in every way.
Its dress combines elegance and dynamism, it is a pure designer product, without any functional or practical constraints that mar its appearance. The grille proudly displays the brand's signature beanpoles and gives the front end a shark's mouth look, much like a Corvette C2 Stingray. A long bonnet, sculpted fenders that are slightly bodybuilt but not too much so as to avoid unnecessary extravagance, and a rear end that ends in a teardrop, everything is perfectly proportioned. The car has a certain width, with generous curves, but the whole is relatively compact.
The side gills, which perfectly integrate the indicator and are directly inspired by those found on a 507, are a particular highlight. Another magnificent detail is the finesse of the xenon rear lights, a technological feat in the early 2000s.
In absolute terms, you don't really need to find the words to describe this Z8, as one glance in its direction is enough to fall under its spell. It also represents a neo-retro spirit that was very avant-garde for its time and retains a totally timeless look. A few details, like the headlights, allow the car to be dated but without that, it could perfectly land on our roads today without shocking anyone.
Note that the whole body is made of aluminium, as well as the car's platform. Almost all the components have been designed for the Z8 and are not from another existing model. That's why the car cost a lot of money to BMW but that's also what allowed to build this real masterpiece.
Everything is specific to the Z8, except perhaps the gear knob. But the controls, the buttons, really everything else has been designed for the Z8. I particularly like the steering wheel, with its thin triple spokes, which reminds me of pre-war cars.
Another special feature is the arrangement of the instrument cluster in the centre of the dashboard. Don't think of this as a facility for making left or right-hand drive models, as the various dials are oriented towards the cockpit. It's more of an aesthetic nod to what was done in some sports cars of the 50s and 60s.
As with the exterior design, the interior is pure and elegant, reducing frills to a minimum.
The Z8 also has a generous boot which confirms its GT vocation. This is reflected in the driving experience. The seats are very comfortable and, as you would expect from such a car, it's easy to swallow the kilometres behind the wheel.
To power this Z8, BMW engineers have grafted on a powertrain worthy of its presence. This is the 4.9 litre V8 from the M5 E39 which develops 400 bhp at 6,000 rpm and 520 Nm of torque at 3,800 rpm. It is coupled to an excellent Getrag 6-speed manual gearbox which, logically, transmits this power only to the rear wheels. The "normal" Z8 does not have an automatic transmission, but the Alpina model did, and was only offered with this transmission.
This V8 purrs perfectly and gives off a pure sound, just like the Z8. Personally, I find it a little too muted and I would have liked to have seen a little more bestiality. On paper and when I look at the Z8, I think of it as a modern-day Cobra. However, in reality, its temperament is not as wild as the legendary American-English car.
I turn the ignition key and press the start button. The engine revs up smoothly, with a relatively discreet melody. As I sit comfortably behind the wheel, I quickly forget how exceptional our Z8 looks. Indeed, from the very first kilometres, I can't help but notice how easy it is to handle. I'll repeat what I've mentioned in all my previous BMW tests, but once again, the excellence of the engineers' work is felt in the perfection of the driving feeling. However, for such a special car, I expected a little more singularity.
Apart from the steering, which is rather manly, the rest of the controls and especially the clutch are very easy to operate. In fact, the voluptuousness and elegance of the Z8's lines are reflected in its driving. Despite the 400 horsepower under the bonnet, I don't really feel like attacking and it's rather an imperial rhythm that imposes itself on me, making the experience a moment of serenity and calm. Luckily for our test, as we are at the beginning of January, the weather is nice and not too cold. It was therefore logical to leave the hardtop (standard on the car) in the garage and to leave with my hair blowing in the wind. I did drive a few kilometres with the top up and it turns out to be very well insulated in every respect, confirming that it would be perfectly feasible to drive this Z8 on a daily basis.
Indeed, the flexibility of the engine, the smoothness of the clutch and the comfort on board form a whole that invites to swallow the kilometres. Whether it's for the pleasure of a ride or for a purely routine trip, the Z8 is there.
I increase the pace on a slightly more winding track and I am amazed to discover that the car's handling is exemplary. Thanks to its aluminium chassis, the car, which weighs just over 1,500 kg on the scales, swallows the curves without any reluctance and without any roll. The front axle is precise and it's a pleasure to take corners while benefiting from the good acceleration of the V8. Even if it seems rather quiet because of its muffled sound, the power is there; if you mash the throttle, the landscape starts to pass by very quickly.
The car has a Sport mode which does not change the music on the exhaust but only the reactivity of the throttle. You can feel it, but overall, it doesn't do much for the car, which invites you to drive in a cool way.
This BMW Z8 is a top model of the car industry and has been through the years without a single wrinkle. Its lines are perfect in every respect and every self-respecting collector should have a Z8 in his herd. However, at a current price of around CHF 200,000, I'm not sure it's the first car I'd go for. At the same time, every time I look at the pictures, my eyes start to glaze over and I think back to that beautiful encounter.
The Z8 is clearly an automotive unicorn and will remain so forever, like its sculptural ancestor the 507 and many other BMW models. But it also offers the opportunity to be used on a daily basis, which is quite rare for such a desirable car. Fortunately, the dilemma doesn't arise for me, but if you're interested, our test car is available for sale from Cars for Drivers. The risk of such an investment is rather low, this Z8 will remain a flagship model of the Bavarian manufacturer forever.
Nos remerciements à Cars for Drivers Geneva pour la mise à disposition de cette magnifique BMW Z8.