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by Jay Traugott
Perhaps the most beautiful BMW built in more recent years.
There was a time when BMW struggled to survive. Although it's hard to believe, BMW wasn't always the powerhouse automaker it is today. In the wake of World War II, BMW needed to once again thrive as a civilian company instead of building airplane engines for the war effort. The classic 507 roadster was built from 1956 until '59 and was originally meant to be exported in large numbers to the U.S. However, production costs were simply too expensive and just 252 units were built in the end.
As gorgeous as that car was and some famous owners such as Elvis Presley, it nearly bankrupted BMW. Over the years, the few that remain in existence have become highly prized collectables and it later inspired the design of the BMW Z8. Designed by Henrik Fisker (who founded Fisker Automotive), the Z8 was the production version of the Z07 concept that premiered at the 1997 Tokyo Auto to rave reviews. Although it was supposedly just a design exercise and a tribute to the original, BMW clearly had a production version in mind because the final version closely resembled the concept.
The Z8 roadster went on sale in 1999 and was intended from get-go to be a limited production model. All told, 5,703 units were built and half of them were sent to the U.S. It was an immediate hit and anyone who was interested in buying one had to have good connections and a healthy bank account. The base price was $128,000. Powered by the E39 M5's 4.9-liter V8 with 400hp and 370lb-ft of torque, it was mated to a six-speed manual. The engine was placed behind the front axle which helped to give the car its perfect 50/50 weight distribution.
Built on an all-aluminum chassis, BMW claimed it could go from 0 to 62 mph in 4.7 seconds, but some automotive publications claimed slightly faster times. Like most BMWs, top speed was electronically capped off at 155mph. For those who opted to defy BMW by daring to remove the limiter chip, the Z8 could top off at 170 mph. The interior's wonderful design mixed elements of the original 507 with modern BMW styling without going too retro. The gauge cluster was also designed to be simple as many of the controls, such as those for the power windows and mirrors were integrated into a single section.
BMW was intent on making the Z8 a pure driver's machine and wanted an unimpeded view of the hood and road by placing the gauge cluster in the middle of the dash. Production ended in 2002. The Z8 Alpina was launched in 2003 as a final edition. However, BMW wanted it to be more of a grand tourer instead of a driver's car. They replaced the six-speed manual with a five-speed slushbox and to make matters worse, they downgraded the engine to a 4.8-liter Alpina-tuned V8 with 375hp and 383lb-ft of torque. They also altered the suspension settings in order to make it better suited for regular driving as opposed to its former track-friendly abilities.
Only 555 Z8 Alpinas were built and 450 went to the U.S. While the Alpina version wasn't as popular, both remain highly sought after today. This 2001 Z8 Roadster has just 6,800 miles on the odometer and is supposedly in mint condition. Like all Z8, it has both the body-color matching hardtop as well as the black softop. And for those who have the bank available, it's also for sale for $125,980. Like it's 507 ancestor, the Z8 has clearly become an instant classic. Photos courtesy of eliteautosllc.