Rare Vehicle Sighting: 2000-2003 BMW Z8
By Chris Haak
My work has me spending almost two hours per day on the roads of northern Delaware and southeastern Pennsylvania, where a considerable number of wealthy people live. As a car buff, I’m often dazzled by some of the impressive iron that I see. I regularly see a Porsche 911 GT3, Maserati GranTurismo, Tesla Roadster, a Ferrari F430, and an Aston Martin DBS during my time on the road. Some of the more rare vehicles I’ve seen include a Gemballa Porsche and an Audi R8 5.2 FSI (V10). All interesting cars, to be sure, and all cars I’d love to have in the Autosavant long-term fleet.
Just last week, I spotted one I hadn’t seen before – a BMW Z8. I forgot how much I liked the understated style of the Z8, which curiously was created during Chris Bangle era of BMW design, but was a car that pre-dated Bangle’s controversial E65 7 Series of 2002. The Z8 looks not unlike a larger, tweaked version of the Z3 roadster, which makes sense, considering the cars were products of the same basic timeframe in BMW’s history.
The Z8 began its life as the production-feasible Z07 concept car, shown for the first time in public at the Tokyo Auto Show. The Z07 concept was created as a tribute to BMW’s iconic (but star-crossed) 507. The 507, as students of BMW history may recall, was a dismal commercial failure for BMW, as the company lost money on each of the 252 cars built. This pushed BMW to the brink of bankruptcy in 1959, and the Quandt family ended up taking a controlling interest in the company. The Quandts still control BMW today.
Though the 507 was a commercial failure, due in large part to the car’s price being roughly double the $5,000 target, it was a beautiful design statement for the then-small German automaker, and attracted several famous owners, perhaps the most notable of whom was a young US Army officer stationed in Germany named Elvis Presley. Elvis took his 507 home with him after his tour of duty ended, replaced its stock 3.2 liter OHV BMW V8 with a 289 Ford V8, and eventually gave the car to Ursula Andress. Bernie Ecclestone’s 507 was sold in London in 2007 for £430,238 ($904,000).
So the Z07 was intended as a tribute to the 507 on the occasion of the 507’s 50th birthday in 1997. The concept was designed by one Henrik Fisker of BMW DesignworksUSA in Southern California, who of course went on to found his eponymous coachbuilding firm that re-styled BMW production cars, and now intends to produce a performance plug-in hybrid sedan in Delaware, not far from where the Z8 spotted recently was seen.
Following the favorable reception that the Z07 concept received on the auto show circuit, BMW decided to move forward with a production version of the car, to be called the Z8, and announced its decision at the 1999 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The Z8 changed very little from the Z07 concept, m0stly in minor details such as lighting, the height of the windshield, and the shape of the car’s standard hardtop. The center-positioned gauge cluster (canted toward the driver) remained intact, and somehow looks better in a Z8 than it does in a Toyota Yaris or Saturn Ion.
Under the skin, the Z8 has a MIG-welded aluminum space frame and a 4.9 liter V8 shared with the well-regarded E39 M5 sedan. The V8 produced 400 horsepower and 380 lb-ft of torque in the Z8, and was located behind the front axle to provide the car with optimal weight distribution (in a FM, or front-mid setup, similar to that of Nissan’s FM platform). The was was sold during the 2000 to 2003 model years (four model years), with 5,703 Z8s being produced in series. Of the total production run, some 2,382 were exported to the US, which represents half of all Z8s produced.
During the Z8’s time on the market, BMW positioned the car as an “instant classic,” and to that end, promised to maintain a 50-year supply of spare parts to keep the Z8 fleet on the road for half a century at least. The cars sold for $128,000 when new; there are currently 11 of them listed for sale on eBay in the $80,000 to $150,000 price range (as far as asking prices). So while the Z8’s value has held up well (auction company Manheim pegs a 2001 Z8’s value at $107,000 retail/$79,000 wholeale in above average condition), the car has not yet made money for its original buyers. And let’s face it, collectible, rare, or not, it’s almost impossible to buy a new car and to later profit on it, unless “later” happens before initial demand slackens.
Though I’ve yet to own a BMW, I’ve spent time driving several, and it’s a pleasure seeing a limited-production car like the Z8 giving its owner driving pleasure after nearly a decade on the road.