The BMW Z1 Coupe: the more you look at it, the more appealing it becomes. It’s quite possibly the greatest shooting brake the world has never seen.
Quite frankly, not enough has been written about the stillborn Z1 Coupe, but PETROLBLOG reckons it deserves some time in the limelight, albeit in the slightly dusty and dimly-lit surroundings of PBHQ.
It has a decidedly homespun feel to it – looking every inch an ‘evenings and weekends’ project, much like the original E30 Touring created by Max Reisböck for his daughter’s tricycle.
But this wasn’t an after-hours project driven by the desire to find room for a three-wheeler in the back of a 3 Series. This was a multi-million Deutschmark operation created at the behest of the BMW board of management.
BMW assembled a group of the best technical, engineering and design brains in Bavaria to create BMW Technik GmbH, known internally as ZT. The 60-strong team was let off the leash to explore new materials and new production techniques. Like a Deutsche Post postman, the team was told to push the envelope over and over again.
Within three and a half years, ZT had completed 140 projects, ranging from a steering wheel for the M5 to an electric car concept, but one little gem stands out: the Z1, also known as the best thing to happen to the doors since Jim Morrison.
The 1987 Frankfurt Motor Show was a big event for BMW, marking the debut of the 750i powered by Germany’s first post-war 12-cylinder engine, the aforementioned 3 Series Touring and the Z1.
At this stage, the Z1 was still a prototype, but that didn’t stop one visitor to the BMW stand offering 150,000 Deutschmarks for the privilege of owning a BMW with Gwyneth Paltrow doors. It’ll come as no surprise to discover that BMW refused the offer – not least because the prototype had cost two million Deutschmarks to build.
Obviously, the Z1 was more than just a pair of trick sliding doors. The construction was cutting edge, the Z-axle was revolutionary, and the 170hp 2.5-litre straight-six engine was a peach. Little wonder, then, that BMW received 4,000 pre-orders, with the final production running to 8,093.
But while the Z1 is the most high-profile fruit of BMW Technik’s labour, there were other equally exciting and fascinating projects worth exploring. And one stands out as the most PetrolBloggy: the Z1 Coupe.
The prototype was built in 1991 – the same year the Z1 went out of production – and although it only made it as far as a full-size model, it looks remarkably close to reality. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that BMW would go on to build a Z3 Coupe that makes it appear so realistic.
The front end is reminiscent of the E30 – the overall look has the whiff of E30 Touring about it – while the sliding doors are lifted straight from the Z1. Great in a low-slung roadster, not so brilliant in a lifestyle-led shooting brake. A stepladder may have been required.
Note the spotlights in the door mirrors – eat your heart out LED daytime running lights – along with the roof bars, two exhausts and the large, wide tailgate. Just imagine if that was a Range Rover-style split-tailgate jobbie. Perfection.
When ideas like the Z1 Coupe are lying around in concept form, you have to wonder why so many people are prepared to pay vast sums of money for restomods. Isn’t it time we demanded a parallel industry of new cars based on stillborn concepts and prototypes?
Notice that the Z1 Coupe looks a little high-riding? Just imagine if it was four-wheel-drive, for proper outdoor adventures? It’s not a massive stretch of the imagination – only four years later, BMW Technik built the Z18, a four-wheel drive roadster concept. There’s a photo of the Z18 in the gallery below.
It could even evolve into a zero-emissions shooting brake, using the tech developed for the E1 electric city car concept of 1992. The wizards at BMW Technik just couldn’t stop building things – that’s what happens when you give creative and smart types a licence to go crazy.
The 90s should go down as a golden era for BMW, when the company built some of the best drivers’ cars in the world, designed some of the most handsome saloons and seemed determined to lead rather than to follow.
Things are a bit different today. Front-wheel-drive MPVs and crossovers leave us cold, while the saloons lack the elegance of yesteryear. We’ll use the Z1 Coupe as a reminder of BMW’s better times.
If you’re not convinced, just picture it wearing a set of Swiss number plates, fitted with a set of snow chains and with a pair of skis on the roof. That’s one heck of a mental image. If you’re not getting the fizz, the 2 Series Active Tourer might be the car for you.