The 1987-1990 BMW Z1 was a treat mainly for Europe. BMW's first open two-seater since the handsome late-'50s 507, it was conceived in 1986 by BMW Technik, the Munich automaker's research and development arm, as a testbed for new materials and production processes. Enthusiastic public interest prompted a limited run, though deliveries didn't commence until January 1989.

1988-1991 BMW Z1 convertible
1987-1990 BMW Z1 convertible.  See more pictures of BMW cars.

It was powered by the small six from the contemporary 325i sedan, linked to a five-speed manual gearbox. Conventional front suspension and coil springs were found all-round, but the rear featured a new "Z-axle" design with trailing arm, upper lateral link, and lower diagonal link giving geometry a la the "Weissach axle" of Porsche's 928.

A steel monocoque inner structure sported bonded/bolted-on fiberglass/polyurethane panels. High rocker panels, for rigidity, necessitated novel drop-down doors instead of side-hinged portals. A folding soft top stowed behind the cockpit beneath a hard cover.

Many other innovations and classic sports-car character were there, but the Z1 was more an image-leader than a profit-maker. In fact, BMW made no money on any Z1 sold, and maybe even lost some. It was never certified for U.S. sale, so it's a compliance hassle for would-be American owners, though a few Z1s have undoubtedly made it over as private imports.

It's significant for what it may portend for future BMWs that will come Stateside, but highly desirable as a fascinating charmer in its own right.

Pluses of the 1987-1990 BMW Z1:

  • A virtual "factory dream car" with everyday practicality
  • Top-down allure
  • Purposeful looks
  • Smooth "2.5i" six
  • Zippy (8 seconds 0-60)
  • Nippy handler
  • Solid for a ragtop
  • Carefully built

Minuses of the 1987-1990 BMW Z1:

  • A likely trip to Germany to buy
  • An argument with Customs to keep it when you return

Production of the 1987-1990 BMW Z1:
NA, but likely no more than 4,000

Specifications
of the 1987-1990 BMW Z1:
Wheelbase, inches: 96.3
Length, inches: 154.4

Weight, pounds: 2,750
Price, new: $46,000 (Germany)

Engine for the 1987-1990 BMW Z1:

TypeSize
Horsepower
Years
sohc I-62,494 cc
168
1987-1990

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