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The BMW Z1 Was an Absurd Late-1980s Concoction

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2016

Anytime anyone ever says that BMW is too serious, too sales-focused or too obsessed with numbers to take any risks, I want you to remind them of the BMW Z1: a 2-door roadster with disappearing doors that the automaker tried to sell with color-changing body panels.

Yes, everything I just said is true. And it gets stranger.

We'll start with the doors, because that's the BMW Z1-related item that everybody talks about. Here's how they work: When the door is closed and the window is up, you push the key fob or the door handle. Then, simultaneously, the window quickly retracts into the door, while the door retracts into the lower half of the body. This means you can drive around with the door and the window open.

If you show up to a car show in a Z1, you will be asked to show how the doors work roughly 9 million times. You could be Alexander Hamilton, first Secretary of the Treasury and a Founding Father of our country back from the dead, but if you showed up to a car show in the Z1, people would say, "That's nice, Mr. Hamilton. But can you show us the doors?"

But that wasn't the only unusual thing about the Z1. Here's something else: No Z1 was sold with air conditioning. Let me repeat that -- there was not one single Z1 that was sold with air conditioning -- despite the fact that the Z1 sold for roughly $47,000 in 1990 dollars, which is equivalent to approximately $86,000 today. Can you imagine paying $86,000 and not getting air conditioning? "Maybe," you're thinking, "if I had those doors."

Here's something else about the Z1: It was intended to have removable body panels so owners could change the color at will. You want your Z1 to be yellow today? Done! Green? Done! You want a blue fender? No problem! I'm not sure if this actually came to fruition, because I've only ever seen single-color Z1s, but it was an idea (a very 1980s idea)! Later, Mercedes-Benz did the same thing when they launched the smart fortwo -- and approximately 11 people ever cared enough to actually change out the body panels.

Here are the other Z1 particulars: Despite a huge price tag and sporty styling, its only engine was a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 6-cylinder. All Z1s had a 5-speed manual transmission, all offered rear-wheel drive, all had left-hand drive, and all were made from 1989 to 1991 in a total production run of about 8,000. And while the Z1 was never sold in America, you can legally import them now, as they're over 25 years old. Just be prepared for a lot of people who want to see you open the doors.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
The BMW Z1 Was an Absurd Late-1980s Concoction - Autotrader