Two Visions of the Future: 1963 BMW 700 LS and 1990 BMW Z1

Update 2/6/2018 – Unsurprisingly, the 700LS remains available on reserve auction (it is $21,900 on their site)

Normally, our dual posts have two comparable cars to consider. But while typically that manifests itself in one model, one price point or one performance group, today it’s something very different.

Although both of today’s cars come from one marque – BMW – there is literally and figuratively a huge chasm of development between them. There’s also a vast gulf between performance, desirability and price. Yet each reflected the time point in which it was made; the austere 1960s, emerging from the fog of war into a bustling economy when average Germans could for the first time contemplate automobile ownership, and the exotic 1980s, with its new computer designs and technology rapidly forcing car designs forward. For the company, each car represented the future in many ways even if the results and their impact was so vastly different.


1990 BMW Z1


As it has aged, the BMW Z3 (with exception of the M Coupe) has become a bit of an unwanted step child amongst pre-owned BMWs. They aren’t new enough to be considered cool and aren’t old enough to be considered classic. Most of those in the states would be forgiven if they thought this was BMW’s first crack at the roadster format, but it wasn’t. Dial back to the late 1980s and you’ll find this rather strange convertible called the Z1. Built in limited numbers from 1989 through 1991, it was a bit of a test bed for new technologies, such as removable plastic body panels, a “Z” axle rear suspension and underbody aerodynamic tray. There were only 8,000 of these funky roadsters ever made and a few have started making their way to the US as they have now breached 25 years of age. This example is for sale in Texas.


Tuner Tuesday: 1991 Alpina RLE

From an extremely rare set of custom Corrados this morning, our journey on this Tuner Tuesday ends with a lovely Alpina RLE. Compared to the Magnums, the Roadster Limited Edition is positively plentiful with 66 official examples produced. However, compare that number to the 555 V8 Roadsters the company later produced, and the exclusivity of the RLE starts to come into clearer focus. As Alpinas go, the transformation of the Z1 was not as radical as some. Light revisions to the suspension were met with an uncharacteristically small but notable increase in displacement, giving the RLE some more sport to match its looks. But looks were what it was all about, as even in 1991 a 7.1 second 0-60 run wasn’t much of a headline. Those looks were blockbuster, though – the 17″ wheels filling out the diminutive wedge design perfectly and matched well by the classic Alpina stripes. Special interior details also dressed up the plastic-heavy Z1, and the result was impressive even if the performance wasn’t. So special and limited were these roadsters, Alpina even took the time to individually number the crests on the centercaps of the wheels!

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1991 Alpina RLE at Coy’s

1991 BMW Z1

BMW took a big leap at the end of the 1980s and introduced some pretty extreme design language. First was the E31 8-series, a seeming quantum leap from the outgoing 6-series. That chassis pioneered, for better or worse, a tremendous amount of technical and electronic innovation for BMW. Side by side with the more famous Grand Tourer though was a diminutive roadster BMW produced based heavily on the E30 chassis. Instead of a heavy reliance on computer technology, the futuristic (hence Z for the German word for future – Zukunft) plastic bodied Z1 looked like a supercar even if it didn’t go like one. Park one next to a E30 convertible and you’d never know the two are related! They never made it to U.S. shores and only around 8,000 examples were ever produced, but surprise! They’re 25 years old now….


1989 BMW Z1

As a kid, I used to pour over the pages of Road & Track and Car & Driver and would sit in wonder looking at all the cars that were forbidden to US consumers due to ever increasing safety and emission regulations. One of the cars that caught my eye in the late 1980s was the BMW Z1. It was apparent from the outset that this was going to be a limited production model, but it had me scratching my head, wondering why BMW had not yet exploited the two-seater roadster market stateside. It wouldn’t be until the mid-1990s that the Z3 would arrive on the scene and even though it was initially powered by a four-cylinder engine, people lined up to purchase this diminutive drop top in droves. Now that the Z1 has approached 25 years of age, a few examples are trickling in to the United States, including this example for sale in South Carolina.

CLICK FOR DETAILS: 1989 BMW Z1 on Hemmings Motor News

Tuner Tuesday: 1991 Alpina RLE

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The first of the BMW Z1s to roll off the production line are now eligible for legal importation to the US, given they’ve crossed the 25 year old mark. None of the 8,000 produced over three years made their way stateside, but these roadsters with their funky downward retracting doors do have a cult following. Famed BMW tuner Alpina tried their hand at modifying the Z1, the result being the vehicle you see here: the RLE, or Roadster Limited Edition. Only 66 of these special Z1s were ever made, half going to Japan and half allocated for Europe.

Amongst the modifications was an inline-6 enlarged to 2.7 liters that bumped power to around 200 bhp, shorter front springs and trademark 17″ Alpina wheels. Along with the original 66 produced, a handful were also converted to Alpina spec from original Z1s. This RLE for sale at 4Star Classics is one of the original 66 and produced. It’s hard to imagine a Z1 being thought of as common, but this RLE takes exclusivity to another level.

Click for details: 1991 Alpina RLE at 4Star Classics

1991 BMW Z1

For some time, BMW has dared to look ahead towards the future; in the 1970s, BMW brought turbocharging to small sedans and even the idea of an efficient supercar. In the 1980s, BMW introduced the world to an entire range of sporting products with its M division – a blueprint which certainly all German, if not most manufacturers in general, follow today. More recently, BMW has pioneered “efficient dynamics” and brought the first realistic super-performance, ultra efficient car to the market with the i8. But in the 1990s, it was a different sort of revolution. BMW looked towards new technology in both electronic systems, manufacturing, car design and construction with its revolutionary 8 series and Z1. The E31 is a car well known to these pages, but as the Z1 was never imported to the U.S., it’s not a car that we often get to feature.

The Z1 was a complete departure for BMW; while they were not strangers to small cabriolets, their previous efforts were in the 1930s with the 315/1 and the 1960s with the 700. BMW went away from the idea of an integral body and frame to a separate chassis with removable, plastic body pieces. The idea was that the owners could replace the panels themselves to “repaint” the car with minimal effort. It was something the Smart car would be notable for – a car that launched a decade following the Z1. The doors didn’t open out – the slid down into the supporting chassis structure. In front was nothing new – the venerable M20 from the E30 popped up here, too – but in the rear the Z1 was new with a multi-link rear axle of its own. This new design would later be incorporated into the E36. It’s interesting that with the Z3 BMW opted to go the opposite route and incorporate earlier E30 pieces into the rear of the /7 and /8.…

Party Like It’s 1989 Week: ’89 BMW Z1


What was the first BMW Z car? Ask any American on the street and they’ll probably tell you the Z3, otherwise known as the car from the James Bond flick, Goldeneye. That answer would be incorrect. The first Z was the Z1, built between 1989 and 1991 with 8,000 copies produced. Noted mainly for its doors that retracted into the side of the vehicle, this roadster was based on E30 3 series mechanicals and featured new technology that would trickle down into the rest of the BMW range. The Z axle rear suspension would go on to be used in the E36 3 series and high intensity discharge lights would appear on many future BMW models. Curiously, no Z1 came fitted with air conditioning, as there was limited room in the interior for both heating elements and the cooling unit. This particular Z1 is for sale in just north of Hamburg, Germany.

Click for more details: 1989 BMW Z1 at Autodrom Cannes

1992 BMW Z1

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No….no…..someone didn’t park a precious BMW Z1 overnight on the street in the Bronx. What you’re looking at, rather, is art. Or an imitation thereof. BMW is well known for its series of one off “Art Cars.” From Alexander Calder to Andy Warhol, a number of popular artists have had their go at creating art in motion, using a variety of BMW models as their canvas. A.R. Penck, a neo-expressionist painter hailing from Dresden, went to work on the Z1 in 1991. The artist drew inspiration from cave paintings and sign language to come up with this striking motif over a red base.

This Z1 Art Car tribute is for sale just northeast of Cologne, Germany and would be permissible to import to the US under the “show and display” rule. It will still be another four years until it reaches the exempt 25 year mark for non-federalized imports.

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Year: 1992
Model: Z1
Engine: 2.5 liter inline six
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Mileage: 48,091 km (~ 29,900 mi)
Price: €24,500 (~ $31,500 USD)

Click for Details: 1992 BMW Z1 on

BMW Z1 in “Toprot” with “AR PENCK” design (the film can be removed on request). You can see more information and videos on “Penck design” on or by entering the search term “BMW Z1 Penck.” Original of this “BMW Z1 Penck design” is the BMW Museum in Munich.

German vehicle
3 previous owners
BMW Maintenance Guide to 32,000 km
Timing belt change at 32,000 km
Mileage 48,091 KM is original!
Good cosmetic and mechanical condition
Two small chips on the hood
Absolute eye-catcher with “unique” look!

Power steering, central locking, ABS, power windows, power mirrors, Radio/CD, electronic immobilizer (chip), sport leather seats, sports leather steering wheel, 16 inch BMW wheels, tinted windows, 5-speed, fog lights, etc.

Vehicle is in original condition except for the “Penck Design” & radio!

Uber Rare BMW Z1 For Sale

We see these, maybe a couple times a year but this may be the first example I have seen with a factory hard top.  Careful when removing that thing as I am not sure they have a replacement at your local parts department.

1989 BMW Z1 For Sale:

From the seller –

“1989 BMW Z1 finished in Black Metallic with Black/Red full leather interior. The Z1 was the first of the BMW’s to carry the Z ( Zukunft or Future in german ) nomenclature indicating the company’s look into the future. With only 8,000 units being made worldwide, the Z1 remains a coveted model by BMW enthusiasts. With the unique use of composites, zinc welded seams, removable body panels and with doors that electrically drop into the body panels, this car stops traffic where ever it goes. It is powered by BMW’s M20B25 straight six mated to a Getrag 260/5 five speed manual gearbox that provides plenty of power to zip this spirited Roadster along with no problem. A reliable exotic that is not seen often in this neck of the woods, the Zi is fitted with a fold down soft top, a suede lined removable hard top, full leather interior, sport alloy wheels, three spoke sport steering wheel and a Sony premium sound system. Driven just 47k miles since new, the car has no needs whatsoever.”

Love the car, love the color combo!  It is amazing the styling on these cars has held up so well.  Sure, those of the long legged variety are going to struggle with ingress/egress but the novelty of those doors nearly makes it worth it.  The hard top goes a long way towards finishing off the edges of this roadster.  Seeing this makes me despise the styling of the Z4 even more, if that is possible.…