While the English television hit Top Gear suggests that all German cars seem to lack any passion or style “for the sake of making them;” I find myself in disagreement. The example isn’t something as recent as the Mercedes AMG Black Series cars, or the same marques outrageously fast G63 AMG brick. Instead there is BMW.
The BMW Z8 is a car that is an odd, somewhat pointless creation. Like the modern BMW M6, the Z8 used the engine of the BMW M5 of the time (the E39)—a car with superior practicality with damned-near the same blistering performance numbers. Differentiation here is that the Z8 really wasn’t as good as an M6 (that is, had Bimmer made an E39 based 6-Series to begin with).
Likewise, the Z8 was a roadster-only affair while the M6 is always first and foremost a coupe, and might have a convertible version later down the production line for those who cared less about weight addition and rigidity subtraction. The interior of the Z8 sat two—half the capacity of an M6. Moreover, the Z8 had far less practical interior adornments, such as the hated center-mounted gauges, salad fork-like steering-wheel spokes, and tiny climate-control switchgear that blended far too much with the glaring-silver upper dash. All this style-based inconvenience would set a buyer back some $130,000—the M5 took a check of $68,000 to own. The Z8 elicited such technologies as stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and electronic brake-force distribution.
Something missing here, though, is the realization that the Z8 wasn’t really supposed to be a factory hot-rod or track car. It was a fast luxury cruiser. The entire monocoque was made of aluminum, as was most of the suspension. The engine was mounted ahead of the windshield, but far enough back to make it mid-engined for 50/50 weight distribution. The lighting was mostly piping, from the tail-lamps and turn signals, to the side-grille where it’s actually a cleverly hidden touch resembling a simple stream of metal. The engineering was there, yes, but it wasn’t for speed so much as evocative touches.
What makes the Z8 special is that it was the Germans letting their hair down. It’s a machine of romance and not engineering coldness. I would even argue that this is the coolest BMW one can buy to this day, and might even be cooler than the AMG SLS and countless Ferrari’s and Lamborghini’s. Buying those Italians for passion, speed, sound, and looks is too much of a stereotype these days. The closest thing to the Z8 today is the Alfa Romeo 8C Competizione Spyder—yet another less-than-perfect V8 powered GT that looks and sounds spectacular for the sake of difference.
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