BMW’s Z8 was nothing if not an oddball. Launched in 1999, it was intended to simultaneously evoke the ultra-rare 507 of the 1950s and mark the arrival of the new millennium. Designer Henrik Fisker did a brilliant job of making the Z8 look retro but not old-fashioned, and despite its ‘touring’ appearance, the car packed the E39 M5’s 400bhp V8, while its chassis and bodywork were made from lightweight aluminium.
The result was a high-performance convertible that, even though it was slightly disappointing on the dynamics front, was undoubtedly desirable. Add the fact that just 5703 Z8s were produced worldwide (and that one featured in the Bond movie The World Is Not Enough) and you suddenly have the makings of a modern classic.
Rivals in this retro-modern category were thin on the ground, and there were precious few cars to which the Z8 could be compared, especially when looking at its traditional German counterparts. BMW itself had a model range comprising only of the 3, 5 and 7 series with the recently introduced X5 having just dipped an adventurous toe into untapped segments. The 8 series was in its last year and rivals had a similarly modest set of offerings to choose from.
You had to move to look at niche manufacturers and up your budget considerably to find any meaningful challengers, the Ferrari 360 and Aston Martin DB7 come to mind and while both have their merits, it is the Z8 that is now worth considerably more than either of those cars in today’s market.
Which one to buy?
Since it was a one-off model, the decision process is made rather simple, aided by the fact that there were no significant changes over the four year production run. As with any future classic, the most important things to look for are history and low mileage. This is not as difficult a task as you might imagine as a lot of Z8s were snapped up by collectors years ago, and have since spent their time in collections waiting for values to rise. They do come up for sale from time to time though and are generally in excellent condition.
If a manual gearchange and a firm sporty demeanour are not what you are looking for in your roadster then Alpina may have the answer for you. Being far more than just a tuning company, Alpina has been producing its own versions of popular BMW models for decades. With the Z8, Alpina saw an opportunity to offer its customers a less edgy, more relaxed cruiser - making some changes that would seem like complete anathema to the purist, but actually resulted in a car that was very accomplished in its own right.
Ripping out the M5-derived V8 engine was the first step, replacing it with another more torque biased motor – the M62 4.6-litre Alpina-tuned V8 used in the B10 saloon. Power dropped by about 27bhp, however with torque increasing to 383 ft lb the character of the car became far more laid back. This was also compliented by a BMW steptronic transmission, softer sidewall tyres and more supple leather for the seats. Both cars have their supporters and in the end it comes down to personal taste as to which one you prefer.
Although in this case another deciding factor may be availability, because the Alpina V8 Roadster is an extremely rare sight on UK roads. Officially only eight were sold here, with the majority of the 555 production run ending up in the United States.
Performance and specs
Engine S62 4.9 Litre 32-valve V8
Power 400 bhp @ 6600rpm
Torque 370 lb.ft torque @ 3800rpm
Top Speed 155mph (limited)
0-62mph 4.7 seconds
Fuel consumption 16.0mpg
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Dimensions and weight
Kerb weight 1660kg
Unlike most one off sports cars, or highly strung exotics, the Z8 benefits hugely from utilising well proven running gear from the BMW stable. Here are the main things to look out for:
• All aluminium construction means rust is not an issue, but any repairs need to be carried out by an authorised repairer.
• This same aluminium frame is also the cause of one of the more serious issues to look out for. Some owners complained of damaged front suspension struts after having driven over potholes or other obstructions. This was because the aluminium undercarriage was thought to be susceptible to warping.
• Take a close look for any gaps around the bonnet shutlines and/or any visible distortions on the shock tower crown as this can indicate warped suspension mounts and lead to a very costly frame replacement.
• BMW did not ever state that this was a fault of the vehicle, however they did release a ‘Performance Package’ comprising of hardened suspension mounts which was said to enhance handling and performance over rough roads. Most believe that this was BMW’s way of resolving the issue without admitting to there being an actual problem, either way it is an important thing to check on an otherwise reliable and solid car. The part needs to be ordered and fitted by a BMW dealer.
• There were two cooling system recalls in 2001 and 2002, you should ask for proof that the required modifications were carried out by an approved BMW dealer on the vehicle you are looking at purchasing.
• Brakes are well up to the task of retarding the car as they are also borrowed from the heavier M5, however there are many alternative brake replacement kits out there, so make sure that if it is modified they are from a reputable manufacturer
• The S62 engine is a robust unit however regular oil changes are a must. The Mass Air Flow meters, located in the two intake tubes can give trouble at higher mileages which shows itself as engine hesitation/misfire at high revs and poor performance. Cleaning the sensor can sometimes resolve the problem otherwise a replacement unit will need to be purchased.
• Intermittent starting issues or a clicking sound when turning the key usually is nothing more than the starter motor needing replacement.
• Headlamps fogging up are an annoyance and can be cured by drilling small holes at the top and bottom of the units instead of having to replace them entirely.
• A common fault on the Z8 is cam position sensor failure. An engine management warning light is the first sign of a problem and a system diagnostic can identify the issue. Replacement parts are not prohibitive.
• Gearboxes are from the E39 M5, they should be trouble free if unabused, changing the gearbox oil can ease gearchanges when cold.
1997: Z07 concept car shown at Tokyo Motor show
1999: Z8 goes on sale, shape remains faithful to the Z07 concept car
2002: Z8 production run of 5703 cars comes to an end
2003: Alpina V8 Roadster goes on sale in limited numbers – 555 produced in total
2006: Last five Alpina V8s sold
Owners clubs, forums and websites
Summary and prices
The BMW Z8 is the sort of car that comes along once every few decades, combining the best an auto manufacturer has to offer without the restrictions imposed by mass production. Limited numbers and a timeless appeal have seen prices rise in recent years, finding one however can be tricky. Prices currently range from around £140,000 to £200,000 and values are mainly influenced by condition and mileage.
Colour and age are not as crucial and modified examples are rare. If you are in the market for a useable exotic, you may find that you can have your cake and eat it with the Z8, as the ownership prospect is a largely trouble free one. You may even walk away after five years having turned a profit, now that is an investment worth making.
Words: John Tallodi