Though this 1990 BMW Z1's journey from Paris to LA can be measured in miles, it represents a passionate car owner's lifelong journey with the BMW brand.
If you have ever seen something that so captured your attention that it set the new bar for your dreams, then you can begin to understand the impact that the BMW Z1 had on Mark Hall. Since his first introduction to the Z1 at the BMW Museum in Munich back in 1990, he has loved the futuristic shape and styling of the car.
The BMW Z1 was first introduced as a concept car at the Frankfurt International Auto Show in 1987. It went into production in late 1989. From 1989-1991, 8,000 of them were manufactured and sold in Europe. None were exported to the United States. Because of this, many Americans who are not specifically BMW enthusiasts are often unaware of its existence, much less its impact on automotive design.
Mark Hall, the owner of this Z1, was a twenty-something U.S. Air Force Lieutenant when he first saw the car that he refers to as “unobtainium” while in Germany. The elegant, modern shape drew him in, but the $50K price tag (in 1990) represented multiples of his annual salary.
After retiring from the USAF and taking a job in London in 2007, Mark found himself still entertaining the dream of owning a Z1. Searching locally, he was able to track a few down, and he eventually purchased a black 1989 Z1, which he had shipped to Arizona. It was ownership of this black Z1 that would eventually lead to him purchasing this red Z1 after relocating to France for work.
The doors of the Z1 are unique in that they retract vertically into its high sills. In essence, the doors roll down like windows. The Z1 is one of the very few production cars with this capability. The high sills are believed to actually allow for crash protection even with the doors lowered.
The two-toned, black and red, French leather interior was commissioned by the previous owner as an homage to the two-toned interiors of the late 90s Z3s. The Z actually stands for the German word “zukunft,” which means “future” and captures BMW’s desire to make a production car that set the future standard of car design.
The steering wheel was also updated in red and black leather to match the interior, though it is still OEM. As his daily driver in France, Mark had glowing reports. “Once ensconced in the soft leather buckets…the driving experience is typical BMW (which is to say very good).” It also helps that this particular Z has a near-perfect weight distribution at 51/49.
There’s a certain minimalist beauty that BMW captures in the layout and execution of its driver’s gauges. This is because the essence of BMW’s brand identity involves building cars that excite and inspire drivers with a combination of efficiency and timeless aesthetic. Their engineering always reflects the elimination of “fluff” for the sake of an organic driving experience.
The previous owner also kept the OEM Z1 seats but had them reupholstered in the same French leather to match the interior. Even stock, they were clearly inspired by years of racing pedigree. The Z1 embroidery adds a custom finishing touch.
The Z1’s doors, besides being extremely unique for the manner in which they open, are also unique because of the material used to manufacture them. GE was tapped for their Xenoy thermoplastic material to make a door that was both resilient and sustainably produced.
The Z1 came equipped from the factory with a built-in rollbar that runs across the top of the windscreen and down the A-pillars into the chassis of the car. This adds another touch of stiffness to the chassis while ensuring the safety of the driver in the case of mishaps.
Mark is a lifetime car enthusiast and a 30-year member of the BMW Car Club of America. He’s also associated with the BMW Vintage and Classic Car Club (now just the BMW Classic Car Club of America) and has been writing a column dedicated to the Z1 for the quarterly BMWCCCA publication for some time now.
His car proudly wears a Le Mans Classic sticker, because his Z1 actually participated in the event when he still lived in France.
Along with the 2.5L, straight-six engine sourced from the E30 325i for these cars, they also paired it with a five-speed Getrag 260/5 manual transmission. The OEM shifter (also reupholstered in the chosen interior livery) looks even more aggressive in its distinctive red.
BMW used Sony for its first 200 Z1 branded audio systems before switching to Blaupunkt and Alpine farther along in the manufacturing process. The stock Z1 had two footwell speakers, two speakers in the farthest corners of the dash, a head unit, and a ten disc CD player in the trunk. The speakers in this particular Z1 were upgraded from factory to a set of Infinity coaxials.
The M20B25 engine replaced BMW’s M20B23 in 1985 and was used in the E30 325i, the E34 525i, and the Z1. This engine, with the exhaust mods, makes 171 hp @ 5800 rpm and 164 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm. The official horsepower for the stock version was 168 hp. With a curb weight of approximately 2750 lbs, the Z1 got from zero to sixty in about 9 seconds.
This OEM BMW Bosch mass air flow meter helps to increase fuel efficiency and performance by measuring the amount of air entering the intake manifold. If the MAF meter breaks, it can cause a limp mode on the car, and the check engine light will come on. It's a good thing there are companies out there who stock plenty of these units, so drivers of vintage BMWs never need to be stranded on the side of the road.
ZF (which stands for Zahnradfabrik or 'gear factory’) is BMW’s OEM manufacturer for components like transmissions and this transmission fluid reservoir. ZF has been a high-quality manufacturer of OEM-level components across numerous manufacturing platforms.
The weathered and darkened plastic of the coolant reservoir tank suggests that this is the original OEM tank. As does the “Nicht Öffnen Wenn Heiss,” which, of course, means “DO NOT OPEN WHEN HOT” in German. It’s very well-preserved for thirty years of service.
The coilover kit was custom built by Ground Control. It consists of their adjustable ride height BMW E30 front coilover kit, a custom circle track racing shock (with adjustable rebound and compression), and a custom mount in the rear. The rear shock is mounted upside down in order to prevent intrusion into the rear trunk and soft top stowage area.
The custom made coilover suspension allowed the car to be lowered, while the stock wheels were replaced with 18x7.5 Alpina Dynamic D02 wheels with 25mm H&R racing spacers. The tires are 225/35R18 Michelin Pilot Super Sports. The wheel design and pewter finish are a very complementary modern update to a classic aesthetic.
Over the past few years, Mark says that he has moved this Z1 back and forth between Colorado and his work location in Los Angeles. It has frequented several Cars and Coffee meetups and Socal Vintage BMW events in SoCal, won an award at a Ken Block-judged event at the world-renowned Petersen Automotive Museum, and has been the focus of several more articles written for the BMWCCCA.
The iconic Z1 badging commemorates the origin of an iconic series in BMW’s already storied history of well-designed, driver’s cars. Z cars have been carrying the standard for two-seater driving excellence since this car was introduced.
BMW designed the rear bumper of this car to direct airflow underneath the car, then over the top of the rear muffler (which is shaped like an airplane wing), where it then exits the rear of the car underneath the trunk-lid and over the top of the rear bumper. This, combined with the flat plastic undertray, creates a form of diffuser that reduces rear lift while in motion.
The stock Z1 had a single port, steel exhaust tip, which was located only on the driver's side with just a tow hook on the passenger side. This Z1 has been upgraded to a Quicksilver aerofoil-shaped exhaust system with dual stainless steel exhaust tips.
The Z1 pioneered the use of rubberized 5mph bumpers with other rubberized materials, including the paint, which could recover its shape without cracking. This was a precursor to exterior car panels and paint that rebounds from impact without major damage.
Three different types of paint were used on the Z1 to match the elasticity needs of the body panels. One type was specifically for the front and rear bumpers, one was reserved for the thermoplastic side panels, and the third type was applied to the fiberglass reinforced hood/trunk/tonneau cover surfaces.
The Z1, as BMW’s vision of the future, was packed with tech and design features that were not available in other cars of the time. One such feature was the low-beam projector headlights which utilize standard halogen bulbs. This feature was later carried over to the 7-series, except with Xenon bulbs. Mark swapped out the halogen bulbs from his projectors for HID bulbs several years ago, hence the difference in lighting kelvin temperature.
The BMW Z1 Roadster is a bonafide pioneering classic in automotive design. This particular Z1 is a testament to the inspirational nature of cars and car enthusiasts. Though the journey of this particular Z1 begins in Paris, it is the inspiration and determination of an inspired enthusiast that brought it here to Los Angeles. I think we’ve all been enriched by that journey.
Story by Avon Bellamy
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you enjoyed this story, you can find more additional BMW content, including car features at bmw.fcpeuro.com.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS