Greenwich Concours Preview: 1990 BMW Z1


If you needed any more reasons to attend the Greenwich Concours d’Elegance this June, here’s one more reason: cars like this 1990 BMW Z1, one of the few magically federalized examples to be precise. During the next few weeks we’ll be looking at a number of cars that have appeared at the 2012 edition of the Greenwich Concours, an event that was thoroughly enjoyed by Kamil last year. But first, what is this show and why should you care?

For those few of you reading Hooniverse who don’t arrange family vacations around the classic car event schedule (and Nana’s 92nd birthday can be postponed by a few days cause it’s a leap year, right?), the Greenwich Concours is basically the Pebble Beach of the northeast. Except without the predictably nice weather, spacious roads, ample parking, or a golf course. But other than that, it’s just like Pebble Beach. Greenwich Concours is actually two shows in one, with classic American cars appearing on the show field on Saturday, and European cars on Sunday. And in the eight years that I’ve attended Greenwich, the show has never failed to surprise.


The BMW Z1 is perhaps best remembered across the pond for its drop down doors, but here in America it’s probably not remembered at all since we were cruelly denied this wondrous machine. The Z1 is also remembered over there for the (relatively) easily removable plastic body panels which allow users to change the color of their Z1 by swapping our the panels themselves. In practice very few Z1 owners have bothered with actually trying this, and those who have actually done it have found that it can take quite a bit more time than estimated by the factory.


This is one of only a handful of Z1s in the US, and one of the few that have been successfully registered for road use, as opposed to being registered under show and display. And nope, I have no idea how this was accomplished in this car’s case, but then again some states will seemingly give out titles and registrations for anything (I’m looking at you, Florida).


The Z1 is credited as being the brainchild of Ulrich Bez, who later became CEO of Aston Martin. In just two years of production a little over 8,000 examples of the Z1 were built.  This roadster is powered by a 2.5 liter inline-6 also found in the 3-series cars of the time, such as the 325i.


The blue example is actually the third Z1 that I have seen in the states in the last three years. Two were in attendance at the 2011 Carlisle Import Nationals, including the green one above that has been in the US practically since new, and also appeared in the background of the hilarious hilariously dated Sarah Jessica Parker comedy Miami Rhapsody. I would dare you to google that, but then you’d become upset and take it out on me, so I won’t. Let’s just say that it was a romantic comedy set in Miami in the early 90s, with all that that entails, and that Sarah Jessica Parker has since apologized. And speaking of that Miami example, Alex Nunez of Road & Track shared with me some months ago that he had actually seen the green Miami Rhapsody example above in that same part of Miami a few years ago, as it tended to be parked in front of a restaurant run by its former owner.

Perhaps the most surprising part of seeing the Z1 car in person is how well it blends inn with surrounding traffic. If it was parked on a busy street, I wouldn’t be surprised if quite a few car guys wouldn’t be able to readily spot it from a distance. As the rolling 25 year exemption edges closer, I’d expect to see another dozen Z1s come into the US, as this was one of the few BMWs of the last 30 years which we were denied. And I wouldn’t be surprised if one of these appeared at the 2013 Carlisle Import Nationals.


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18 responses to “Greenwich Concours Preview: 1990 BMW Z1”

  1. the.mora.knoa Avatar

    i have seen one and only one on the street. Robertson Blvd in Beverly Hills / West Hollywood area across from The Ivy. I am sure the owner was eating lunch at the restaurant

    1. Plecostomus Avatar

      I'm not sure whether I'd like the Z1 more or the Suzuki Cappuccino or Smart Roadster more.
      All three are verboten but I've seen 2/3 here in SoCal personally

      1. vdbss Avatar

        they're not really comparable – 2.5 litres in the BMW vs under 1 litre in the others, the BMW probably weighs the same as a SMART sitting on top of a Cappucino. And I'd pick the Suzuki over the SMART any day of the week as a fun and engaging drive not least because it has 'proper' steering. The steering and gearbox stop the SMART from being all it could be.

  2. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    8,000, really? I've never seen one, except on exhibit at the BMW museum. A very interesting, and thoroughly impractical car. The drop down doors are just as useful as Lambo doors. But I never knew it was designed to have all its panels hot swapped.

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      Meh, I guess they're about as practical as a Miata-sized roadster with an oldie 325i engine… which actually sounds fantastic.
      No first-person reports on just what kind handling it has though.

      1. Van_Sarockin Avatar

        It was a stylish runabout, that served as a styling and technology test bed. Cross shop against an SLK, not a Carrera S. Pretty small, too, so the inherently flexible chassis shouldn't have posed TOO much difficulty. Probably handles at least as well as a Mehari or a Thing.

  3. Rust-MyEnemy Avatar

    I have changed a taillamp bulb on one of these. Proudest moment of my life so far.

  4. BobWellington Avatar

    I never even knew it existed, but it's a timeless design if you ask me.

  5. dead_elvis Avatar

    I'm neither a BMW hater nor fanboy, but this is hitting all the wrong notes for me – the front end especially, but the rear view doesn't do anything to make up for that, and those rims – fake beadlocks?

    1. Felis_Concolor Avatar

      Perform an image search for "Center Line Wheels" and you'll see the inspiration for the "ring of rivets" style, which dominated the street machine scene throughout the 80s.

  6. Voxel Avatar

    Alright, car manufacturers, this is frustrating.
    BMW had the answer, and then just gave up.
    The British almost got it, but then they forgot.
    Jeep knows, but they aren't telling anyone.
    You think people remember this car because it looks like doorstop with box flares? (well, that doesn't hurt)
    You think British roadsters are well remembered because people like de-cokeing cylinder heads?
    You think normal people buy Wranglers because of their awful ride and off road prowess? If people wanted to go places where there weren't roads, there would roads to those places.
    I'm just going to spell it out for you: People want to drive things with no doors.
    That's it.
    Z1? Disappearing doors.
    Classic British roadsters? Almost no doors.
    Jeep Wrangler? No doors!
    That's all there is to it. That's all anybody wants. Just make a car with no doors. It'll make that 'sedans with no rear headroom' segment look like a little stupid nothing that sucks and is dumb.

  7. FuzzyPlushroom Avatar

    Title? New Hampshire couldn't give a damn about a title. Does it match the VIN on the bill of sale? Sure does! Is it old enough to be legally here? Sure is! On the road you go.
    Edit: Waaaaait a minute, no it's not, it's only 23 or 24. Ssssshhhhhhh…

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      Yeah, that's the crucial part, but Florida seems to be especially worse at math than some other states.
      The title isn't even the most important part, despite sellers of machinery of this type making it seem like it's everything you need.

  8. LSB Scott V Avatar

    I'll be there on the Sunday European day. Have been to the last 3 of these, and they seem to get better and better every year.
    Any other Hooniverse members attending?

  9. Rover 1 Avatar
    Rover 1

    These cars are actually one of the best handling cars ever made and they are the car that introduced the z-axle rear suspension that was to appear in the E36 3 series. (z for zukunft, ( future) or because of the 'z' axle). To put their release timing in perspective, the first one of these, I saw was at the joint launch of the 850 and E39 M5 in NZ. The wheels on this one appear to be non standard- think E30 for available wheel types.

    1. vdbss Avatar

      The wheels are Hartge type 1 split rims, most probably made by OZ Racing. A good used set of these will still set you back a grand or two today. I've only ever seen the 1-pc version of these in the staggered fitment so looks to me like quite a rare set of wheels 🙂

  10. joshwebster84 Avatar

    I too think the front end sucks. It looks like a Japanese ripoff of a BMW. If not for the forced kidney-shaped grille openings, it could be an Isuzu.

    1. Jay_Ramey Avatar

      I always had the impression that their only alternative would have been to do a traditional BMW fascia, so it would have looked exactly like a 3er cabrio. I think they just didnt have any place to go, and the later Z8, lest we forget, was a "retro" take on the 507. Also present that day at Greenwich, by the way.