Not many Z8s are tooling down American roads, but they can cause quite a stir when they are spotted. On sale in limited quantities since the spring of 2000, BMWs roadster harks back to the classic 507 sports car of the late 1950s. BMWs luxury and performance leader rivals the top-end two-seaters from Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes-Benz.
Other than an upward nudge in the sticker price, nothing has changed for the 2003 model year for the Z8. Aluminum body panels mount on an aluminum space frame. Largely hand built in Munich, Germany, the rear-wheel-drive Z8 is a luxury and performance companion to the more affordable Z4. The automaker says the Z8 is the most recent vehicle in a succession of limited-production automobiles that are quintessential expressions of the passion for driving that is the companys soul.
At the Los Angeles Auto Show in January 2003, BMW introduced a vehicle that it calls the new edition of [a] contemporary classic. Created by BMW and the Alpina organization, the limited-edition Alpina Roadster V8 combines the timeless design and outstanding performance of the Z8 roadster but equips this version with a five-speed-automatic transmission rather than a manual shift. Designers sought to create a contemporary interpretation of the classic BMW 507 roadster, which was sold from 1956 to 1959.
A high-performance version of BMWs V-8 engine, displacing 4.8 liters rather than the usual 4.4 liters, generates 375 horsepower. The five-speed-automatic transmission has Switchtronic shift controls mounted on the steering wheel. BMW claims that the Alpina can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds and reach a top speed of 161 mph. Performance-type Y-rated tires are mounted on 20-inch wheels rather than on the 18-inch wheels of the Z8.
The Z8 and Alpina are BMWs pricier models, and buyers are permitted to watch the final assembly steps and then take delivery of their vehicle in Germany. They may also take delivery at the BMW Performance Center Driving School in Spartanburg, S.C., and participate in a special class.
Only about 555 Alpina models will be produced, and approximately 450 of those will be headed for the United States. BMW and the Alpina organization, which is located in Upper Bavaria, Germany, have worked together since the 1960s.
Classic sports car lines echo the appearance of the fabulous BMW roadster of 1956 1959, including the long-hood and short-deck profile, but theres nothing the least bit dated about the smooth, contemporary-looking, road-hugging Z8. Up front is a wider rendition of BMWs traditional twin kidney-shaped grilles. Chromed front-fender gills that suggest the 507 have integrated, fiber-optic turn-signal lights.
Aluminum is used for nearly all of the Z8s body parts (except the bumpers and door hinges), the front suspension components and for its internal skeleton space-frame structure. Integrated xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights, neon turn signals and brake lights are installed. A power-operated fabric top is standard, but a body-colored removable hardtop is also included. Run-flat tires ride 18-inch alloy wheels and have a tire-pressure warning system. The Z8 rides a 98.6-inch wheelbase, stretches 173.2 inches long overall and stands 51.9 inches tall.
Built on an aluminum space-frame chassis, the Alpina Roadster V8 uses aluminum body panels, except for the body-colored bumpers. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights have dynamic auto-leveling. Fast-reacting neon lighting is used for the turn signals, taillights and brake lights. Fiber-optic side turn indicators are mounted in the front-fender gills, which are styled like those on the old BMW 507. The Alpina Roadster V8 rides a 98.6-inch wheelbase, measures 173.2 inches long overall and stands 51.9 inches tall.
Twenty-spoke alloy wheels hold P255/35R20 Y-rated performance tires up front and P285/30R20 tires at the rear. A spare tire is absent, but a flat-tire monitor is included as part of BMWs Mobility System that lets the driver repair most punctures. Variable-assist rack-and-pinion steering and ventilated disc brakes are installed. Radio, phone and navigation antennas are concealed by the rear bumper. The removable hardtop contains a heated rear window.
The Z8 cocoons two occupants in Nappa leather upholstery. The driver pushes a button on the dashboard to start the engine. A portable hands-free cellular phone and a satellite-based navigation system are included. The Z8 comes with heated power bucket seats, cruise control, remote keyless entry, a Harman Kardon cassette stereo with a six-CD changer, a theft-deterrent system, and power windows, locks and mirrors. A powered wire-spoke steering wheel that telescopes helps tailor the driving position to suit any occupant. Any options are dealer installed. Cargo capacity is a modest 5.1 cubic feet.
Similar to the Z8, two passengers fit inside the Alpina. Both occupants get six-way power heated sport seats upholstered in soft Nappa leather with Alpina logos. The center armrest contains two storage compartments. A starter button provides one-touch engine starting. The driver faces a power telescoping steering wheel with three leather- and metal-finished spokes. Special instrumentation features satin chrome trim and red dial pointers, and theres a digital clock in the tachometers face. The transmissions range, mode and gear are displayed in the instrument cluster.
Doorsill trim panels have brushed-stainless-steel inserts. A keyless entry system includes selective unlocking. The lockable glove box includes a rechargeable flashlight. The multi-information radio system includes navigation, a CD player with 10 speakers and a portable digital cellular phone. Compartments behind the seats hold a six-CD changer and navigation system components. Cargo volume totals 5.1 cubic feet.
Under the Hood
Borrowed from the high-performance M5 sedan, the Z8s 5.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V-8 engine produces 394 horsepower and 368 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a six-speed-manual transmission. BMW claims the Z8 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and that it has an electronically-limited top speed of 155 mph. A drive-by-wire electronic throttle system incorporates Normal and Sport settings, and a limited-slip differential is also installed.
In the Alpina Roadster, BMWs high-performance dual-overhead-cam 4.8-liter V-8 engine, with VANOS stepless variable intake valve timing, generates 375 hp at 5,800 rpm and 383 pounds-feet of torque at 3,800 rpm. The ZF five-speed Switchtronic automatic transmission responds to upshift and downshift controls at the gearshift lever and steering wheel. It can also function in fully automatic mode.
Safety equipment in the Z8 includes side-impact airbags, roll bars and all-disc antilock brakes. The front airbags deploy at one of two levels depending on crash severity. BMWs Dynamic Stability Control system incorporates antilock brakes, traction control, cornering- and avoidance-stability enhancement, and other functions.
In the Alpina Roadster, BMWs Dynamic Stability Control system includes antilock brakes, all-speed traction control, electronic brake proportioning, Dynamic Brake Control, and cornering and avoidance stability enhancement. Side-impact airbags and two-stage smart front airbags are installed. Leather-covered bars provide rollover protection.