Have you always wanted to drive a classic car or motorcycle of recent or more historical vintage, but don’t own one yourself? Happily, BMW Group Classic has an array of young and older classics for hire, allowing enthusiasts to discover that the slogan “Sheer Driving Pleasure” has never been an idle boast.
The cars and motorcycles available to hire range from a 1930s convertible to a futuristic roadster from the late 1980s. Many of the very old cars and motorcycles may only be chauffeur-driven on account of their venerable engineering, but don’t think the on-board enjoyment is curtailed as a result.
Here at the BMW Group Classic editorial office, we were keen to find out for ourselves what some of the historic cars and bikes currently available for hire would be like to take for a spin (who says business and pleasure don’t mix?). Our aim was to explore how it feels to hire a car from BMW Group Classic for a day, and the BMW Z1 fitted the bill majestically.
The Z1 gives BMW Group Classic hire car customers the chance to drive away in one of the iconic models in the company’s history. With its head-turning, vertically retracting doors, this was the first project translated from the drawing board to the road by BMW Technik GmbH. The Z referred to a revolutionary new rear axle construction – the “Z-arm” – that made its debut in the Z1. The roadster was first unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1987 as a technology showcase and image model. However, public reaction was so resoundingly positive that BMW decided to produce a limited run of the car. Only 8,000 examples of the BMW Z1 were built between 1989 and 1991, and number 7,999 – i.e. the last Z1 but one to leave the factory – has been earmarked for our little jaunt. We can’t wait.
21 August 2015: time for some introductions at BMW Group Classic. We’re given a brief run-down on the BMW Z1’s more unusual features, but it turns out there’s little mystery behind operating the soft-top roof and drop-down doors. We’re handed the keys and ready to go! It’s not quite as simple to climb into the Z1 over the retracted doors as it is into conventional cars, but the ease of it all still exceeds expectations. A glance around the cockpit reveals everything to be exactly where it should be – courtesy of the driver-focused ergonomics we have become accustomed to from BMW. And then the eye wanders over to the milometer: 4,431 km, it reads. A 24-year-old car with so little distance on the clock has to be a genuine rarity. A brief twist of the ignition key and the six-cylinder engine stirs into life. The five-speed gearbox has a creamy action, and everything is just what you’d expect from a BMW. Only the view to the sides is unfamiliar (when the Z1 is being driven with its doors down, that is). It’s the ultimate in open-air driving pleasure.
Our journey starts with a drive across Munich, followed by a short blast on the autobahn to Starnberg. From there, we continue on the country roads past Andechs monastery, skirt the banks of Ammersee lake and arrive at Raisting, home for over 50 years to a towering satellite earth station. It was here that the first pictures of the Apollo moon mission were received. Nowadays, the station instead relays telephone calls and satellite communication around the world – and it offers a great backdrop against which to capture the convention-defying design of the BMW Z1 on film.
Small, windy roads take us on towards Staffelsee lake. Here, the BMW Z1 is in its element. Perfection is the only way to describe the Z1’s chassis. It is sporty in nature and transmits excellent road feel, yet never at the expense of comfort. A perfect distribution of weight between the front and rear axle plays its part as well, of course.
During a brief stop-off at a small sports airfield, we receive our first, if not exactly serious, offer for the Z1. Would we like to swap it for a 60-year-old Piper Cub plane, we’re asked. The owner explains, tongue in cheek, that you can also leave the plane’s doors open to sample the on-rushing air – just like in a Z1. So it would make a good trade, then? Hmm...thanks, but no thanks!
In Uffing we head straight for Staffelsee. We’ve paused to shoot some photos outside the Restaurant Alpenblick, when a young family stop by to say hello. Their young daughter asks what we’re up to , to which her Mum replies: “They’re taking photos of the new BMW sports car.” We feel compelled to put them right: what might look like a new BMW sports car is actually a 24-year-old model. That they find this hard to believe points to the power of truly timeless design.
Out on the terrace we enjoy the panorama – the Restaurant Alpenblick (alpine view) certainly lives up to its name – while tucking into our hearty snack. The lake looks like a nice place for a dip, and it is indeed one of the warmest bathing lakes in Bavaria. Our top priority, however, is to explore the gifts our rather unusual hire car has to offer. Rarely has an assignment put such a smile on our faces.
A short break later we set out on our journey back to base; all good things come to an end, after all. The return leg takes us past Riegsee and over small, twisty roads through the Alpine foothills, the 2.5-litre straight-six reeling out its talents. It is incredibly flexible and agile; when the occasion calls for it, you can bumble along at 50 km/h (31 mph) in fifth gear, but then you can also turn up the wick and revel in everything it has. Even all these years on, it still gets the bit between its teeth at 3,500 rpm and pulls away with spirit and intensity.
We pick up the autobahn at Sindelsdorf and power on quickly northwards. Raising the doors reduces the buffering from the onrushing air significantly. With the windows up as well, no more than a fresh breeze makes it into the cabin of the Z1 – even at speeds the far side of 130 km/h (81 mph). BMW’s roadster offers more ways of enjoying fresh-air motoring than arguably any other car.
Not far from BMW Group Classic headquarters, we stop off to refuel. Just under 20 litres represents a very reasonable amount of petrol to have burned over 213 enthusiastically driven kilometres, and is in line with the official figures. In one day, we have racked up five per cent of the car’s total mileage – and had a lot of fun in the process.
BMW Group Classic’s hire fleet includes numerous other fascinating models steeped in history. It’s clear we must come up with a reason to borrow one of the Z1’s stablemates – and soon. Or perhaps we should make a case for taking the Z1 out once again on editorial business. We haven’t yet tested how the Z1 drives with its roof closed, of course, which could be a good starting point. In the meantime, why not try it for yourselves and report back to us on the experience.
Bore × stroke
84 × 75 mm
125 kW (170 hp) at 5,800 rpm
222 Nm / 164 lb-ft at 4,300 rpm
Acceleration 0–100 km/h (62 mph)
225 km/h (140 mph)
Combined fuel consumption (l/100 km)
9.2 (30.7 mpg imp)
Retail price (1989)