"Dan, I've just had an email saying there's a Z8 coming in next week?"
And that's how PistonHeads ended up with a BMW Z8 for a few days. As part of its Goodwood centenary celebrations, BMW let out a few of its heritage cars. So the Z1 came out, as did the 1 M Coupe, and then there was the Z8. With our name next to it.
It drew admiring looks and comments the whole time it was with us but, let's be honest, nobody is buying a Z8 for an exhilarating sports car experience. There's also the small matter of this car, even with 25,000 miles and a few signs of wear, currently being worth about £150,000. So no on-the-limit analysis, instead a diary of what happened when we tried to be as cool as the BMW Z8...
It takes quite a lot to draw motoring hacks away from Twitter on a work day; the arrival of a Z8 will do it though. When it's delivered people generally get a little overexcited about the old BMW. It's smaller than you might think, quite compact in fact, and absolutely drop dead gorgeous.
First drama is getting it started, because it requires a key and a start button. And for the clutch to be depressed. With the sun blazing, the roof really should go down too. Where's that button? Will it work? What if it won't go back up again?
It's drama-free (if a bit tricky raising it again the first time), which says a lot for the entire Z8 experience. The rarity and rising values have already bestowed classic status upon it, when really it just drives like the turn-of-the-century BMW that it is. Things work, basically. The gearbox is notchy but quite light, there's bountiful torque and strong enough brakes. It's perfectly set for cruising.
So that's what I do. I go for a drink with a friend and - I'll be honest here - feel like an absolute hero. People gawp and, parked up in the countryside with the sun setting, it looks magnificent. Noticing a theme here?
Good Lord this thing is fast. We're required at Goodwood for a BMW event and, with a bit more time and space, there's chance to push the Z8 a little. It's my first experience of this V8, and it doesn't take long to realise why E39 M5s hold such appeal.
It's everything we love about big capacity atmo engines. You can pull away with no throttle thanks to the torque and it's trucking along by 2,000rpm, but it's really, really worth extending if you have sufficient room. The noise rips through the air, rumbling through the mid-range until thundering into a proper limiter around 7,000rpm. Peak power is at 6,600rpm, so there's a real sense of the acceleration building to an invigorating crescendo.
It gets better too. There's a noticeable pause in acceleration as you battle with the obstinate gearshift, but that builds the excitement for the next onslaught. And the speedo only reads to 140mph, yet the car accelerates like one that will do 180mph. So the needle rips around the dial like it's in a cartoon. Which is quite entertaining. Makes not being able to find the CD changer more bearable too.
Thursday dawns with a smile as I remember the attendant at the Shell station the previous evening. "You need to drive it down to Monaco with a Martini in one hand and a blonde in the other." Is it the James Bond link?
Whatever, by Thursday I'm feeling a little more confident to drive the Z8 like a sports car rather than a cruiser. Immediately it becomes clear this doesn't suit it. The steering is quite vague, the chassis doesn't feel all that stiff and the traction control borders on the tyrannical. The problems are compounded by a seat that doesn't really hold you in that snugly. Shame. Still, finding out a Z8 isn't that good on a B-road is like discovering a week in Ibiza makes you feel a bit rough; not only did you probably know it beforehand, but you'll have had so much fun the downside ceases to be important. With the CD changer now uncovered, cruising never felt so good.
If ever there's a car to cause a stir at the reveal of the most
track focused AMG product
ever, it's a BMW Z8. Arriving at Brooklands surrounded by Mercedes products, the BMW feels fantastically naughty. People can't help but look, I can't help but give a gratuitous blip or two and I'm even familiar enough with the roof to not look like a tool when parking up.
On the way down to Goodwood (again) afterwards, I'm tailed by some lads in a 1 Series as we approach Hindhead tunnel. It's fairly obvious what they expect and I'm only too happy to oblige: sauntering through third would probably do the job, but why not second instead? 40mph equates to a bit less than 4,000rpm, from where it rips around the dial with a classy, cultured V8 growl; this is not a modern, shouty eight-cylinder engine. But it does sound superb ricocheting off the concrete, a point backed up when the 1 Series comes past flashing its lights and honking its horn. Cool car, this.
Oh no, I'm starting to learn the Z8 now. Out tremendously early for the Festival of Speed, the start process, the roof lowering and getting the best from the drive is becoming worryingly familiar. Worrying because that means it's getting under my skin, and that will makes it harder to leave...
It's the mark of a truly exciting car that it still draws stares at Goodwood and the Z8 most definitely does that. People look as I park up and are taking pictures when I return; I'm only too happy to wait though, as it's looking rather wet and muddy by the evening. Imagine the embarrassment of getting stuck. Fortunately with the DSC disengaged and a bit of - how to put this delicately - persuasion, the Z8 slithers its way out of the car park.
Shouldn't have been so smug. Trying to get back into the Festival of Speed car park the Z8 won't make it up a grassy hill, so I must face the ignominy of rolling back down and parking at the bottom. Whoops.
Sunday afternoon is set aside for photos, where you can really take time to appreciate the Z8's details. Those impossibly slender taillights, the wing vents, the HVAC controls that inspired the current Z4; it all just seems to work so well. The fact it looks as cool as it does on fairly chunky tyres has to be a good sign also. We end up taking a few snaps at a vineyard; again people ask about the car, but then it does look very at home. Just a shame it's not California really.
Despite its best efforts, even a BMW Z8 can't make Feltham look glamorous. At least collection day is sunny, meaning the final drive can be top down. Then all too soon it's onto a lorry and taken back to BMW HQ, a few hundred more miles on its speedo and another smitten journalist left behind.
Well, largely smitten. There's no doubt that the Z8 makes every drive an event, thanks to its looks, rarity and, with sufficient provocation, the noise. That being said, it's not the most dynamic thing and, more importantly, the Z8 has been a victim of the recent spike in used values. Put simply, great though it is, the Z8 drive simply doesn't feel like the £150K experience that it would currently warrant. I think an Alfa 8C is still better looking, and I know that something like an Audi R8 Spyder would be a more exciting drive. At £100,000 or so it would be a fantastic retro roadster, but at current values the Z8 looks a tad overhyped. That's not wishing to end on a downer, because the Z8 really is a special car - it just isn't quite that special. Should anyone need one transporting any distance though, my six favourite compact discs are ready to go. I'll even pay for some fuel.
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