The BMW Z8 had so much potential. A hand-finished sports car with an aluminium spaceframe chassis and 5.0-litre V8 engine shared with the M5, it had all the ingredients to be one of the all-time greats. But reviews from its launch in 1999 were far from favourable, complaining about its understeer-prone handling and lambasting its £80,000 price tag.
Combine this critical reception with BMW’s refusal to offer a right-hand-drive version and the Z8 was, unsurprisingly, a slow-seller in the UK. Fewer than 150 were registered on UK roads, creating a car guaranteed to become a classic sooner or later. Promising buyers that it would stockpile parts for 50 years, the German firm cemented that future classic status.
Within a couple of years, that £80,000 price tag had halved on the used market. But then the Z8’s obscurity started to have an effect, and prices for good examples firmed up. By 2010, you could spend £100,000 on a Z8. Today, you’ll need a budget of at least £170,000 – and be prepared to spend closer to £250,000 for one of the best low-mileage examples.
Hexagon Classics in North London has been buying and selling BMW Z8s since day one. An ex-BMW dealer, Hexagon now specialises in collectible classic cars, stocking a variety of exotic vehicles from rare Ferraris to desirable Aston Martins.
This example is the latest BMW Z8 to grace Hexagon’s showroom. Boasting just 7,000 miles on the clock and a respected car collector on the V5, it has to be one of the most desirable Z8s in existence. We visited the dealer’s upmarket East Finchley base to take the Z8 for a spin around the North Circular.
At 1.8 metres across, the Z8 feels wider than it is, making it quite intimidating to drive through the streets of London. You sit on the ‘wrong’ side (in UK terms) and the bonnet’s a beast, so it feels long, too. I’m all-too-aware that this car is worth a quarter of a million pounds – and, unlike a new supercar of the same value, it’s not something that can easily be replaced.
The V8 engine makes a familiar burble and, while it makes a pleasant change to have to manually change gears, the six-speed ’box doesn’t boast the slickest shift. It’s a car that would probably suit an automatic gearbox – indeed, when the regular version was replaced by the Alpina model in 2003, the manual gearbox was swapped for an auto.
Despite extensive use of aluminium, the Z8’s 1,660kg kerb weight isn’t particularly light for a two-seat performance car. But this doesn’t hamper its straight-line performance – prod the throttle and the naturally-aspirated V8 makes a sound that its turbocharged contemporaries simply can’t compete with, while accelerating the car to 62mph in 4.7 seconds.
Feedback hardly pours from the retro-styled steering wheel, and taking roundabouts swiftly soon finds the car’s limits. But athletic handling isn’t what this car is all about. It’s about the feel-good factor of driving around in something that most people have never seen. A car that a mass-market manufacturer like BMW sold in tiny numbers. And one that’s a serious investor’s piece, showing no signs of depreciating any time soon. Yes, you could spend the same kind of money on a Ferrari, but this is where the clever money’s going.