BMW models tend to come with some of the latest technology when they’re new, but as many of us are aware, these cars have a degree of longevity, and are typically used for several years or even decades beyond the era from which they came. For the second and third owners among us, this often translates to upgrading and updating things for the times, which means adding modern connectivity and infotainment, drivability improvements, and small peripherals, among larger undertakings like drivetrain swaps and restomods.
The newest example of the Z8 is approaching twenty years old, and although the halo model came with some cutting edge items like neon taillights, satellite navigation, and an excellent M V8 from the start, a lot has changed at BMW since. There’s also the issue of the Z8 having been offered exclusively as a roadster (albeit with a removable hardtop), and the clear growing desirability of BMW sport coupes like the Z3 and Z4.
This is where the Smit Vehicle Engineering Oletha enters the equation. Clearly inspired by the Z8 and perhaps even more so the Z07 concept of 1997, but with modern technology and a choice of BMW’s best naturally-aspirated power plants, the Oletha is built using a carbon-fiber composite coupe body with Z4 M coupe underpinnings, is said to weigh just over 3,000 pounds, and is summarized by the team that created it as, “the car we wish BMW had built.”
The principals of that team are Kaess and Willem Smit, brothers who are also engineers, the latter of whom previously served as the engineering manager at Singer Vehicle Design. The broader organization includes staff with prior experience at firms such as Tesla, General Electric, Applied Composites, and San Diego Composites. For the Smit brothers, the fascination with BMW began with the brand’s golden age, when their father owned an E39 M5. The choice to take Z4 M coupe underpinnings, and to combine them with Z07 and Z8 design, with power from two of the company’s most celebrated engines was an obvious one; build the car Z8 could have been, if the model hadn’t been preoccupied with paying homage to the 507.
The Oletha coupe is powered by a choice of two legendary BMW engines: The S65B44 M V8, a stroker version of the S65B40 of the E90-generation M3 with more than 450 horsepower and an 8,500-rpm redline, or a stroked S54 M inline six with displacement of 3.5 liters and output of 400 horsepower. Both are backed by a six-speed manual transmission, inhale through a carbon-fiber intake manifold, and exhale through an exhaust system made of stainless steel and Inconel. Power is delivered to the rear axle by way of a three-clutch limited slip differential, and the suspension uses KW two-way adjustable dampers, while other components like the control arm are made of lightweight aluminum. Forged AP Racing calipers and floating rotors are responsible for stopping power, and forged BMW-inspired double-spoke wheels are wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires.
In terms of dimensions, although the underpinnings come directly from the Z4 M coupe, the footprint of the Oletha is almost identical to the Z8, at approximately 171 inches long and 73 inches wide. However, while the aluminum-bodied Z8 has torsional rigidity of 10,500 Newton-meters, the carbon-fiber body and other elements of its construction allow the Oletha to be quite a bit stiffer with a rating of 30,000 Newton-meters. The carbon-fiber body also has an active rear spoiler, and the 3,090-pound curb weight, which is roughly 400 pounds less than the Z8, should make for exceptional driving dynamics. The design of the exterior is an amalgamation of Z07, Z8, and Z4 M coupe, but the number of Z8 parts used remains notable, including the neon tail lights.
Interior photos are not yet available, but the cabin is billed as driver-focused with high-quality materials, the choice of many of which is at the discretion of the commissioning buyer. Other interior highlights include a choice between eight-way adjustable touring or carbon-fiber seats, and what’s described as an audiophile-grade sound system.
When asked why the Smit brothers chose to turn their attention to BMW, Willem Smit explained the following: “It felt like there wasn’t a great product like this on the market utilizing a BMW platform. Coming from my previous job at Singer Vehicle Design, Kaess and I were all too familiar with every iteration of Porsche “restomod” under the sun, and lamented the lack of a good BMW competitor. We also always loved the M3 GTR story, and how BMW showed up to ALMS with a V8 while Porsche was stuck with their six-cylinder motor.”
In regard to the driving experience, the Oletha is described as feeling like a track-tuned Z4 M, but with advantage of a 4.4-liter S65 V8 responsible for motivation. “The sound really envelopes the entire car and cabin with the carbon airbox, such that you’re not really hearing distinct intake and exhaust sound but are more so immersed in the noise. We retained a good bit of compliance in the suspension, as it’s intended to be a road car, and it very much feels like an airplane taking off under throttle with some squat in the rear end. The engine pulls for so much longer than it feels like it should, it really doesn’t feel like a road car motor. Balance feels improved over a factory Z4 M, as the S65 does move more weight behind the front axle. The active spoiler makes a considerable different in high speed stability and cornering. We haven’t had the opportunity to drive any of the BMW factory race cars running the P65, but I imagine some of the sounds and sensations would be similar. However, for as wild as the engine can be, we’ve been quite surprised at how comfortable the car is and how well it switches back and forth between a serious sports car and a touring car,” added Willem Smit.
More information and full details of the Oletha can be found on the Smit Vehicle Engineering website, where prospective buyers can also submit an inquiry.—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy Ted Seven Photography for Smit Vehicle Engineering.]