In 2020, a good friend of mine decided it was time to part with his most cherished BMW, a 1989 Z1. The Z1 was developed in the mid-1980s by BMW’s Technik GmbH. The focus of what would become BMW’s first Z car was technology and aerodynamics. At the Z1’s heart was the M20B25 engine from the E30 3 Series platform. To make it fit under the Z1’s sleek hood, the front lift point was ground flush with the valve cover and the entire block was angled 20 degrees to the right. The front suspension was also from the E30, but the rear was the first Z-link multi-link rear suspension (the same one that would later find its way into the E36 3 Series). The Z1’s body was made of plastics and hosted its most notable feature—doors that retracted into raised lower sills. Those plastics kept the curb weight down to 2,760 pounds, which, combined with the Z-link rear suspension, made the Z1 one of the best-handling BMWs of all time.

Plastics were also how my friend’s Z1 found its way to the United States, and eventually to Colorado. BMW Technik had the forethought to recognize that the doors and lower sills may experience more wear than those on a normal car and reached out to General Electric to develop a polymer that would be more flexible than traditional plastics. GE’s plastics division developed a perfect solution and was gifted a Z1 in return. That Z1 was made legal for the United States and displayed at GE’s Horizon pavilion at Epcot Center for several years. When it came time for GE to sell the Z1, they reached out to the BMW Car Club of America, and it landed in Colorado with my friend. I sold it for him in 2021 to a design studio in Los Angeles, and we thought it had driven off into the Southern California sunset.

Fast forward to the present, and I got a call that the Z1 would need a new home; timing was of the essence…

The fastest way to safely get it back to Colorado was to fly out and drive it back. And if we were going to that, what better way to pay tribute to one of BMWs most innovative cars than to document it properly? Last year, I started a series called Life’s Too Short for Boring Cars with Jeremy Heslup of Valkre Productions, with the goal of presenting engaging automotive storytelling with a cinematic production value. After the Imola red M5 we featured last summer, the Z1 will be the second BMW we have profiled. The Z1 episode will be released later this summer, but in the meantime, here is an exclusive sneak peek of our journey. Spoiler alert: the Z1 made it back unscathed and without issue. Helsup and I didn’t fare as well, taking a few days to get the chill out of our bones from spending the majority of the trip with the top down.—Alex McCulloch

Flying into Los Angles and the LA River.

We had the Z1 gone through by BMW specialist Swiss Motors to make sure it was up for the trip.

The slide-down doors are one of the Z1’s defining features. I had the switches taped off so they wouldn’t be deployed extraneously.

The interior is a mix of unique Z1 and E30 parts.

The rear diffuser channels air from the flush under-panels to a vent above the rear bumper, adding significant downforce.

Unusually cold temperatures made the top-down journey a suffer-fest at times for Jeremy Heslup and I.


Our first night’s stop was in an actual cave!

Feline companionship was included!

The high desert roads of Southern Utah were a true test that proved the handling prowess of the Z1.

The best way to experience them was with the doors down (assuming no fear of heights).

Afterward, a rustic coffee stop was a must to warm our bones.

The Z1 performed flawlessly and truly is one of the best-handling cars I’ve ever driven.

It even got us home in time to see the Northern Lights from my back deck!




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