Appreciating Style ME AND MY CAR Chris Graham meets Sid Vasili; a man who’s owned his BMW Z8 from new, having bought it for one of the oddest reasons you could imagine
Lots of people buy BMWs for lots of different reasons. Some crave a sporty-handling saloon with styling to match, while others appreciate the engineering quality and durability these Munich marvels offer. Few, though – you might imagine – base their vehicle purchasing choice on a handful of tantilising shots glimpsed during a blockbuster movie.
Yet this was exactly what Sid Vasili did, 18 years ago, following his first sight of the Uber-stylish BMW Z8 E52, driven by Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 James Bond film, The World Is Not Enough. However, before we get to that momentous event, we must wind the clock back another decade or so, for the start of Sid’s BMW adventure.
BMW wasn’t a marque that Sid had especially admired while growing up. In fact, his first few cars were an assortment of Fords and Vauxhalls that suited his working life and budget at the time. He didn’t actually get into the brand until the mid-1980s, after a frustrating few months behind the wheel of a customised Range Rover.
“That car gave me no end of problems,” he explained to me. “Land Rover UK refused to deal with the car because it had been re-imported and, at one point, I was told by them to take it back to the Netherlands for the repairs to be carried out under warranty there. It wasn’t a happy experience!
“Then, one day while out on a business trip, I found myself in Huntington and came across the local BMW dealership. My eye was caught by a gleaming, new 735i, which was for sale for £17,500. The Range Rover had cost me £11,000 which, at that time, was quite a lot of money. So the price of the 7 Series represented a quantum leap in expenditure. But I was smitten with everything about that car, and a deal was done involving the part-exchange of my sadly troublesome Range Rover.
“I then used the 735i for three years and found it to be a brilliant machine. I was covering about 40,000 miles a year in those days, and it was simply ideal for that; refined, comfortable and utterly reliable. It was the best possible introduction to the marque. Buying that car really had been a ‘spur of the moment’-sort of decision, but everything worked out perfectly, and it set up my relationship which has continued, unbroken, for the 30 or so years since then.”
Then, after three years of very happy ownership, Sid began thinking about changing that 735i for a new one, at which point, disaster struck. “An ice cream van inexplicable pulled out in front of me on one of the faster sections of the A1,” he recalls, “and, even though I swerved, I still hit it with a glancing blow. This did a lot of damage, pushing one of the front wheels well back into the car. Thankfully, nobody was injured and I was on my own in the car; it was a shocking incident.
“Although extensive, the damage was just short of what was required to write the car off, so the insurance company insisted on a repair, which took about three months to complete. The bodyshop did a good job but, despite that, I was then keen to move the car on. So I swapped it for a brand new 735i, which I then ran for just over two years before starting to hanker after more power.
“My finance director at the time was running a Jaguar XJS, which he thought was a terrible car, so I convinced him to take my 735i, and I bought myself a new 750i. This came fully-loaded from the factory, and was a truly great car. I loved the power and smoothness of the V12 engine, and the whole car really did represent a significant step-up from the 735i. Like my previous cars, I ran the 750i for about 120,000 miles, and enjoyed it so much that, after the allotted three years, I decided to get another. This time I went for a long-wheelbase version, which was an ex-demonstrator, so I got a good deal.”
It was at this point the Sid made his influential visit to the cinema. “I was very taken by the silver BMW that Pierce Brosnan drove in that film. At that stage I knew nothing about what it was, in fact, I thought it was probably simply a car that BMW had been commissioned to build specially for the film. But it certainly made an impression on me so, when I was next chatting to my contact at the BMW dealership, I mentioned it. He explained that it was a Z8, was indeed a production model and then asked if I’d like one!
“From memory, the price was about £82,000, but it wasn’t a car that the dealerships held in stock; models were being built to order for customers. I thought this was a bit too much money, but the salesman convinced me to order one anyway. His advice was to specify blue paint with a cream leather interior, as most other orders he’d seen mirrored the film car’s silver bodywork and red interior. So that’s what I did. We shook on the deal – a deposit wasn’t required – and, about four months later, I got a call telling me that the car had arrived from Germany.
“Once I’d seen it in the flesh I knew I wanted it, so it was then simply a matter of agreeing a price. I’d already mentioned that I thought it was too expensive, so he asked me to make an offer. Rather cheekily, I suggested £70,000 which was a non-starter. Eventually, we agreed on £76,000, I wrote the cheque, and the car was mine.”
Sid knew straight away that he’d made the right decision. “I was delighted with the deal, and the car. I put the 750i in the garage and started using the Z8 as my everyday car which, looking back on it, was a bit of a crazy thing to do.
But it was the summertime and I wanted to enjoy the car and, as a consequence, I put 10,000 miles on it in next-to-no time.
“Then, as the summer came to an end, I came to my senses, and realised that it wasn’t the best idea to be piling-on the miles in the Z8, especially when I had a perfectly good 750i that had been sitting idle for nearly three months. So I pressed the 7 Series back into regular service, settled the Z8 comfortably into the garage and decided, from then on, only to use it on high days and holidays.
Then I had a slice of good fortune – literally – when a business of mine was sold, and the income from that enabled me to look at the possibility of buying a stablemate for the Z8. I’d long fancied a Ferrari and, after a good deal of careful deliberation, decided to sell the 750iL and buy a four-seater, 612 Scaglietti. This became my daily-driver and family car, and proved to be another glorious machine which I’ve really enjoyed owning. I used it for 40,000 miles.
During that period, I was only driving the Z8 to the occasional car show, BMW Car Club event or trip out. This added a few thousand miles so that now, the total covered stands at about 18,000; decently low for a 17-year-old car. Even now, the Z8 is still a car that gives me a tremendous amount of pleasure, despite not using it as much as I probably should. I still love the way it looks after all these years, and still regard it as an exciting and exhilarating car to drive. Things have gone very well with it, considering that I bought it on something of a whim, having been mesmerised by it on the big screen.”
Sid admits that buying the Z8 in the first place was an unusual thing for him to do. “That move was quite out of character for me really as, certainly in business, I’m a very logical character. Committing to buy a car that was as expensive as that, on the strength of nothing more than being impressed by it in the make-believe world of a James Bond film, was an impetuous thing to do, but I’m so glad I did it!
“It’s really lived up to my expectations, in every respect. It’s a thrilling car to drive and, even by modern standards, remains a very capable and satisfying performance machine. Driving with the hood down adds an extra dimension to the whole experience, heightening the senses and pushing enjoyment levels even higher.”
As far as overall numbers are concerned, the Z8 remains an extremely rare model. Total production stands at just 5,703, with 2,543 of those ending up on the US market. As far as the UK is concerned, opinions vary on the numbers here, with some sources suggesting 150 were imported originally, while others believe it was only 75. Either way, it’s an exceedingly rare machine on British roads, and it seems likely that there are now fewer than 100 registered here.
It wasn’t a great seller when new, and some contemporary road testers criticised the handling and what they considered to be its excessive price. In addition, the Z8 was only ever made in left-hand drive form which must, inevitably, have put a number of potential buyers off.
A DEAD CERT?
The flipside of the slow sales, of course, is that the Z8’s classic status was all but guaranteed and, sure enough, values have sky-rocketed in the past 17 years. Consequently, it’s probably fair to assume that a tidy example like this one, is now worth nearly £250,000. That’s just over three times the car’s original price, which represents a pretty handsome return on the initial investment. But, it’s clear from chatting with Sid that it’s not all about the money, as far as his Z8 is concerned. Despite the lack of use the car currently gets, it remains a car that excites him.
“The Z8 is a car that I’m very attached to. A few years after I bought it, I was contacted by the BBC’s Top Gear programme; one was wanted for an item on the show. However, as the production company wasn’t prepared to offer any sort of insurance against damage caused during filming, I declined. I later heard that BMW had also refused to provide a car for testing purposes, so I think that my decision was vindicated.”
As the years have passed, Sid has found himself using the Z8 less and less. The pressure of work, family commitments and inevitable changes in lifestyle, mean that both it and the Ferrari sit in the garage, with the annual trip to the MoT test station being just about their only outings. I could tell that this situation was a disappointing one for him, and that he felt rather guilty about not using the cars more.
“I’ve been a bit remiss on the maintenance front with the Z8,” he added. “I should get it serviced more frequently than I do, and intend to make more effort on this front in the future. I put out a few feelers about selling the car last year, just to get a sense of what it might be worth. But I only spoke with a specialist dealer, and the resultant trade price offer was, understandably, nothing like what I consider the car is now worth.”
The BMW Z8 is a unique machine in many ways; a car which combines sensational looks with blistering performance, as and when you want it. The bodywork is unlike anything else in the BMW range – past or present – and that, in itself, is enough to endow the model with a lasting and unique appeal. Then, when you factor-in its rarity, you’re presented with a heady mix of visual delight and exclusivity that’s hard to resist. Sid says that plenty of people are completely unaware of what it actually is.
The BMW badges reveal the make but, in terms of model, people just haven’t got a clue.
For the time being, however, the Vasili family’s daily transport needs are catered for very ably by a smart-looking, eight-year old X5. It’s a three-litre, twin-turbo diesel model, and is the third X5 that the family has owned. The first was a sport model, the same as the current one, and was fitted with the more compliant, adaptive suspension for a more comfortable ride.
Sid’s universally positive view of the BMW brand remains undiminished; something that has undoubtedly been influenced by the fact that he’s never been let down – or left stranded – by any of the many models he’s owned over the past 30 years. This in itself, considering the high mileages he’s put on many of his cars, is an impressive statistic. To date (apart from the Ferrari!), he’s never been tempted away from the brand. “I did borrow a Porsche Panamera for a week, a while ago. That was an impressive car to drive, but was ruined for me by the intrusive level of tyre noise in the cabin.”
Sid Vasili’s involvement with the BMW marque has been a very top-end affair; he entered at the apex of the saloon model range, and then went even higher! Nevertheless, his passion for the product and his appreciation of its quality, is every bit as fervent as that of any other model owner. Although he doesn’t drive the Z8 as much as he’d like nowadays, the fact that he took the plunge and bought it when he did, and has hung on to it ever since, is testament to the idea that, if you see an opportunity and find yourself in a position to do something about it, then you should always reach out and grab it with both hands.
The Z8 combines contemporary and retro styling to produce a stylish and uniquely attractive, two-seater roadster. Sid Vasili has owned his Z8 from new. Left: Instruments clustered in the centre of the dash and extensive use of body colour characterise the Z8’s interior. RIght: The electric hood is operated from the dash. The decidedly retro steering wheel was only ever available on the left-hand side. Left: The rear-end treatment of the Z8 is very suggestive of a classic, Jaguar E-type. A distinctive styling touch between the seats. Boot space is decent, and beautifully trimmed. Powered by the fire-breathing, five-litre, 400hp V8 from the E39 M5, the Z8 could hit 62mph in 4.7 seconds. Simple yet effective lines. Its unmistakable front end endows the Z8 with considerable road presence. Sid Vasili bought his BMW Z8 new in 2000; an impulsive decision that he’s never regretted.
“I came to my senses, realising that it wasn’t the best idea to be piling-on the miles in the Z8”
“I thought it was probably simply a car that BMW had been commissioned to build specially for the film”
“I was covering about 40,000 miles a year in those days, and the 735i was simply brilliant for that; refined, comfortable and utterly reliable”