The cars they could have made #2001 #BMW-Z29
. BMW’s first attempt at a lightweight sports car built entirely from carbon fibre and aluminium wasn’t the prettiest of things, but it did what it was supposed to…
In the late 1990s, BMW was riding high from its success in just about every sector it dipped its toe into. But rather then rest on its laurels, future development was crucial to stay ahead and BMW was looking forwards. It meant thinking outside of the box a little, not just in terms of technology, design and innovation, but construction and materials, too. That’s where the Z29 concept entered in 2001.
The project’s focus was to explore the use and practical feasibility of introducing lightweight exotic materials to car construction. Designed to be very light, the Z29 featured a central tub which housed the two occupants and was made from plastic reinforced carbon fibre. Front and rear subframe sections made from aluminium were then attached either end to support the running gear, drivetrain and suspension.
The body panels, also made from carbon fibre, were then attached to form the shape and were not-structural, although the Z29 wasn’t exactly what you would call pretty. The primitive shapes and lines indicate BMW’s designers may well have been finding their way working with the foreign material, hence the basic design, although the scissor doors added some extravagant style. Inside was a similar affair and things were kept relatively plain and simple, although the actual design of the dashboard wasn’t very BMW, aside from the cluster cowls. However, strangely, the dash design did share more than a passing resemblance with the dash found on the first generation of Audi TT…
Aside from the design, the plan to keep weight down worked and the car was indeed light. Total weight was said to be around 1600kg; a relative featherweight for the time and to make the most of that crucial weight saving, power was provided by the S54 straight-six borrowed from the E46 M3 and Z3M. Output was around 340hp and it was coupled to BMW’s #SMG-II
transmission, rather than a manual gearbox. This combination produced potent performance and 62mph from rest was quoted as a lightening 4.4 seconds.
Of course, the Z29 didn’t progress too much further than a single working prototype, but that’s not to say the project wasn’t a success or that its spirit didn’t live on. As a general design and idea, the Z29 doesn’t look too far removed from a #BMW-Z4M
that arrived a few years later, complete with the same engine and running gear.
But the bigger picture was that the car’s construction appeared to serve as a successful stepping-stone for BMW’s future. It seems like no coincidence that it began introducing mass-produced carbon fibre to production cars not long after the #BMW-Z29-Concept
experiment took place in the form of the M3 CSL’s roof panel. And look where that has evolved since then, as BMW now builds entire production cars in a very similar way to how the Z29 was designed and built in the i3 and i8. How’s that for success?
The Z29 originated in 2001 but #BMW
didn’t actually allow anyone outside the company to see the car until 2010!