2002 BMW Z8 E52

2002 BMW Z8 E52

Terry Unwin has owned scores of classics over the years, but the BMW Z8 E52 is one itch that he’s never been able to scratch – until now.



Can BMW’s raw, retro Z8 roadster win over a critic of Bayern’s finest?

COVER The List Terry Unwin wasn’t a BMW fan, but did a day driving a Z8 change his mind?

Any bucket-list classic chosen by Terry Unwin is going to have to work hard for its money. After owning 200 cars through his motoring life, including no fewer than 18 Bentleys, six Ferraris and 15 air-cooled Porsche 911s, choosing a classic that he hasn’t driven will be tough enough, let alone one that he believes may be the answer to his current carowning dilemma.

2002 BMW Z8 E52

We’ll come back to what’s perplexing Terry a bit later, but for now his object of desire – the one car that’s proven elusive over the years, and the one that Classic Cars has tracked down for him to drive – is parked before us: a BMW Z8. ‘In my dream list of cars, the Z8 is probably the only one I could actually envisage owning, so it’s more than just a mere flight of fancy,’ he explains. ‘It’s also always struck me as a better-built and more compact Corvette, which is another car I’ve owned and admired, but one that didn’t necessarily fit into my life for various reasons.’

2002 BMW Z8 E52

Framed today by the glorious Dorset countryside around it, this rare BMW is indeed a thing to behold as we admire it in Compton Abbas Airfield’s car park for the first time. The 2002 example he’s driving today is from BMW UK’s Heritage fleet and is as well preserved as you’d expect with a manufacturer-owned modern classic with only 34,000 miles accrued in the last 20 years. It’s already competing for attention, too, for sitting alongside is Terry’s own bright yellow 1972 Porsche 911 2.4S, looking rather petite by comparison and illustrating perfectly how car sizes swelled in the ensuing three decades.

But fortunately that’s clearly not put Terry off the BMW. ‘To me the Z8’s design is perfect in every regard; it’s got the spirit of the 507 model, I guess, with some echoes of the original shape. It actually sits quite high, which isn’t a problem for me when I think about driving on and off ferries.’

2002 BMW Z8 E52

Ferries? Indeed, since retiring many years ago, the 73-year-old ex-marketing man has devoted much of his time to driving tours around the world. In fact, Terry and his wife have only yesterday returned from a European tour in their Bentley MkVI Special. So to them, things like ground clearance, stowage space and long-distance comfort are perennial practicalities that need to be factored into their ideal touring car, along with strong performance and a healthy dose of driver engagement.

2002 BMW Z8 E52 - engine V8 S62

And Terry is about to discover if those last two boxes are about to get ticked as we make ourselves at home in the Z8’s cabin. ‘First impressions are positive in every respect. It’s comfortable, and there’s enough legroom for my 6ft 4in frame, which a lot of cars don’t have. For example, I can’t fit into a Jaguar E-type – unless it’s a V12 – which is a great shame. There’s good visibility in here front and back, and it somehow seems smaller than it is, when you’re in the driving seat. It’s also good to have a steering wheel without switches, and even the airbag cover is nicely designed.’ However, one small niggle emerges before we move off, ‘For me – and I recognise that I have fairly unusual proportions – a little more length on the seat squab, and a bit more support under the thigh would be ideal; I can’t lift the front of the seat high enough to get the support that I need.’ This minor gripe seems to be forgotten very quickly, though, as Terry turns the Z8’s dash-mounted ignition key and thumbs the start button to rouse its 4941cc V8 motor. With all Z8s built in left-hand drive, I must admit to feeling vulnerable as he pulls out of the car park and onto the first of many narrow, winding Dorset country lanes. ‘I don’t have any issue with it being left-hand- drive,’ he remarks. ‘You just stay as close to the nearside as possible and hope for the best!’ But thankfully, Terry’s driving style inspires confidence from the off, and within a few miles he’s obviously enthralled by what the Z8 has to offer, judging by the grin on his face. ‘It’s lovely, isn’t it?’ I can’t disagree with him.

The weather’s being kind, so the roof is down, and as our man gains confidence in the car, he starts to explore the V8’s upper reaches, its baritone exhaust note hardening as the revs rise, with the high hedgerows that enclose these roads amplifying the sound still further. ‘I sold my last Ferrari about four years ago, and I haven’t driven anything as quick as this since. I mean, the Porsche is lovely, but it’s not very quick, so this is the perfect tonic. The engine’s very flexible – it’s the same as the E39 M5’s, isn’t it – you can leave it in a high gear and it pulls fairly quickly.

You don’t need to let the revs climb too high, you can just rely on the low-down torque to do all the work. It’s also a pussycat when you just want to amble along.’ I concur, and remind Terry that the Z8 is making 369lb ft of torque at 3800rpm, with a chunky 289lb ft from just 1200rpm, so he’s right on the money.

Of course, it would be rude of Terry not to explore more of the Z8’s near-400 horses lying below its long, sculptured bonnet, and when we reach a well-sighted straight, he pins the throttle and we head for the horizon – fast. ‘Wow!’ is the only word he can manage initially. ‘It’s making me drive faster than I should,’ he says with a chuckle, at the same time backing off the throttle to regain a more relaxed pace. ‘I don’t drive many modern cars, and I’m surprised at how quickly I’ve acclimatised to this one. It was roads like the ones we’re driving on now that decided me that the Corvette C6 was not a car for Dorset motoring, so it’s nice that the Z8, being a lot more compact, doesn’t have that issue. And given that it’s a convertible, there seems to be no scuttle-shake whatsoever – none that I can detect, anyway.’

We’ve now reached our first rest stop, giving Terry some time to process some more thoughts about a car that he’s clearly warming to very quickly. ‘I’ve owned about 200 cars in my lifetime, and very few of them have been BMWs. In fact, I think that other than a 2002 model that I owned when I was young, they’ve never done it for me. But this certainly would. The engine is smooth and responsive, and it has a beautiful gearshift. The steering is nicely weighted and very direct, while not being over-assisted, which I prefer. It doesn’t feel like the assistance is speed-variable, either, which means there’s quite a bit of weight at lower speeds. But having just hauled an old Bentley around Europe for three weeks, it feels quite light anyway!’

Terry is also taken by the Z8’s exemplary ride and the overall integrity of its construction. ‘We’ve been driving on some poorly-surfaced roads and the car’s absorbed the worst of them far better than I would have expected.

It drives extremely well, compared with my 1969 Mercedes-Benz 280SL W113, which you have to concentrate keeping in a straight line on bumpy roads. In general, the Z8 feels very solid and planted, given how light it probably is.’ But while Terry praises the simplicity and speed with which the Z8’s fabric hood can be deployed, he’s less impressed with the lack of cover behind the cabin to disguise the area where the roof is stowed, which he thinks is out of keeping with the attention to detail elsewhere. A couple of other items draw minor criticism, too, ‘The red-trimmed wind-break which pops up when the roof folds away creates a line across my field of vision through the rear-view mirror – it doesn’t worry me, it’s just a bit distracting. And as I’ve been manoeuvring the Z8 I’ve noticed that it doesn’t have a great turning circle, which I find surprising for a rear-wheel-drive car. On the upside, though, there are plenty of stowage cubbies in the cabin, and the boot space is very generous – especially if you’re used to fitting stuff into a vintage Bentley.’ However, Terry is disappointed that the Z8 only carries a tyre-fix kit instead of a spare wheel.

We set off on the joyride’s final leg back to Compton Abbas, taking in even more sinuous roads on the return journey. Terry has clearly got the measure of the Z8 now and is engrossed in the driving experience, flicking between gears and making full use of the vivid acceleration between bends. And I’m wondering if I can now just catch a glint in his eye – could the BMW Z8 really be the solution to Terry Unwin’s future motoring life?

To answer that question, we need to return to our reader’s dilemma. With eight cars in his current collection, Terry is keen to downsize, replacing some less usable classics with a single car. ‘I look at cars from a very specific viewpoint, because I tour in them. As I get older, I think about what car would I want to have towards the end of my driving life – which has hopefully another 15 years to go – that I could still join driving tours with in comfort, be able to get in and out of easily, with a hood I don’t have to struggle with. And the Z8 answers just about every question. The only shortcoming is its value. I get increasingly nervous about using cars on tours and always ask myself, “Am I comfortable leaving them in places that I’m not sure about?” And the answer is “no”. Probably, a Jaguar XJS convertible is the answer – in that case I’d only have 35-grand tied up in something with the attributes of this car, but nowhere near its value.’

I must admit to being slightly dismayed by this; I had really hoped that Classic Cars had come up trumps for Terry and rightsized his future automotive needs with a near-perfect car – the Z8. But our journey isn’t quite over, and by the time we return to the car park the rare BMW has clearly worked its magic. ‘You always ask people if they’d want the car in these articles, and sometimes they don’t, which I find disappointing. I would love to own a Z8, and if anybody wants to take a concours 1969 left-hand- drive manual Mercedes-Benz 280SL W113 in part exchange, I’ll find another hundred-grand somehow!’

‘Anybody want to take a Merc 280SL in part-exchange...?


  • Engine BMW S62 4941cc V8, dohc, Bosch Motronic DME 5.2 fuel injection
  • Max Power 394bhp @ 6600rpm
  • Max Torque 369lb ft @ 3800rpm
  • Steering Power-assisted rack & pinion
  • Suspension Front: independent, MacPherson struts, lower wishbones, anti-roll bar Rear: independent, multi-link, telescopic dampers
  • Brakes Front: servo-assisted ventilated discs, Rear: solid discs + Bosch ABS
  • Performance Top speed: 155mph
  • 0-60mph: 4.7sec
  • Weight 1585kg
  • Fuel consumption 19mpg
  • Cost new (1999) £86,650
  • Classic Cars Price Guide £85,000-£135,000

‘The steering is nicely weighted and very direct while not being over-assisted, which I prefer’

Terry correctly identifies the V8 as the S62 found in the E39 M5 S62 was BMW’s first V8 to use variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust

He fits… but the ergonomics aren’t quite as accomodating as Terry had hoped For sharper throttle response and weightier steering.

Steering wheel had a single designer assigned to it.

This manufacturer-maintained, low-mile Z8 gives Terry a perfect model to judge by

‘The Z8’s design is perfect; it’s got the spirit of the 507 model with some echoes of the original shape’

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