A collaboration between the Milanese design house Zagato and the Bavarian carmaker BMW offers a great example of modern coachbuilding - the BMW Zagato Coupe and Roadster.
The BMW Zagato Coupe premiered at the 2012 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este (Italy) in May, while the closely-related BMW Zagato Roadster followed at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance (USA) in August.
Both concepts featured a unique hand-built all-aluminium body, sharing their underpinnings with the BMW Z4 E89 (2009-2016) production model. As stated by the company, the aerodynamically enhanced “Vmax concepts” were registered for road use and met all of the legal requirements in global markets.
Officially, BMW never revealed the engine specifications, but it is safe to assume both models used a tuned version of BMW's twin-turbo 3.0-litre straight-six producing around 300kW.
The idea for a one-off based on the Z4 originated at a meeting between Andrea Zagato (CEO of Zagato) and Adrian van Hooydonk (Senior Vice-President BMW Group Design).
The design team was headed by Norihiko Harada (Zagato Chief Designer) and Karim Habib (Head of Design BMW), while Marella Rivolta-Zagato (Zagato Art Director) was responsible for colour and trim.
Like traditional automotive coachbuilding, the process involved countless hours of hand-craftsmanship in order to shape the aluminium sheet metal, craft the details and retrim the interior.
Starting with the Coupe, its proportions were typical of a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive sports car, and while similar to those of the BMW Z4, it featured a longer front overhang and a unique silhouette towards the back. The only parts of the exterior shared with the Z4 were the windscreen, tail-lights and mirror caps as everything else was redesigned.
At the front, BMW’s kidney-grille featured the letter Z, with its shape sculpting the long bonnet. The aggressive headlights with twin circular graphics were heavily contoured in the muscular face of the car, creating a three-dimensional look intensified by the sharp lines of the front fenders. A pair of intakes with silver trim on the front bumper following the angle of the lights framed the central intake below the licence plate, while two additional triangular openings on the bonnet allowed the engine to breathe.
The signature bubble roof found in every car designed by Zagato was an extension of the dynamic lines of the bonnet. This design feature not only enhanced looks, headroom and aerodynamics, but also increased the structural rigidity of the roof.
The profile was dominated by the muscular lines of the fenders, the elongated side vents contoured in the body, the unique 19-inch five-spoke wheels inspired by a propeller and the sloping roofline leading to the Kammback with a vertical cut. The side window line was raised towards the C-pillar in order to meet the top of the rear window, a feature which can be found in many Zagato models.
Moving over at the back, the Kammback featured an integrated spoiler merging with the rear fenders and rising in the middle. The windscreen opened up allowing access to the luggage compartment behind the two-seater cabin. Below, a dark tinted transparent panel looked like a second rear windscreen, housing the 'floating' BMW emblem. The Z4 tail-lights were hidden behind the glass, framed by a curved metal part bearing Zagato lettering. The rear bumper featured a clean design with a grey part housing the plate, reflectors, diffuser and two unique tailpipes at the bottom.
Last but not least, the Rosso Vivace exterior colour combined a primer coat of black, a layer of metallic silver, six coats of red and two layers of clear coat, in order to achieve this depth, complementing the curves of the aluminium body.
The two-seater cabin was largely shared with the BMW Z4, but every surface was re-trimmed with high-quality black leather, red stitching and metal knobs in order to give it a more premium feel. In addition, two bags were exclusively designed for the BMW Zagato Coupe as a stylish luggage set.
Following the positive reactions to the concept, BMW and Zagato teamed up again to build a Roadster version as the second and final one-off of the series. The roofless BMW Zagato Roadster was completed in just six weeks: from first sketch to the running prototype - just in time for its reveal at Pebble Beach.
The Roadster retained most of the aluminium body panels of the Coupe but featured a completely redesigned tail and a new colour combination. Besides the lack of roof and the black frame of the windscreen, the most significant change was evident at the rear end which traded the Kammback for a more conventional design.
Behind the seats, two protruding roll-bars were added for protection with aviation-inspired design, while the new top rear panel featured two domes as a reinterpretation of the Coupe’s bubble roof. At the back, the integrated spoiler sat lower, and the thinner transparent panel had a darker tint making the tail-lights disappear when not in use.
In order to further differentiate the two sister models, Zagato chose a brilliant grey exterior colour for the Roadster, resembling liquid metal. Likewise, the uncovered cabin featured different colours, combining brown and black shades of leather with silver details.
So, what happened next?
After appearing at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the open-top BMW Zagato Roadster made its European debut at the 2013 Brussels Motorshow in Belgium.
In 2014, both the Coupe and the Roadster were exhibited next to each other at the BMW Museum in Munich, among other concepts and production models. Unfortunately, the company made no other official statement concerning the two prototypes.
It is not clear if BMW and Zagato initiated this collaboration purely as a marketing exercise, or if they intended to produce the cars in limited numbers. The fact both prototypes were 100 per cent street-legal and production-ready showed the companies were open to receiving offers from prospective buyers and collectors. But, the continuously dropping sales of roadsters in combination with the high cost of a hand-built body for the somehow less-than-exotic Z4 donor car, were probably among the deciding factors that led to the cancellation of any future plans for the Zagato twins.
As for BMW’s roadster range, in 2016 the Z4 E89 was phased out after seven years of production. Two years later, the rear-wheel-drive two-seater was replaced by the all-new BMW Z4 G29 which launched in production form at the 2018 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, following a 2017 concept car.
Unlike its hard-top predecessor, the latest generation comes with a retractable soft-top. However, it is highly unlikely we will ever see a coupe version of BMW’s Z car, due to the fact that it is sharing its platform with the Toyota GR Supra.
The BMW Zagato Coupe and Roadster were two beautiful and highly desirable production-ready concept cars, blending Italian finesse with German engineering. Their hand-built aluminium bodies were a testament to Zagato’s expertise in coachbuilding, while the timeless looks showcased the design firm’s ability to successfully integrate its branding and heritage into BMW’s design language.
A possible small-series production would have created a fitting successor to the BMW Z8 (2000-2009), even though the relatively common Z4 underpinnings might have been short of ideal for such an expensive and exotic sports car.