The BMW Z4 Zagato: the Ultimate Driving Machine dressed in an Italian suit.
Now, I know, I’ve used that line before but with the new BMW Z4 Zagato, the suit analogy just… fits. This is why. Take fashion companies as an example. While fashion designers go all out when presenting their haute couture collections, it’s the ready-to-wear lines that keep most of the big fashion firms in business. So fashion companies, who also make suits, must appeal to a wide number of buyers to keep those sales up. By the same token, car manufacturers employ only the most talented of designers and nothing but the best engineers and they also need their products to have a certain mass appeal in order to sell thousands of new cars per year. That usually means dialing back on grandiose designs while staying honest in the engineering department. So shopping for a new car is kind of like shopping for a suit. The thing is though, no matter how well a suit fits you right off the rack, it’s still missing that special something: that feeling you only get from one that was made to measure. Imagine buying a Paul Smith suit versus getting a suit made from Savile Row. Or better yet, buying Etro off the rack versus buying Etro fabric and hiring a good tailor. And this, I think, is what the BMW Z4 Zagato is all about.
So here we have BMW in Zagato clothing. For those of you that have followed this blog from the beginning, you know how fond I am of Zagato despite some of its lack luster creations of late. So for me this collaboration means something rather significant, apart from the fact that this car marks the first time in history these two great names have worked together. BMW recently came out on top, beating the likes of Mercedes, Audi and Lexus, as the world’s number 1 luxury car producer by sales. Yet, I don’t see this Z4 Zagato as a halo car or a proverbial pat on the back for reaching the number 1 spot. If we didn’t know any better, we’d think that the letters, BMW, stood for the acronym, “for a profit.” At the risk of sounding cynical, I’ll put it another way. This car – cloaked in secrecy until its online unveiling a few days ago then shown as a running prototype for the first time here at Villa d’Este – is a very calculated undertaking by BMW. By that, I mean I think they’re gonna make some in a limited run. For whatever reason, I kinda had that impression after watching the video the other day. However, after speaking to some key personnel at the show, I know they will.
Thanks to that video I recognized Nori Harada at the show, head designer of Zagato, who I managed to speak to briefly. Although tight lipped on details, he did say something rather interesting. I’m paraphrasing, “Due to the global economic climate (I think he may have used the word ‘crisis’) you can’t afford to fail.” As in, spend all this money developing something no one’s really asking for anyway and it ends up being a flop. So that was a big clue. Another less subtle hint was near the end of the event. I happened to be standing next to Mr. Harada again while the organizers announced that the votes were counted and the Alfa Romeo 4C was the crowd’s favorite car of the show. His expression changed suddenly to disappointment followed by a shake of his head. Ouch. Although I was rather disappointed too: there was a Ferrari 250 GTO in the field.
That’s neither here nor there.
However, prior to the cars parading onto the red carpet to be acknowledged and/or awarded prizes, as is the custom at the Concorso, I spoke with another significant team member of this project who was happy to shed some more breadcrumbs. Unbeknownst to me, I was speaking to Andrea Zagato, i.e. the head of Zagato. Forgive me but I had never met the man so I had no idea what he looked like before today. Face-palm. The conversation went like this:
He was stepping out of the car, which at this point was parked in front of Villa d’Este.
Me: “Can you leave the door open please? I’d like to get a shot of the interior.”
Andrea Zagato: ”Of course. Let me move some papers off the seat so it doesn’t ruin your shot.”
Me: ”Thanks.” Snapped some pictures. ”Would you know anything about this car? It seems like BMW plans on making it.”
AZ: ”Well that depends on the public. We’d like to make it and keep the numbers low so that the car retains its value. But the public decides.”
Me: ”What are the specs like?”
AZ: “400hp, 3.0L, twin turbo, inline six. All aluminum body, which makes it 200 pounds lighter than the series Z4.”
Me: “So a tuned 335is engine?”
AZ: “Yes, basically. The production version will have a carbon fiber roof and hood too, making it even lighter.”
That’s was pretty much all I can remember word for word. So a 400hp motor puts it in the M3 range, until the new one comes out. No word on price though. If going by the number of ‘YouTube likes’ the video has received in the last 3 days means anything, the Z4 Zagato should have no problems finding buyers.
Below is a video I took of the Z4 Zagato stopped on the red carpet, in front of the judges and the crowd during the awards ceremony. Andrea Zagato is invited to step out and talk about the car and Zagato’s new relationship with BMW.
So the motive has been established. What about the execution? Overall, I like it. It employs the three timeless Zagato design cues; long nose, double bubble roof, Kamm-tail. Just take a look at Alfa’s TZ series cars and you’ll see how. Looking at the car in profile and you’ll see that it has great proportions. The sides employ a wonderfully scooped air vent, which kind of looks like Pininfarina side scooping but in reverse. I like the line starting from the side quarter windows sweeping right across to the Zagato spear head motif just in front wheels.
The front end looks more muscular and aggressive without seeming brutish. The rear haunches are much wider too and there’s a lovely line running down from the roof. There’s also some great real estate between the rear glass and rear wheel arches. Zagato has a habit of rounding off edges which usually makes its cars look portly and lazy. However here, there’s no evidence of that.
Then there’s the rear. This Z4 Zagato is a coupe’ and not a hatch back which means there’s no tail gate. Instead, only the rear glass pops up making access cumbersome to an otherwise deep cargo area. We see more glass above the rear bumper, again harking back to Zagato’s of yore. Last mention is that beautifully incorporated rear lip spoiler.
The interior is less exciting. Seems pretty standard apart from the red stripe running throughout. Get a big “Z” on the headrests and a nice “BMW Zagato Coupe” replacing the stock door sills.
So why am I wincing? Well with Karim Habib taking over as BMW’s chief of design, the man responsible for the elegantly understated new 7-series, BMW has returned to a more conservative yet highly praised design language. This Z4 Zagato however, reminds me of the Bangle-era BMWs and his “flared surface” body panels, which were panned by both customers and press alike.
While its looks are up for debate I still believe in this kind of project. Unfortunately, the days of gentleman drivers buying a rolling chassis and taking it to a bespoke car atelier like Zagato, Bertone, Giugiaro, etc., are well behind us – unless of course, you’re James Glickenhaus. If you are interested in a custom-bodied car today, it would cost upwards of 1-2 million dollars. However, if a factory puts up the capital for the initial R&D, I don’t see how a re-bodied car should cost more than a 15-20K premium after applying economies of scale. People are already spending that much – if not more - on personalized interior options and wheels, only to have a car that, from a far, looks identical to a base model parked next to it. I think this is a great step forward towards higher personalization.
Cars like these benefit both the consumer and the people building them. One the one hand, it’s the chance of owning an instant classic. One the other, it keeps these great design firms and historic names alive. More please.