BMW Z29: CFRP Experimentation in a Strange Package

BMW Z29: CFRP Experimentation in a Strange Package

The car you see here is in fact a real BMW concept car, and not a random brandless rendering of a car from Grand Theft Auto. The Z29 was a concept from 2001 by BMW Technik and BMW M with the primary goal of being as light as possible. It borrowed its powertrain from the E46 M3, meaning iit used the 338hp S54B32 inline six paired to the Getrag 420G 6-speed SMG transmission, but in slightly different packaging than usual. An abundance of aluminum and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP) was used throughout the car, including its double wishbone front suspension. In fact, the entire car was constructed with a CFRP monocoque. BMW Technik’s weight reduction efforts brought the weight of this strange looking car down to an impressive 2,557lbs. For perspective, an E46 M3 CSL weighs 2,833lbs, a Z4 M Coupe weighs around 3,100lbs, and a Lotus Evora weighs around the same as the Z4. Taking a look at the sparse interior and considering the materials used, it begins to become clear as to how this was possible. 

Z29 interior

Despite being created in 2001, the Z29 was only revealed to the public in 2006. Perhaps BMW were embarrassed to show it off, considering their beautiful cars such as the E38 7-Series, Z8, E39 5-Series, and E46 3-Series were on sale at the time. There’s no denying how strange it looks with its oddly proportioned kidney grilles and lights. That being said, it does seem to have specific BMW design traits that new BMWs lack, such as a well defined Hoffmeister kink in the window line and the E36 M3-esque side mirrors. What I find particularly strange about the Z29’s design, is its scissor doors. Yeah, this thing has scissor doors. (Perhaps some inspiration for the i8's butterfly doors?) I truly do not know what to make of these scissor doors, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Z29 scissor doors open

Design criticism aside, over 20 years later we can absolutely see how various characteristics of this car have made their way throughout the BMW lineup over the more recent generations. The E85 BMW Z4 M Coupe undoubtedly took some sort of inspiration from this Z29, especially when comparing the silhouettes and powertrain. Both seat layouts with a long protruding hood to accommodate the S54, and a stubby rear end. I personally find the Z4 M to be far more attractive. (Z29 above, Z4 M below)

Z29 side profile
BMW Z4 M coupe side profile

BMW certainly continued to play with carbon composites, especially for the development of the BMW i8 and i3. The i3 and i8 concepts from 2011 previewed what BMW was working on, including their massive investments into CFRP. The entire body shells of those two models were made of CFRP, in efforts to save weight to allow for greater efficiency of their hybrid powertrains. The i3 and i8 eventually went on sale in 2014, and around this time we start seeing BMW utilize CFRP in other ways as well, such as in the driveshafts of the early F8X M3/M4 (I may have installed one of these CFRP driveshafts in my E92 335i, post coming soon). In 2016, the G01 7er came along with more mainstream CFRP developments. In addition to the G01, the G30 5er and other models were built with a “Carbon Core,” essentially CFRP structures that make up parts of the passenger structure. These CFRP components either replace or complement components of the otherwise aluminum structure. The “Carbon Core” not only decreases weight, but it also greatly increases structural rigidity. This technology is still used on newer BMWs, and has proven to be crucial especially with EV chassis development. 

BMW G01 7 Series carbon core badge

Back to the Z29, an intriguing concept car that had a lasting impact on the future of BMW despite its lack of press. Something that I truly wish BMW carried on from the Z29 is the desire to create a lightweight driver’s car. The current G82 M4 CSL, the supposed "lightweight" model, weighs over 3,600lbs. That’s more than my E39 530i 5MT at 3,550lbs. I could rant about the weight of cars in another post, so I’ll save it for another time.

Z29 rear

Let me know what you guys think of the Z29 in the comments!


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