Concepts that time forgot: the BMW Z9 Gran Turismo

By topgear, 08 July 2020

What is this bold vision and why is it looking at me funny?

The Z9 Gran Turismo concept, which made its debut at the Frankfurt motor show in 1999, was BMW’s final two fingers to the century of the automobile courtesy of then-head of design Chris Bangle. It was intended to show off an exciting new design direction for the German firm. 

It doesn’t really look like a BMW…

Well you must be among the more conservative BMW purists – and this was the warning shot across the bows from Bangle. Time may have diluted the sledgehammer blow of this new design language, but Germans took to the streets of Frankfurt and set telephone boxes on fire in their inexpressible rage at this bold new direction from the Munich-based firm. Or not. 

Why was it so controversial? Apart from everything about it.

Bangle’s innovation was to mix up what would have been slab sides and flat surfaces with beguiling concave and convex lines, catching the light and adding a bit of visual flair. It might have made onlookers retch with disappointment at the time, but no doubt there are modern BMW fans who would crawl over their own grandmothers to get a kidney grille as discreet and demure as this. 

It wasn’t all bad, was it?

Lots of people argued that this was the shake-up the premium German saloon market needed. In many ways the Z9 GT remained a traditional BMW design – the long, sloping bonnet and tightly packaged rear were meant to hark back to muscular coupes of the past, while up front were the dual headlights and kidney grille you’d expect to find. Just arranged slightly differently. 

What about those crazy concept touches?

One particularly wacky feature on the Z9 Gran Turismo was the doors – the car featured gullwing doors that opened at the touch of a keyfob button, giving access to the rear. If you preferred a more traditional style of ingress, the gullwings also had more conventional hinged doors built in. Bizarre.

What about the interior?

If you were shaken by the styling, this was an even darker premonition of what was to come – Bangle pared back the interior all the way, with just a starter button and couple of measly stalks on the steering column. No 47-inch touchscreens in place just yet, however, this was the grand introduction of what would become BMW’s i-Drive system, with its dreaded clicky rotary wheel. 

Is there any fancy tech to get excited about?

The Z9 showed off some advanced ideas that were viable production propositions. Carbonfibre skin over an aluminium spaceframe demonstrated BMW’s engineering nous and commitment to reducing weight for extra efficiency. 

What’s underneath the bonnet?

The new millennium was the breaking dawn of what turned out to be a very brief diesel era, so the Z9 Gran Turismo was powered by an on-trend 3.9-litre V8 diesel that had already seen active duty in the 7 Series. It produced a respectable 245hp, but oodles of torque – 560Nm was an impressive figure at the time, achieved thanks to common rail tech and direct injection. 

So what happened to the Z9 Gran Turismo concept?

The Z9 never made it into production, but its styling lived on most recognisably in the form of the E63 6 Series in 2003.

Before that car arrived, the E65 7 Series in 2001 was the first car to showcase the new Bangle style language from the Z9 Gran Turismo, causing much controversy. The ducktail-style bootlid was nicknamed the ‘Bangle butt’ by design wags waiting for Twitter to be invented.

Perhaps most surprising is the fact that not only was the whole BMW range influenced by the Z9 GT concept car, you could make a strong case for it quietly shaping the entire car industry. Phew.

STORY Sam Burnett

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