BMW used to use the late Otl Aicher, an austere graphic designer, as a consultant. And it showed. Aicher once said to me, after I gently suggested the addition of a small clarifying element of colour to relieve a dessicated monochromatic project he had done for me, 'Vot? You vant to make me a pop artist!'
Those days of Bauhaus design objectivity at BMW are long gone, a process that started with the small Z3 roadster. I had my hand smacked by BMW's PR department when I tastelessly suggested that this strangely proportioned little car carried with it something of the foetid aroma of a Hitler Youth changing room on a hot Bavarian afternoon. This may have been a metaphor too far, but there was no denying a deliberate appeal to a sense of history in the design of the Z3.
That trend is confirmed with the Z8. But there's a difference: the little Z3 is, by BMW's lofty standards, an iffy sort of car. The big Z8, on the other hand, is one of the most sensational, pointless, extravagant, impressive, archaic, irrelevant, crotch-grabbing, blood-curdling and wunderbar cars that has ever been made. Hello, boys. And I really do mean 'ever'.
Its general appearance apes the classic BMW 507 of 1956, designed by Count Albrecht Goertz (who later drew the modern classic Datsun 240Z).
Each is a large, handsome, rear-wheel drive two-seater with V8 power, a bit like an American muscle car. But there's more: a pointy, questing snout with flared nostrils, the Coke-bottle curve on the hipline above the rear wheel, the signature detail of the vent just aft of the front wheel-arch, wide track, lots of chrome and a gorgeous and very masculine effect. They built only 250 of the original 507. So, this is reincarnation as practised by graduates of Munich's Technical University.
If the Z8 were a person, it would be a tanned and brawny Californian boulevardier rather than a pale, sinewy Cumbrian fell runner: it's a big car and its size (not to mention its expense) discourages unreflective twitchy lane changes between garbage trucks and routemasters. Which is not to say that it lacks fine handling, only that it is not the point.
If you want to arse around in bus lanes you need to have pimples, a loud stereo and a Peugeot 206. The mighty Z8 appeals to the more highly evolved sort of show-off.
When the road gets wider and the flotsam of urban traffic thins, the dynamics are spellbinding, as you would expect of a modern aluminium structure with all known electronic enhancements and 450 galloping horsepower upfront.
There's a near-sex feel to hurtling the Z8 through bends: as soon as you've done it once, after a little rest, you want to do it again. But best of all is the engine. Its earth-moving power is delivered not with the manic howl of a Ferrari or the technoid whirr of a Porsche, but with a potent, sanguine, high-speed rumble that achieves an edge of dementia as the revs rise. Imagine the lyrical passages of Wagner adapted to drum 'n' bass and you're halfway there. You feel the power.
The interior is where some very lucky designers were given the dream brief to spend-as-much-as-you-want-and-go-as-far-as-you-dare-and-don't- bother-to-pull-back-even-a-little-bit. It is a gorgeously decadent confection of leather and aluminium, detailed and finished with a perfection available only to Germans with two PhDs and a post-doctoral fellowship in dashboard architecture. It manages to be both sumptuous and technically correct. Imagine a '57 Thunderbird done to perfection: at journey's end you howl and sob because you don't want to get out. It's great on the move, even better standing still.
The Z8 is a ridiculous and therefore marvellous car. It makes a fantastic appeal to our pleasure centres and makes you think of lust, desire, conquest and possession. People in Porsches ogle you; women come up to you when parking and say: 'Love your car.' Own one and you say to them, in very big letters: 'I am rich and not afraid to show it and, besides, take a special pride in possessing something gorgeous that will give me frequent surges of sexual pleasure while demonstrating my exquisite awareness of brilliant design.'
This is maybe not a message the timorous will feel comfortable with, but there are plenty of black cabs for them to use. This is the last time in the history of the world that anything like this will be made. If you liked cars and had the money, you'd buy a BMW Z8.