Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

| 12 Oct 2021
Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

When Bond returned with 1995’s GoldenEye after a six-year hiatus, the obvious choice for new 007 Pierce Brosnan was the box-fresh Aston Martin DB7.

Perhaps too obvious for an undercover agent, because Q issued Bond instead with the even box-fresher BMW Z3 – a sports car designed by Germans, built by Americans and sometimes even bought by women.

If traditionalists (and Aston) were miffed, the silver lining today is that, unlike Bond Aston Martins, you don’t need to hold the world to ransom to bag a decent Bond BMW, and the Z3 is the most affordable of the lot.

You’ll find good examples in the £3-5k bracket, and owner Tom Malcolm ’s 56,000-miler is towards the top of that ballpark, but much cheaper examples exist.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The blue is a refreshing shade – and one that has aged well

The Z3 always was relatively affordable, starting from around £19,500 at launch, although it almost immediately faced stiff competition from the Porsche Boxster and Mercedes-Benz SLK.

BMW reaped economies of scale by adapting the E36 3 Series Compact platform (including its semi-trailing arm suspension, not the multi-link used on other 3 Series models), but key changes included a wheelbase some 8in shorter, 20% swifter steering and slightly beefier tracks.

BMW could have wheeled out an affordable British roadster for GoldenEye, of course, with then subsidiary Rover launching the mid-engined MGF in 1995.

The MGF was a little cheaper, and the two would have been closer still had BMW offered the Z3 with the base two-valve 1.8-litre engine in the UK from launch.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track
Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The Z3’s 1.9 four-pot offers 138bhp (left); the design is an homage to the classic 507

As it was, the British Z3 range kicked off with the 1.9-litre 16-valver: the car Bond drove.

Walking around the low, wide body with its clamshell bonnet, Desmond Llewelyn (as Q) talks Brosnan through the Z3’s deadly additions: “BMW, agile, five forward gears, all-points radar, self-destruct system.”

A parachute appears to deploy from the rear, and there are missiles behind the headlights (surely the gills would have been better for night-time operations?).

Malcolm’s car can’t launch missiles, but it is to almost the exact same specification: Atlanta Blue with beige leather interior (ostrich-style pattern for the seat centres and door inserts) and the 138bhp 1.9-litre engine, the only anomaly being a four-speed automatic transmission.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

This Z3 has Bond-spec beige for its interior

The manual hood is easy to stow under the neat tonneau or raise in a minute, and you sink down in a focused driving position, with 1990s-era BMW dials, switchgear and layout framed in hard if durable plastics. Creature comforts include air-con, cruise control and heated seats.

A Z3 is a more mature driving experience than, say, a Mazda MX-5, with pointy, consistently weighted steering giving a sprightly energy to direction changes, but the body rolls more than a Bond romp and there’s no real urgency of performance to properly exploit the rear-drive chassis.

BMW claimed the 1.9-litre had near-equivalent smoothness and refinement to its famed six-cylinder units, which it doesn’t, but this ‘four’ does have its own character, with a willing rasp and a rousing twin-cam bid for the redline.

The manual would enhance the sense of driver focus, but you can lock the auto into the first three ratios and wind the revs right out.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The BMW Z3 represents an affordable route into a desirable James Bond car

The Z3’s weapons are only ever described and not seen in GoldenEye, raising the distinct possibility that they might never have been fitted at all.

With the Z3’s modest performance and relaxed handling, Bond’s life would have been in danger had he tried to pursue baddies down a mountain pass, but as a fun, affordable weekend car with a little 007 stardust, it has appeal.

When Brosnan returned for Tomorrow Never Dies in 1997 it was with thrice the cylinders and more than twice the firepower, if not in a particularly sporting BMW.

An odd choice on the face of it, the 7 Series was a perfect fit for Bond’s gadget fetish – even customer cars were loaded with state-of-the-art technology, and notably the E38 7 Series was the first European car equipped with satellite navigation.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

No car park chases for this well-kept BMW 750iL today…

Bond doesn’t order from the options list, with bulletproof glass, tear gas and roof-mounted missiles.

He also swaps a chauffeur for remote control via a specially converted Ericsson mobile phone, giving rise to the film’s most memorable stunt sequence: Bond swilling around in the rear seat, thumbs working the remote like a teenager on a PlayStation as he’s hounded through a multi-storey by baddies in an S-Class, Granada Scorpio and Opel Senator.

You’ll probably remember him diving from the rear seat, remotely tooting the horn (safety first!) before sending the 7 off the roof and into the Avis rental shop window below without so much as brimming the tank.

Perhaps there was a spate of copy-cat incidents, because tracking down Bond’s exact Aspen Silver and black leather combination proved more elusive than the British agent himself, but BMW-lifer Gurdave Rehsi’s gorgeous 750iL is the exact mechanical spec, with the same 5.4-litre V12 engine and long-wheelbase body.

Bond and Transporter film connections helped swing the recent purchase from 4Star Classics, but Rehsi points out this is also Tupac Shakur drive-by spec.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The 750iL’s silky 5379cc V12 has 322bhp

It is the last truly elegant 7 Series in the traditional BMW sense, designed by Boyke Boyer with a style that stands in stark contrast to the Chris Bangle era that began with the next 7 (and the Z4 that replaced the Z3).

Sinking into the E38’s plush rear seats and head rests is to feel the cotton-wool tranquillity of sedation.

There’s space to lounge and you can electrically recline the seat back. There are blinds rather than anything so gauche as tints, little airliner-style tray tables and vanity mirrors set in the backs of the front headrests.

There is timeless class here, but fantastic period technology, too, including a little television between the seats and two in-car telephones – one between the front seats, one between the rear-seat passengers, although this wheelbase isn’t so long as to preclude conversation.

Rehsi hopes to source the correct credit-card SIM and live the full 1990s CEO fantasy.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

From the driving seat you can enjoy the luxury and the 750iL’s seamless performance

The luxury and pioneering technology helped this third-generation 7 Series outsell the W140 Mercedes-Benz S-Class benchmark, but equally important is its ability to satisfy the person in the driver’s seat as much as the suit in the back.

Twist the ignition and the V12 sounds more like a cooling breeze than churning mechanicals – it is so smooth, so whisper-quiet, so refined that you have to blip the throttle to reassure yourself it’s operating at all.

Despite having twice the cylinder count of the contemporary E36 M3, it has only similar power with just single overhead cams and two valves per cylinder, but this silky motor is more about providing seamless urge throughout the range and buttery auto gear shifts than a rousing high-rev climax.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track
Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

BMW’s 750iL is not short on space or gadgets

The chassis is similarly soothing, almost as if the body is being damped with gentle rotational cycles, not vertically checked. Double-glazing and precious little road noise amplify the silence.

Pressing the SEDC (electronic damper control) button doesn’t unleash an inner sports car, but it does firm up the body control, so you can toss the 7 Series around and enjoy a level of precision and agility unexpected from a 16ft long, comfort-focused car.

Suddenly the idea of a one-way trip up a multi-storey no longer seems so improbable – even if the internet does suggest the actual stunt 7 Series was a 740iL with the lighter V8 engine and different bootlid badging.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

Rumour has it that the stunt car used for the set-piece car park chase was actually the lighter-in-the-nose, V8-powered 740iL

BMW’s next Bond outing came with a Z8 in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough

The roadster was BMW’s first bespoke high-performance car since the M1 in 1978 and the first BMW to make a worthy substitute for an Aston Martin.

Its gorgeous lines were penned by Danish designer Henrik Fisker, who later styled the Aston Martin V8 Vantage and DB9.

This was modern car design’s peak retro era. BMW first revealed the Z8 as the Z07 Concept, its alphanumeric name referencing not 007 but the 1950s 507 sports car.

The influence is obvious, with distinctive horizontally elongated nieren grilles, gills, and classic short front overhang, long bonnet and pert tail proportions.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The Z8’s styling retains a timeless charm

John Cleese stars as Q’s assistant, R, in The World Is Not Enough and explains the Z8 is modified for Secret Service use with titanium armour, a head-up display and six cupholders.

No mention of the rockets in the gills that Bond deploys to take down a helicopter, mind.

Unlike the Z3, BMW didn’t repurpose an existing platform for the Z8. Instead there’s a bespoke spaceframe that was mated to the aluminium body, and the car was finished largely by hand.

The engine that’s mostly pushed back behind the front axle line is from the parts bin, but it’s a goodie: the 4941cc S62 V8 from the E39 M5, making 395bhp and 369lb ft of torque.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The BMW Z8’s 4.9-litre V8 comes from the E39 M5 and makes 395bhp

Opening the door there’s a sea of baboon-bottom red over tuxedo black for this two-seater’s trim, save familiar BMW switchgear treated to silver fairy dust.

You sit low in a spot-on BMW driving position, gripping a large-diameter, thin-rimmed steering wheel, the manual gearlever just a handspan away.

The upper portion of the dashboard sweeps round into the door cards in one flowing arc like a Riva speedboat, with the instruments on a gloss black panel in the centre of the dash and the portion behind the steering wheel blank except for the ignition and headlight controls.

It is strangely at odds with BMW’s traditional driver focus and perhaps a little desperately ‘inventive’, although tucking the infotainment away behind a flip-up panel is a nice touch.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

The Z8’s cabin has a cohesive design, but the red trim errs to the garish

The V8 dominates the Z8 with its gorgeously smooth delivery, easy speed and thudding exhaust note, but the rest of the package is engineered around it with a purposeful heft to all controls – lovely meaty and linear steering, nicely weighted clutch and brake pedals, six-speed manual with a slicker throw than the knuckly graunch of same-era E36 M3s.

The chassis is relatively soft, but there’s far more robust damping than the Z3, so the body control won’t unravel if you punch in a few abrupt inputs in rapid succession – at which point the steady understeer it can settle into makes way for a handling balance that feels short and nimble, and easy to tweak on the throttle.

After moderate laps around Dunsfold, I comment to editor Clements that the diff doesn’t feel particularly tight, and only later learn that’s because there’s no locking diff at all.

It’s a strange omission from a near-400bhp, front-engined sports car, and the press did initially criticise the Z8 as having an identity crisis – was it feisty sports car or relaxed GT? – but arguably the lack of a locking diff and absence of the BMW M badge (plus the rose-tinted design) says this is a roadster to be enjoyed at up to seven- or eight-tenths of its capability, not screeched over an Alpine pass flat out or thrashed on track days.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

Today the BMW Z8 is the priciest of these three

Approached with those expectations it’s easy to fall for the Z8.

The market seems to ‘get’ them too: BMW built a not insubstantial 5703 examples between 1999 and 2003 (plus the promise of a minimum 50-year stockpile of spares).

They were a pricey £86,650 at launch (about £30,000 more than a same-era Porsche 911), and all are left-hand drive, but today it’s possible that £150,000 Is Not Enough, with £200,000 a more representative figure.

Watch the film and you might assume there is at least one fewer Z8 around today, given that Bond’s car is sliced exactly (exactly!) in half by the hedgetrimmer from hell dangled by another helicopter miffed that its mate was blown apart.

Classic & Sports Car – Bond’s BMWs: Z3, Z8 and 750iL on track

‘When the Z8 mule was cut in half, it was more than just the end of a stunt car: it marked the end of Bond’s time in BMWs’

The truth is the Z8 wasn’t ready for filming, so a BMW-supplied bodyshell mated to a Dax Cobra V8 chassis and running gear stunt-doubled for the real thing, making the shower of on-screen sparks that bit easier to stomach.

When the Z8 mule was cut in half, it was more than just the end of a lashed-up stunt car: it marked the end of Bond’s time in BMWs full stop, because next time out Brosnan drove an Aston Martin Vanquish, and order was restored to the Bond universe.

But, for fans of the blue and white propeller, a little part of 1990s Bond history will be forever BMW.

Images: John Bradshaw

Thanks to Martin Harrison, BMW UK; Martyn Goodwin and Matthew Swanborough, BMW Car Club GB; 4Star Classics



  • Sold/number built 1995-2002/279,273 (all roadsters)
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine iron-block, alloy-head, dohc 1895cc ‘four’ with fuel injection
  • Max power 138bhp @ 6000rpm
  • Max torque 133lb ft @ 4300rpm
  • Transmission four-speed automatic or five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear semi-trailing arms, coil springs, telescopic dampers
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes discs
  • Length 13ft 2½in (4025mm)
  • Width 5ft 6in (1692mm)
  • Height 4ft 2in (1288mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft (2446mm)
  • Weight 2899lb (1315kg)
  • 0-60mph 10.5 secs
  • Top speed 122mph
  • Mpg 32.5
  • Price new £19,500
  • Price now from £3000*


  • Sold/number built 1999-2003/5703
  • Construction aluminium spaceframe with pressed aluminium body panels
  • Engine all-alloy, dohc 32-valve 4941cc V8, with electronic fuel injection
  • Max power 395bhp @ 6600rpm
  • Max torque 369lb ft @ 3800rpm
  • Transmission six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear multi-link, telescopic dampers, coil springs; anti-roll bar f/r
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes ventilated discs
  • Length 14ft 5¼in (4400mm)
  • Width 6ft (1830mm)
  • Height 4ft 3¾in (1317mm)
  • Wheelbase 8ft 2½in (2505mm)
  • Weight 3494lb (1585kg)
  • 0-60mph 4.7 secs
  • Top speed 155mph (limited)
  • Mpg 13.2
  • Price new £80,000
  • Price now from £150,000*

BMW 750iL (E38)

  • Sold/number built 1995-2001/340,242 (all E38s)
  • Construction steel monocoque
  • Engine all-alloy, sohc 5379cc V12, fuel injection
  • Max power 322bhp @ 5000rpm
  • Max torque 361lb ft @ 3900rpm
  • Transmission five-speed automatic
  • Suspension independent, at front by MacPherson struts rear multi-link, telescopic dampers, coil springs
  • Steering power-assisted rack and pinion
  • Brakes ventilated discs
  • Length 16ft 8in (5124mm)
  • Width 6ft 1in (1862mm)
  • Height 4ft 7in (1425mm)
  • Wheelbase 10ft 1in (3070mm)
  • Weight 4515lb (2048kg)
  • 0-60mph 6.5 secs
  • Top speed 155mph (limited)
  • Mpg 19.9
  • Price new £75,425
  • Price now from £12,500*

*Prices correct at date of original publication


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