The Awesome BMWs That Could Have BeenS

Twenty-five years ago, BMW Technik was established to "develop innovative, forward-oriented vehicle concepts" like this never-before-seen Z1 shooting brake. Looking at the concepts that never reached production is like gazing into a world where BMW never became BBW.

Technik is essentially a Bavarian skunkworks, the part of BMW responsible for investigating new technologies and ideas that form the future of the brand. Sadly, the future of funky sports cars and crazy hatchbacks that the division once pushed for became a present filled with overweight crossovers like the 5-Series GT. For the moment, however, let's ignore the present and focus on what could have been.

BMW Just 4/2

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At just 1212 pounds, the Just 4/2 is 3781 pounds — or one E90 M3 — lighter than a a BMW X6 M. Motivation comes from a BMW K1100 motorcycle four churning out 100 hp. 60 mph arrives in six seconds. The Just 4/2 is obviously a Lotus 7 copy, but it would have been one hell of a drive.

BMW E1

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It's not the electric E1's 75-mph top speed or its 125-mile range that gets us hot and bothered, but rather its styling and diminutive size. It's like the horribly disfigured, misbegotten child of a Honda CRX and a BMW 8-series. Imagine if the 1-series had been small, light, and practical instead of, you know, how it turned out. Apparently there's a front-wheel-drive electric BMW coming in the near future. It probably won't look as cool as this.

BMW Z1 Prototype

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You're probably familiar with the BMW Z1 roadster, but have you seen the prototype? The first product of BMW Technik was a monocoque steel chassis with a plastic floor and plastic bodywork. High sills provide side-impact protection while strengthening the car's chassis. The best part is the vertically sliding doors. The Z1's "centrally spherical double wishbone system" rear suspension later became known as the Z-axle and was adopted by the E36 3-Series. The Z1 wasn't supposed to enter production, but it found its way to showrooms in 1988. Eight thousand examples were sold between 1988 and 1990.

BMW Z1 Shooting Brake

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BMW calls this shooting brake the Z1 Coupe, but it's really the predecessor to the BMW Z3 M Coupe. Technik actually developed a four-wheel-drive version of this vehicle, one that hasn't been seen in public until now. Let's add this up: steel monocoque, plastic body, plastic floor, vertical doors, two seats, wagon back, half E30, half E36. If that doesn't equal awesome, we don't know what does.

BMW Z13

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A rear-engined hatch with McLaren F1-style seating — the driver sits in the middle with one passenger on each side — and enough storage space for 6.5-foot skis. The Z13 weighed just 1830 pounds; its 82-hp engine returns 40 mpg.

BMW Z18

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Back in the mid '90s, Americans starting snapping up SUVs instead of sports cars as vanity purchases. Boggled by this, Technik's engineers found a way to combine the impracticality of a sports car with the poor handling of an SUV. This probably sounded awesome at the time. Hell, we'd still take one of these over a 5-series GT.

The Z18's plastic body resembled that of a boat, enabling the car to ford very deep water. Power came from a 355-hp V-8. Actually, the more we think about this, the more we think BMW was onto something here.

BMW Z22

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Looking for all the world like an early 5-series GT prototype, the Z22 was actually a lot more than just an ugly body. Equipped with steer-by-wire, brake-by-wire, panoramic rear view cameras, a fingerprint scanner, and a heads-up display, the Z22 was meant to explore high-tech solutions to problems that didn't exist. Ah, now that's the BMW we're all so fond of.

The square steering wheel had no point other than looking different. Shifting occurred Jaguar XF-style through a rotary knob that controlled a constant-velocity transmission.

There were two key areas where the Z22 wasn't lame: weight and packaging. It shared a wheelbase with the 7-series but was no larger than a 3-series. Thanks to a carbon monocoque, it also weighed 30 percent less than a 5-series and returned 40 mpg.

BMW Z29

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A BMW with Lambo doors?!? The Z29 was actually designed in 2001, long before every Civic in Fresno had flippy lids. Long a closely guarded secret, the Z29 was created to explore lightweight construction methods. Powered by a 343-hp in-line six borrowed from the E46 M3, the Z29 weighed just 2557 pounds, or almost 900 pounds lighter than the M3. A carbon/plastic passenger cell with aluminum subframes bolted to the front and rear. Weight was saved by doubling the function of interior components — the air vents, for instance, support the dash.