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By JIM HENRY | Automotive News

BMW will drop the Z8 at the end of the 2003 model year after only about three years.
The short life of the BMW Z8 will end in 2003 when BMW sells the last few hundred units of a special-edition Z8 - the BMW Alpina Roadster V8.

The Alpina Roadster, which has an automatic transmission, makes its auto show debut in Los Angeles in January and goes on sale in the United States in April.

As a farewell to the slow-selling Z8, BMW of North America LLC will offer 450 units of the Alpina here and another 100 elsewhere. While they last, the company also will offer the regular Z8 with a manual transmission. Parent BMW AG will stop making the manual Z8 around the end of this month.

"The Z8 was never intended to be a high-volume car," said BMW of North America spokesman Dave Buchko. "We're not disappointed with the sales. On the contrary, we were really pleased with the reaction to the car and the demand it experienced. It was never intended to run for the typical life cycle of our other cars."

He said the Z8 also taught BMW engineers how to make a largely hand-built, small-volume car with an aluminum spaceframe. Those lessons helped BMW develop its own Rolls-Royce, which will be unveiled at the Detroit auto show next month, Buchko said.

The Z8 began with promise as the Z07 concept car at the 1997 Tokyo Motor Show. Its retro styling recalled the rare and sought-after BMW 507 roadster. Only 253 of the 507s were built from 1956 to 1959.

The Z8 had a splashy movie debut when it was sawed in half in the James Bond film The World is Not Enough in November 1999. U.S. sales began the following August.

But sales have been slow, even for a purposely exclusive halo car. For the first 11 months of 2002, BMW of North America sold 495 Z8s, down 43 percent from the year-ago period. It sold 970 Z8s for all of 2001 and 317 in 2000 during five months of sales.

BMW will drop the Z8 at the end of the 2003 model year after only about three years. That is half the normal life for BMW's volume models. In all, BMW of North America will sell a three-year total of about 2,500 Z8s, accounting for nearly all Z8 sales worldwide.

The next big BMW coupe will be the 2004 redesign of the 6 series coupe, followed by a 6 series convertible, probably in 2005. BMW has lacked a strong presence in the high-end coupe niche since the 6 series was retired in 1990.

For now, BMW AG isn't saying whether it will replace the Z8 with another limited-run vehicle. The Z9 concept car is a logical place to seek a successor, but BMW officials insist that the Z9 is strictly a design study.

The Z8's predecessor was the 8 series, on sale in the United States from 1990 to 1996. Critics panned it for being overweight and overpriced. In contrast to the 8 series, the Z8 took a back-to-basics approach. The Z8 remained the most expensive BMW at $132,195, including delivery, but its looks and performance got higher grades than those of the 8 series.

The Alpina Roadster is the first Alpina-equipped model for the U.S. market, said BMW spokesman Gordon Keil, even though Alpina Burkard Bovensiepen GmbH + Co. in Buchloe, Germany, has a 40-year relationship with BMW in Europe.

The Alpina is equipped with a five-speed, Alpina "switch-tronic" automatic transmission, with controls mounted on the steering wheel.

The Alpina gets a 4.8-liter version of the 5-liter V-8 in the Z8, tuned to produce more low-end power and torque despite the slightly smaller displacement.

Maximum power is 375 hp, vs. 394 hp for the regular Z8. Torque is increased to 383 pounds-feet at 3,800 rpm vs. 368 at 3,800 rpm.

The suggested retail price is $137,595, including a $695 destination charge and driving school at the BMW Performance Center in South Carolina.

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