What if… These two simple words can trigger a whole chain of thoughts. What if cars could fly? What if cars could drive themselves? What if BMW had built a Z8 Coupe? Well, without going into too many details, the answers to those questions would be: they can, they can, and they haven’t. So, to make it three-out-of-three, we are going to dive into a rather splendid car, which is full of BMW tech and design yet isn’t built in Germany. Instead, this is built in the US by two brothers, Willem and Kaess Smit – one formerly working for Singer Vehicle Design. This, my fellow Petrolheads, is the Smit Vehicle Engineering SVE Oletha, a car that carries a few surprises under its gorgeously elegant body. A car that is the Z8 Coupe BMW never made, but should have (at least, when looking at it…)
The BMW Z8, built between 2000 and 2003, is an oddity for BMW in all sorts of ways. For starters, it was produced in quite small numbers, with only 5,703 cars rolling off the assembly line. Second, it looked like nothing else BMW was known for at the time. It also had a short but prominent acting career as it starred in the 1999 James Bond movie The World is Not Enough, where it gets tragically sliced in half.
It was built as a homage to a legendary sports car from BMW’s past, the 507, widely regarded as one of BMW’s most beautiful cars ever made. The sleek, swooping design of the roadster built between 1956 and 1959 was carried over to the muscular, modern Z8. So far, it has been the top of the line Z-car, a line stat started with the Z1 and its funky downward sliding doors.
The design featured multiple styling elements taken from the BMW 507, most notable the two-seater roadster layout. It has a long front end, strong shoulders over the rear wheels and wide, horizontal “kidneys” in the same vein as the 507. It was powered by a 4.9-litre V8 engine that produced 395bhp. This propelled the Z8 to an electronically limited top speed of 250kph. Renowned BMW tuners Alpina built their version of the Z8, which weirdly had less power than the original.
The Smit Brothers
The two men behind this beautiful looking car are brothers Willem and Kaess Smit, who previously worked for companies like General Electric, Tesla Motors and Singer Vehicle Design. Willem and Kees share a lifelong passion for cars, passed down by their father. This passion, combined with a background in mechanical engineering, lead to the desire to create something of their own.
The company they founded is aimed to create the best possible BMW, the car that perhaps BMW themselves would never build. A car built by the Smit brothers is said to fuse the latest developments in car building technology with designs inspired by mechanical masterpieces from a bygone era. Case in point, the SVE Oletha, seemingly based on the BMW Z8, in turn, based on the BMW 507.
The SVE Oletha, Not a butchered Z8
I already hinted that there is far more to the SVE Oletha than you would expect. One of the most common heard reactions to any restomod is the fact a beloved vintage car is sacrificed in order to create something wild and new. While this may be true in other restomoded cars, it is an entirely different story with the Oletha. In fact, there’s not a single component taken from one of the 5,703 Z8’s BMW has produced.
What might be surprising to you, as it was to me, is that the underpinnings of the Oletha are actually from a first-gen BMW z4, mixed with other components from the Bavarian car manufacturer. The chassis, suspension system and steering system are taken from the E86 generation Z4 Coupé, built between 2002 and 2008. Initially deemed as a bit of a hairdresser’s car, the Z4 is actually a very capable machine, especially with a bit of power stuffed under the long bonnet.
It’s actually quite amazing how comparable in size the first-generation Z4 and Z8 are. You wouldn’t say it from the outside, but there’s not much between the two in terms of wheelbase, length, width, et cetera. And the fact the Z4 was a roadster first and a coupé later means the chassis is very rigid, even stiffer than the Z8’s chassis. So it all starts to make sense when you take elements like this into account.
Engine-wise, Smit relies on the S65 BMW 4.0-litre V8 from the E92 generation M3, which is enlarged to 4.4 litres and pumps out 450bhp. All of that power goes to the rear wheels through an E92 M3 sourced six-speed manual transmission, making for one hell of a fun machine to thrash around in. It also comes with a limited-slip differential, adjustable suspension, AP Racing brakes and a special set of wheels. These are milled out of a solid block of aluminium.
Its curvaceous full carbon fibre body is designed by Willem and Kaess Smit themselves, with styling elements inspired by the BMW Z8 and the BMW 507. And it shows as you can see the lineage stemming from the 1950s roadster. The long swooping front end, the short back section, the shoulder humps over the rear wheels. It’s all very delicately draped over the chassis and drivetrain.
Inside is where the biggest hint of “Z4” remains, as some of the interior components are taken over directly from the Z4. The aluminium panel running across the dashboard is the single biggest giveaway to its origins, but there’s no real shame with that, especially when the Z4 wasn’t a bad car to begin with. And the brother’s have been quite clever with the design as the rear glass panel is also taken directly from the Z4, which saves on complicated design solutions and costly bespoke glass.
With such projects, it’s the attention to detail that can really make or break such a car. And judging by what Top Gear said in its review and video and what we can see in the images, it all blends in rather nicely. There are no overly wide panel gaps, there are no weird out-of-place elements, there’s no overly designed component anywhere.
As we’ve come to experience with such restomod cars, it’s far from cheap to park it in your driveway. Only 100 will ever be built, and as always, bespoke options are available. Be prepared to shell out USD 450.000 as a starting price, though. For that sort of money, it looks very, very good but has some very, very stiff competition to beat as well. So, is it worth it? Well, that’s up to you in the end.
For more information on this incredible car, please visit SmitVE.com.