April Fool's

A look at the experimental BMW M1-based Dacia VZ

dacia-vz-2In the early 1980s, Romania-based Dacia offered a diverse lineup of Renault 12-based cars including a sedan, a station wagon, a shapely coupe and a rugged pickup. Although generally Spartan, Dacia’s lineup was time-tested and the automaker had most mainstream, high-volume market segments covered.

Dacia understandably had no absolutely interest in taking on well-established luxury automakers like Mercedes-Benz, but the automaker’s top brass toyed around with the idea of launching a sports cars capable of fighting head-to-head against the Alpine A310 and entry-level variants of the Porsche 911. Developing such a car from scratch was quickly ruled out for cost reasons, so Dacia reached out to other automakers for help.

Dacia chief engineer Bulă Racoviță immediately contacted BMW CEO Eberhard von Kuenheim. Working as a journalist at the time, Racoviță met von Kuenheim while enjoying free pints of Paulaner Original Munich Lager at the press launch of the E24 6-Series in 1976, and the two men struck up a friendship after spending well over an hour discussing the rise and fall of rear-engined Fiats in a broken English.

Racoviță and von Kuenheim secretly met on the outskirts of Munich in early 1983 to hammer out the preliminary details regarding Dacia’s upcoming two-seater sports car. The CEO agreed to give Dacia access to the M1 platform because the coupe’s production run was over for good and a direct successor was not in the works. Although designed in the 1970s, the M1 platform remained a proven chassis that would provide a fantastic starting point for the upcoming sports car.

Both parties agreed to keep the deal a secret, and Racoviță promised Dacia’s in-house design department would significantly update the M1’s body work in order to erase all signs of the upcoming coupe’s German genes.

A few months later, BMW unexpectedly refused to provide Dacia with the M1’s engine because it was planning on using a modified version of it in the E24 M6 and the E28 M5. Dacia had historic ties with Renault so Racoviță went to Paris and negotiated the use of the Renault 5 Turbo’s 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine.

The Dacia coupe was christened VZ, an acronym that stood for veverița zburătoare, or flying squirrel in Romanian. The company’s designers gave it a curvaceous silhouette with sculpted flanks that broke all ties with the angular, Giugiaro-designed M1 but the two cars retained the same wheelbase. The VZ’s body was crafted entirely out of ABS plastic in order to shed as much weight as possible.

The engine’s output was pushed to 200 horsepower and 185 lb-ft. of torque thanks to miscellaneous modifications such as high-lift cams and a significantly larger turbocharger. Mounted directly behind the passenger compartment, the turbo four spun the rear wheels via a five-speed manual gearbox, though engineers reportedly experimented with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The suspension was fine-tuned in utmost secrecy on Germany’s famed Nürburgring Nordschleife, and the VZ managed to lap the track in eight minutes and thirty seconds. Company records indicate the VZ was strikingly quick; some engineers slipped under the five-second bar in the sprint from zero to 62 mph (100 km/h).  

The VZ project was canned on April 1st, 1984, after a leaked internal memo published by German magazine Auto, Motor Und Sport revealed the coupe was aimed squarely at the Alpine A310. Renault got wind of the article and threatened to end all collaboration with Dacia if the project wasn’t canceled immediately.

Two near-production-ready VZ prototypes were built in late 1983 but both cars were destroyed several months after the project was canceled when the warehouse they were being stored in caught fire. Dacia took no pictures during the development phase in order to keep the VZ a secret, but an intrepid spy photographer managed to snap two grainy images of the coupe testing on the Nürburgring in early 1984.

dacia-vz-1

Note: This article was written for April Fool’s Day, every part of it was made up. The photos are spy pics we took of the BMW i8 a couple of months ago and there was never a collaboration between Dacia and BMW. Too bad, a M1-based, Renault-powered Dacia sports car would have been awesome on so many levels.

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