If you’ve never driven one, you’re missing out on one of the few, perfectly-balanced cars ever made. This is only my 2nd 2002… the first one was about 25 years ago. Even as a dumb kid, I could see what a great little car this was. I had just sold a 1970 GTO Judge because I couldn’t afford the gas anymore. I needed something with better MPG and found a nice, red, ’69 2002 in the paper. As soon as I saw it, I wanted it. After I drove it…? I HAD to have it.
I had been driving big, American muscle for years and had no idea that a car could actually TURN and BRAKE?? What is this witchcraft? All I knew about was straight line, tire burning torque and the roar of a Quadrajet when the vacuum secondaries flew open. In everyday, street driving, that BMW would run circles around the American iron.
Because of work, I moved on to driving trucks after the BMW. Now, years later, I am back in a 2002. The truck became less and less important for my daily needs and I was soooo sick of not enjoying driving. I began pouring over the internet in search for a good 2002. I chased any lead and called on, emailed and pursued probably 150 cars over a year’s time searching for one that fit my budget and needs. First off, it had to be a “Roundie”… from ’68-’73 the 2002 had round, rear tail lights and small bumpers. ’74-’76 cars had square tail lights and huge, ugly bumpers…that would never do. Color wasn’t a critical deciding factor, but rust was. The thin sheet metal of so many European cars of this vintage led to many of them rusting into oblivion long before their time.
I joined a couple of internet forums dedicated to the 2002 and found several friendly folks who happily gave their time to assist my search. There are plenty of good cars out there, but not too many for sale here in Central Texas. A good car would pop up on the West coast and by the time I had reached the seller, someone had already laid down the cash. It was very frustrating at times. I even thought of spending a week’s vacation out in California shopping around for a car…
I eventually found this car on eBay. It looked like a real winner; stance was perfect, driving lights, freshly rebuilt everything, great interior and very little rust. There is no such thing as a “rust free” 2002, but this one was close. I contacted the owner and we spoke in detail about the car. They bought it as a rolling shell with most of the parts stuffed inside. It would be the 3rd 2002 their family would rebuild… they also had a penchant for early ’70s 911s. The kid had loaded this car with all the choice bits he could find. Rare Petri 350mm steering wheel and ultra-rare, Scheel racing seats. There was very little on the car that wasn’t OEM, German, factory parts. Even the hose clamps were BMW.
The car didn’t make his auction reserve and he and I went into negotiations. There was another buyer in Arkansas that also wanted the car. I couldn’t swing the asking price and he had the original Tobacco vinyl seats. He took $5K off and kept the Scheels… that’s right… $5 grand for two seats. I said thank you very much, we have a deal.
I borrowed my brother’s F250 King Ranch with a Powerstroke diesel, a car hauling trailer from work, and early on a Saturday morning, my intrepid, 83 year old father and I pointed the rig north on IH-35 for Wichita. We arrived late in the afternoon. The Kahr family treated us like kin. I drove the car, poked and prodded and asked a dozen questions. Everything was in order. We enjoyed a glass of tea, loaded the car and turned the rig around.
We had planned on staying in a hotel, but it was early and we agreed that we could still put a lot of miles behind us if we pushed on. About midnight we crossed the Red River and pulled into a big rest area and slept restlessly till about 4:00 AM. We got back onto IH35 and didn’t make it 30 minutes and the truck’s left rear tire blew out…THAT will wake you up! We limped it to the shoulder and got out to inspect the damage… nothing major but the wheel was broken. We jacked it up and put the spare on and off we went. (helpful tip? a factory wheel for that truck was almost $1400.. Fortunately, I found a dealer in used wheels and got a very nice one delivered for about $400) The rest of the trip was easy and the car was in the garage by noon.
The car has been a dream. Changing the oil and replacing the battery were about the only things I had to do to the car in the first 10 months and 5000 miles. Now, I did replace the KYB rear shocks with Bilstein Sports to match the front strut cartridges. That made a huge difference in ride quality. Being designed to run in the Alps, it runs a little warm during the 100 degree summer days and RR620 traffic, but nothing critical. Overall, it has been, get in, push the gas pedal once, turn the key and off you go.
The standard factory powerplant is an anemic, single barrel Solex feeding the iron block, aluminum head, SOHC, 2 liter, 4 cylinder engine for a whopping 100hp. The motor in this car had been recently overhauled and the cam was replaced with a moderate performance, 292 grind. Ports were lightly polished and a Weber 32/36 two barrel carb and a long tube header installed. A high-out put ignition system replaced the 40+ year old design and provides much better spark. In street form, the M10 motor is not an especially high revving, sexy, powerplant, but it has lots of low-end power with a broad torque curve. In the US, the 2002 came with either the single Solex or a beautifully engineered, high-pressure fuel injection system on the Tii models (rated at 130hp). Outside the US, a dual carbureted model was available, known as the Ti.
The Ti couldn’t meet US emissions standards of the day and thus original examples are extremely scarce here in the States. The dual carbureted models were especially popular in rally racing circuits of Europe and a Ti won the 24 Hours of Nurnurgring in 1970. Additionally, there was a very rare Turbo model available in the mid ’70s with a power output of 168hp! BMW Motorsports provided Formula 1 engines based off this same M10 design that produced 1400hp!! …where can I get one of those???
The biggest change to the car was planned before I bought the car. I acquired a set of period-correct, German-made, 40mm Solex DDHT carburetors, complete with manifolds and velocity stacks from a BMW parts dealer in Oregon. These were not the factory carbs, but were the type most aftermarket performance dealers like Alpina, used in Germany. They were in very good condition but needed rebuilding with new gaskets and such. Finding the proper kit was as easy as a quick search on eBay and click the Buy Now button. I bought a book on Solex carburetor tuning and it was off to the workbench.
I tore them down, inspected every nook and cranny, replaced all the gaskets, then polished all the exterior surfaces and treated them with Penetrol to maintain the luster. The carbs looked brand new. I had to send one part out for rebuilding. Seems these carbs did not have choke butterflies but did have a “starter disc” that assists with cold starts. Well, the diaphragm in the starter disc is no longer available. Ed Falls at VintageWerks in Idaho came to the rescue. I sent him the parts and he got them turned around just in time for me to have them mounted and running for a BMW drive in Leakey, Texas a few days later.
I was apprehensive of the twin carb set-up. I had never tuned dual carbs, but once I had the proper synchronizing tool, it couldn’t have been simpler. I made three jet changes getting these Solexes fine-tuned. Locating the proper pilot jets was the biggest challenge. The only place I could find them was a carburetor shop in Berlin. They don’t speak English and I speak just enough German to get me slapped. That’s where our modern world steps in…Google-Translate. Within three emails back and forth, Jurgen was sending the proper idle jets to my house. He sent them without payment! Who does that anymore?? Sure enough, they arrived a week later with an invoice. They worked perfectly. The engine idles like a kitten at about 850rpm and has the most positively beautiful, throaty roar at 4500-6500 rpm. ZOUNDS, what a sound!! The factory numbers for a Ti engine were 118hp and 123lb/ft torque. I figure with the advanced ignition, steeper camshaft and header, this engine should be in the 140hp+ range. In such a nimble car, it really makes a difference.
The beauty of the 2002 is it’s understated drivability. Ask of the car and it delivers. Panic stop? No problem… 4 piston front discs and big drums in the rear easily bring the car to a halt without fuss. The power to weight is well balanced so even the most mundane commute becomes a joy. Push the car in the twisty stuff? The 2002 does it so effortlessly… a by product of weighing less than 2300lbs. In racing they say to “add lightness”… BMW did this in spades. Does it run 150mph down the straights? No… but I will put it up against any car in the tight stuff. This car has a few suspension modifications with the Billy Sports all around and a 22mm ST anti-sway bar up front. The factory springs had about 2/3s of a coil cut from them, so it sits nice and low. The rolling stock are 15″x6” Panansports with BFG 195/50s in front and 205/50s in back. The ride is firm, but the original, horsehair seats are cushy enough to remove any harshness. It corners like the proverbial go-kart…
The car is small, but deceptively roomy inside. Four adults easily fit in the car with plenty of leg room. Giant sheets of glass give panoramic views. This car doesn’t squeak or rattle. It’s just solid. Now, the car has no AC, nor does it even have a radio. They came equipped with an antennae, but the radio was optional? Personally, I can’t think of a finer tune than listening to this engine run up through the gears. Heck, leave it in a lower gear for a little longer than necessary just to get it into that sweet range where horsepower and torque bands meet…ah yes, sweet Bavarian music.
Ed Zinsmeyer – Austin, Texas
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