Friday July 6, 2018
Some great motor cars immediately draw attention to themselves, be it at shows, in dealerships or when overtaking you on the M3. Others adopt a more low-key approach and exude a quiet sense of confidence - cars such as the BMW 2002.
The original version of the 02 family was the 1600-2 (it would not be known as the 1602 until 1971) which was launched at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show. It was a companion model to the 1961 Neue Klasse saloon and as compared with its stablemate, the new BMW was shorter and lighter.
The company’s previous two-door saloon, the 700, had ceased production in 1965 but that was more of a small family car and so one key role for the 02 was to encourage owners to upgrade to ‘a sports car in a Sunday suit’ in the words of one journalist.
The 1600-2 was also designed to be a four-seater grand tourer and a 1967 Autocar test concluded that it was ‘fast (almost indecently so for its size), economical and extremely well-mannered‘ although a UK price in the region of £1,300 meant that ‘the appeal obviously lies with the discerning motorist who can afford and appreciate the fine engineering and gain pleasure from it’.
Across the Atlantic the 1600-2 was expensive but still more affordable to US motorists than previous BMWs - Road and Track raved that it was ‘one of the best automotive values found into any country’.
Clearly, this was a car rich in potential and in that same year BMW unveiled the Ti version, the better to rival Alfa Romeo and Lancia. Meanwhile, the company’s Alex von Falkenhausen, the designer of the M10 engine, and the head of planning Helmut Werner Bonsch both had their 1600-2 fitted with a 2-litre plant.
These private conversions were so successful that they approached the Board of Directors with the idea of putting a 2002 into production. A further impetus came from Max Hoffman, BMW’s distributor in the USA; he required a performance version of the 02 to sell to affluent young lawyers and business executives but the Ti would not meet the new emissions standards.
The 2002 made its bow in 1968 - See Video Below - and by the end of the year it was available in single carburettor or twin Weber Ti forms; the latter was not marketed in the UK as the induction system was incompatible with RHD.
In Germany Autobild magazine referred to the BMW as the “Flüstern Bomb” – Whispering Bomb – and to gain an idea of its impact in the US export market, here is a brilliantly late 1960s headline from Car and Driver - David E. Davis, Jr. Blows His Mind on the Latest From BMW. To say the scribe was keen about the 2002 would be quite an understatement:
“As I sit here, fresh from the elegant embrace of BMW’s new 2002, it occurs to me that between nine and ten million Americans are going to make a terrible mistake this year. Like dutiful little robots, they will march out of their identical split-level little boxes and buy the wrong kind of car. Fools, fools! Terrible, terrible I say…to my way of thinking, the 2002 is one of modern civilization’s ways to get somewhere sitting down.”
He also described the archetypal Detroit product of that era as a ‘sex substitute’ as well as noting that the BMW cost less than a Thunderbird. In addition, there was a warning to all sports car drivers – ‘Somewhere, someday, some guy in a BMW 2002 is going to blow them off so bad that they’ll henceforth have to leave every stoplight in second gear and never drive on a winding road again as long as they live’.
In the UK the reaction to the 2002 was equally enthusiastic although not quite as exuberant as that of Mr. Davis Jr. A standard 2002 cost £1,597 and it appealed to the affluent driver who might have otherwise considered a Rover 2000TC and who appreciated BMW’s engineering as well as its dynamic abilities.
By 1971 the 2002 range included the Baur cabriolet, the three-door Touring and the Tii which was fitted with Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, and boasted a top speed of 116 mph. Three years later What Car made the fascinating comparison between the BMW and the Alfa Romeo Alfetta, the Fiat 124 Coupe, the Ford Escort RS2000 Mk. I and the Triumph Dolomite Sprint.
At £3,199 the 2002 Tii was by far the most expensive of this quintet but, in addition to its renowned abilities, possessed an undeniable social cachet; in the early 1970s a BMW was not a common sight on British roads.
The 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show marked the debut of the legendary 2002 Turbo, the first such production model to be made in Europe. For those who could afford the asking price of £4,300.31, ownership of such a BMW (moreover one with a top speed of 130mph) was worth every penny. ‘Exhilarating performance without any temperament’ thought Autocar, who also noted that the 2002 was still considerably cheaper than the Porsche 911 Turbo.
The 2002 ceases production in 1975 with the advent of the 3-Series and during its production run it was instrumental in changing the image of BMW. So – two final memories of this understatedly great motor car.
The first is a 1973 edition of Thames TV’s Drive In programme with Tony Bastable comparing the 2002 with the Dolomite Sprint - See Video Below. And the second is another quote from that 1968 Car and Driver test as it encapsulates the lasting appeal of the 2002:
It is the essence of motoring truth: no strobe stripes, no phony teardrop racing mirrors, no triple turret taillights. Just finely honed machinery in the simplest steel and glass case. And it works.