Type to search

Tags: , ,

Retro Review: BMW 2002

The legendary 2002 redefined what it meant to carry the BMW badge.

The Penultimate Driving Machine

1968 BMW 2002 - netcarshow.com
1968 BMW 2002 - netcarshow.com

Context is important for understanding history. Today, turbochargers can be found in everything from econo-box crossovers like the Ford EcoSport to performance monsters like the Mercedes AMG GT. But back in the mid-1970s, turbocharging was still nascent a technology in production cars. Similarly, in the muscle car heyday of the late 1960s, performance cars in the US were defined mostly by raw horsepower and straight-line speed. For both performance generally and turbocharging specifically, the BMW 2002 revolutionized expectations and helped usher in a new era for Bavarian Motor Works.

The 02-Series began a decades-long evolution of BMW performance cars as the direct precursor to the legendary BMW 3-Series (the definitive “Ultimate Driving Machine”). The 2002 was indeed like nothing else on the road when it debuted in the US in 1968. So engaging and original was its execution, the 2002 drew effusive praise from David E. Davis in a now famous article for Car & Driver. In it, Davis gushes over the revelatory new Bavarian wünder car as a refreshing, athletic alternative to the current crop of Detroit muscle. Buying almost anything else would be a mistake. Davis’ writing borders on the evangelical, such was the inspirational qualities of the 2002.

From 1602 to 2002

1966 BMW 1600-2 - press.bmwgroup.com
1966 BMW 1600-2 - press.bmwgroup.com

The origins of the BMW 2002 begin with the BMW 1600. Debuting in 1966, the BMW 1600-2 (-2 to indicate the two-door design) was intended as a compact and affordable alternative to the then current Neue Klasse (New Class) BMW sedans. True to its name, the 1600 came with a 1.6L inline four-cylinder engine making an earth shattering 84 horsepower. The dual-carbureted 1600ti followed up in 1967 but was unable to pass US emissions regulations for importation.

Despite the small engine, the 1600 was a great driver’s car. With MacPherson struts in front and an independent rear suspension, the 1600 was a joy on curvy roads. So engaging was the car that two BMW executives felt it deserved more power. Alex von Falkenhaus, the engineer credited with designing the M10 engine, descried to drop a 2.0L version of the M10 into his 1600. Unbeknownst to him, BMW’s product planning director Helmut Werner Bönsch had done the exact same thing. The two discovered their mutual intuition when both cars happened to be in for service at the same time. Together, the pair lobbied BMW to grace the 1600 with a larger engine.

1966 BMW 1600-2 - press.bmwgroup.com
1966 BMW 1600-2 - press.bmwgroup.com

Luckily, Max Hoffman, US importer of all things awesome in European motoring, had already been suggesting the same move to BMW, seeing the 1600 as ripe for the US market so long as displacement was increased. BMW rightly saw the opportunity before them and released the 2002 in 1968, complete with 2.0L four-cylinder making 100 horsepower.

Evolutions of the 2002

1972 BMW 2002tii - netcarshow.com
1972 BMW 2002tii - netcarshow.com

The BMW 2002 would see a successful run from 1968 through 1976. In that time, the car stayed fairly true to its original concept, with one historically significant upgrade along the way. In 1969, a three-speed automatic was added as an optional alternative to the standard four-speed manual. The early 2002ti, like the 1600ti, featured a dual carburetor and also failed to meet US emission standards. Thankfully, the 2002 and its single carb was able to meet the mark. The 2002tii side stepped the issue entirely in 1971 with the introduction of direct injection. The change upped output to a healthy 130 horsepower, but despite the increased performance, only the subtle tii addendum to the 2002’s badging noted the difference.

RECOMMENDED:
Cool Car Spotlight: 1953 BMW 327
1972 BMW 2002tii - netcarshow.com
1972 BMW 2002tii - netcarshow.com

In 1974, the 2002 got a visual overhaul with changes to the front and rear bumpers, new square taillights, and interior changes that included new upholstery and faux-wood paneling. Also in 1974, turbocharging came to the 2002, which we’ll expand on below. The 2002tii was dropped in 1975 as was the all-too-short-lived turbo, though new seats were added. The 1976 would be the final model year for the 2002, succeeded by the 320i (the first 3-Series).

Turbocharging the 2002

1973 BMW 2002 turbo - bmw-m.com
1973 BMW 2002 turbo - bmw-m.com

The BMW 2002 Turbo is a legend among BMWs. Arriving in 1974, the 2002 Turbo was BMW’s first turbocharged production car and Europe’s first too. Forced induction added significant power. Kicking in at 4,000 rpm, turbocharging upped the 2002’s output to 170 horsepower and 181 lb.-ft. of torque.

Unlike prior updates, the 2002 Turbo received visual updates to coincide with the changes under the hood. The now signature dark blue, light blue, and red BMW tri-color striping ran the length of the car. The wheel arches were accentuated, accommodating wider wheels.

1973 BMW 2002 turbo - bmw-m.com
1973 BMW 2002 turbo - bmw-m.com

Sadly, the 2002 Turbo wouldn’t make it to the US and only lasted through a year of production before getting the ax. Just 1,672 examples were built, making it among the most collectable BMW models of all time.

Bad Guy Chic

1972 BMW 2002tii - netcarshow.com
1972 BMW 2002tii - netcarshow.com

What do the BMW 2002 and the Ford V8 have in common? Aside from being swift coupes of their respective eras. Well, just as the Ford V8 became a favorite of 1930s bank robbers like John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde, the BMW 2002 happened to be the preferred getaway car of West German left-wing terrorists known as the Baader-Meinhof Group. So frequent was their use of the swift 2002 that German police took to making roadblocks to stop all passing BMWs. The connection to the widely publicized Baader-Meinhof Group lent a connotation of rebellion and danger to the 2002.

Beyond police chases and turbocharging, the BMW 2002’s legacy was redirecting BMW toward well-made, performance-oriented cars that still retained their daily driving practicality. There’s a good reason the BMW 2002 made our list of the best BMWs of all time.

Related Review Articles

2022 Volkswagen Tiguan: Fresh-Faced

2021 Dodge Durango Review

2022 Ford Maverick: The Hybrid Pickup

Tags:
Chris Kaiser

With two decades of writing experience and five years of creating advertising materials for car dealerships across the U.S., Chris Kaiser explores and documents the car world’s latest innovations, unique subcultures, and era-defining classics. Armed with a Master's Degree in English from the University of South Dakota, Chris left an academic career to return to writing full-time. He is passionate about covering all aspects of the continuing evolution of personal transportation, but he specializes in automotive history, industry news, and car buying advice.

  • 1

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share
Tweet
Pin