If there was one car that did the most to cement BMW’s reputation in North America, it was the 2002.
Actually, scratch that. There is one car that made BMW’s reputation, and it’s the pretty-much-legendary 2002. This still-affordable and very plentiful 2-door sport sedan transformed staid BMW into an affordable performance brand.
The 2002 family tree
The roots of the 2002 go back to the early 1960s, when BMW was struggling. For 1962, the company produced a compact 4-door sedan called the “New Class” that came with a 4-cylinder engine, departing from BMW’s traditional V8 luxury cars. If you saw a New Class, your first thought would be, “Hey, someone grafted two more doors onto an early 2002.”
Starting in 1966, BMW unveiled a new 2-door sedan based on the New Class design. It was nine inches shorter overall, and two inches shorter in wheelbase. It was also a lot lighter. In poetic German fashion, the car was called a 1600-02, reflecting the engine size and number of doors. BMW later collapsed the name to 1602.
The 1,573-cc SOHC engine in the 1600-02 had a single Solex carb and made 84 horsepower, which wasn’t bad for the 2,070-pound curb weight and $2,497 price tag. Theoretically, you could also get a convertible 1602 or the 1600ti, with two Solexes, high compression, and 105 horsepower.
Cocktail party know-it-all fact: ti stands for Touring International. Few of the 1600ti and perhaps none of the cabriolets were formally imported into the United States, but there are some around. BMW produced a total of 277,320 units of the 1600-02 through 1970 and exported quite a few to the U.S.
The basic 2002
The first 2002 arrived for the 1968 model year, sporting a 2.0-liter SOHC engine with a single Solex carb. That powerplant was good for 114 SAE horsepower (100 DIN) and 115 ft-lb of torque, carried to the rear wheels through a 4-speed manual gearbox or an optional 3-speed automatic.
Like the 1602, the 2002 had MacPherson struts up front, independent coil-spring rear suspension, front disc brakes, and rear drums.
The 2002 appealed to American buyers from the beginning. The car sold for about $2,850, and contemporary reviewers raved about the little BMW. No less a figure than David E. Davis wrote a rave revue in the April 1968 issue of Car and Driver.
“BMW buyers will — I suspect — have to be pretty well-adjusted enthusiasts who want a good car, people with the sense of humor to enjoy its giant-killing performance and the taste to appreciate its mechanical excellence,” Davis wrote.
Google the article and read it yourself; you’ll enjoy it.
The ti, tii, and turbo
As with the 1602 ti, a 2002 ti is a twin-carb model good for about 135 horsepower. However, because of smog regulations, these were never officially imported into the U.S. You can still find a few gray-market examples, of course.
The big noise has always been the 2002 tii (Touring International, Injected). This model used a Kugelfischer mechanical fuel-injection system, but also included engine upgrades, such as 10.3:1 compression and bigger intake valves, to make 140 horsepower. But that wasn’t all, because tii buyers also got bigger and better brakes, upgraded suspension and wider wheels.
The 2002 tii was available from 1972 through 1974 only, with the 1974 models also sporting the new block-style taillights. In 1972, the 2002 tii cost $4,286. To compare, the cheapest 1972 Porsche 911 was $7,250 with 157 horsepower.
The 2002 Turbo was the brainchild of Bob Lutz, who was at BMW at the time. This model was a boosted 2002 tii with 170 horsepower. The 2002 Turbo was built to impress the driver and everyone else on the road. It even had the word “Turbo” in reverse on the chin spoiler, so the hapless Gremlin owner you were about to pass on the right would be aware of his tragic impotence as you blew his doors off.
However, the 2002 Turbo had the bad fortune to hit the market just in time for the 1973 energy crisis, so only 1,672 were ever made.
Collecting a 2002
1976 was the last year for the 2002. In its final year, it was the best-selling BMW in the brand’s lineup, paving the way for the success of the 3-Series that continues to this day.
BMW also made several different flavors of the 2002 that were never imported, such as the fastback coupes, Baur cabriolets and those aforementioned convertibles and ti models. Some of those have migrated over, but the bulk of the examples in America are U.S.-spec 2002 or 2002 tii models.
Prices are well within the “Affordable Classic” envelope. With a total of 339,084 made — plus 277,320 of the 1602 — these peppy little sedans will never be rare. The SCM Pocket Price Guide lists a median price for a 1602 at $13,500, and the early 2002 through 1971 at $24,000.
Prices drop dramatically once the 2002 tii arrives, with 1972–73 2002s going for a $10,500 median, and the final 1974–76 carbureted cars at $9,000. The 2002 tii trades around $33,000, and the rare Turbo models get a big boost up to a median of $132,000.
Things to look for when buying a 2002 are predictable.
In addition to general condition, rust is the killer. Besides the usual spots in the floors, rocker panels, door bottoms and wheelwells, check for rust on all four shock-absorber towers, but look especially carefully at the rear towers. If these are going or gone, the damage will probably be too expensive to replace.
The great thing about a 2002 at this time is that there’s no doubt it’s a respectable classic, and you can get one for the price of a used Kia. Repair and maintenance costs won’t eat you alive, and you’re still getting great performance behind a BMW badge. What’s not to like? ♦