Nearly every sports car enthusiast over 50 seems to have a 2002 story.
Invariably, these end with "we drove it until the fenders rusted off"

A favorite of enthusiasts from day one, the BMW 2002 was described by David E. Davis, Jr. in Car and Driver as "the best way to get somewhere sitting down." The 2002 is in large part the reason why BMW enjoys the reputation that it does today. It made people forget the embarrassing Isetta and set the stage for other serious driver's cars such as the M3.
Like the Porsche Speedster of the previous decade, the 2002 was the idea of legendary importer Max Hoffman. When the twin-carb BMW 1602 could not be emissions certified, he suggested stuffing the two-liter motor from the BMW "new class" sedans into the smaller 1602 body and the 2002 was born.
At a time when other cars were becoming increasingly strangled by emissions regulations, the 2002 shone. In its worst years, it still had nearly 100 net horsepower. The 2002 tii (the "S" or "Veloce" of the 2002 range) was even better. Introduced for the 1972 model year, the tii boasted bigger brakes, stiffer suspension and a Kugelfischer mechanical injection system that bumped horsepower up to a rated 140, making it capable of running with far more expensive cars (including BMW's own 2800CS), both in a straight line and around corners.
There were plenty of other variants of the 2002. Baur built a number of soft window targa-style cars and some true cabriolets. The factory also produced a hatchback "Touring" model and some very fast turbos that appeared just in time for the first fuel crunch. All of these variants are uncommon in the U.S.
As a two-double-O-two owner, I am amazed by the "made of one piece" feeling my car has, one not found in any of the British cars that I have owned. I can now understand why contemporary road testers hoped that such long-in-the-tooth sports cars like the TR6 and MGB would be updated with underpinnings similar to those found in the 2002. Were they pining for a Z3 25 years too early?
With "H" rated 185/70-13 Yokohamas (165/13s were stock) and their tall sidewalls, the ride on my car is compliant; however, there is still more than enough grip to have fun. Its unassisted steering is light and communicative and makes the 2002 eminently tossable, although not without a fair amount of body lean. The car begs for an almost Italian driving style, bordering on the illegal.
The brakes are adequate and the gearbox and clutch are terrific, although having the fifth cog-rarely seen in the U.S.-is a real plus. Visibility is excellent, though a sunroof is a desirable option because the ventilation is poor.
While not as smooth as today's balance-shafted, ultra-isolated fours, the two-liter BMW unit is willing enough up to its 6,000-rpm redline. I love the way the firing order is imprinted in the giant cast-aluminum valve cover, which gives things a serious look under the front-hinged clamshell hood. From this vantage point, the tii looks much more exotic than the single Solex-equipped standard cars. Outside, a badge is the only giveaway.
Among 2002 geeks, there is much contention as to what years are the best. Most seem to prefer the early cars with round taillights, small bumpers and '60s-style interiors. Having looked at my share of these cars with twisted bumpers and dinged stainless trim in front, I'd think twice about dismissing the post-'73s and their more robust bumpers. This is certainly not an issue as serious as the chrome bumper vs. rubber bumper thing with MGBs. But frankly, I happen to like the rectangular taillights because they integrate better with the 2002's overall boxy design.
Since the newest 2002s are now approaching 30 years old, expect the usual age-related issues. Chief among them is rust. Given its druthers, a 2002 will turn into a heap of iron oxide with the same alacrity it demonstrates while turning into a decreasing radius corner. Shock towers, spare tire wells, and inner and outer fenders are all fair game. Do yourself a favor and confine your 2002 search to dry Western states.
Interior pieces are also wear-prone. Thus, an uncracked dash is rare and desirable. Drivetrains are robust and if they're cared for properly they should last around 150,000 miles before serious attention is needed. Cooling systems, however, were always marginal, so higher capacity radiators and electric fans are advisable.
As with most cult cars, parts support is excellent. BMW has even gotten into the act with its "Mobile Tradition" division. As a result, my local dealer has had access to whatever I've needed at surprisingly reasonable prices. One thing I didn't realize when I purchased my '76 2002 on something of a whim was how iconic it really is. Nearly everybody over 50 seems to have a 2002 story. Invariably, these end with "we drove it until the fenders rusted off," which probably means until around the end of the Carter administration.
Collectibility is a tough call. With the exception of the 507, post-war BMWs don't seem to fare well in this regard. Witness the M1, the magnificent 3.0 CSi and the lightweight CSL-all snoozing in the backwaters of the collector car world. I realize a number of people have singled the 2002 out as an up-and-comer. Nevertheless, the reason to buy a 2002 is not for appreciation, but to drive the hell out of it.
The one to have would be a tii in a period color like Inka Orange or Polo Yellow with a sunroof, but the great thing about 2002s is that BMW didn't build any bad ones. Buy one because it's a practical old car with a back seat, style and abilities not inconsistent with its huge reputation. Or because, like me, you've been priced out of the early 911 or Alfa GTV markets.

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