Long Live The 2002

Long Live The 2002

by | Nov 16, 1988

It’s been 20 years since the introduc­ tion of the 2002. Oh, I’m not about to go on and on about how the 2002 was the last good car BMW ever built, and the ’73 was the last good 2002. On the contrary, I think the newer cars are vastly better, albeit vastly more ex­ pensive.

But the 2002 was a break-through car, both for BMW and the automo­ bile industry. It was the highest volume car for BMW, by far, up to that point . It defined the term sports sedan. But most importantly, it did almost every­ thing well. It outhandled the sports cars while having a real back seat and trunk. It was a cute little, upright box that went like stink. A sleeper that endeared itself to most everyone who gave it a test drive. The 2002 was the success story that allowed BMW to go from strength to strength in the ensu­ ing years. The 2002 was a landmark.

Now, with the perspective of 20 years, we look back. The 2002 is still loved. It is enjoying a resurgence in racing in Improved Touring. This issue of Zi1ndfolge begins a retrospective on the 2002 . We have reprinted the Car & Driver article by David E. Davis that started it all in this country. Originally published in 1968. (I think), this watershed piece really woke up Ameri­ can  enthusiasts.

The next issue will feature a history of the 2002 by Ken Gross which appeared in the beautiful publication , Automobile Quarterly. The third in­ stallment will be a fine piece on the technical changes to the 2002 over the years. This originally appeared in the BMW CCA Roundel.

After whetting your appetite with history and technical data, the fourth and final installment will help you find a 2002 worthy of a place in your gar­ age. Look forward to a reprint of Tom Nast’s article on the various weak points amongst the years of 2002s. Think of it as Buying Used, Part V.

So look forward to a winter of ’02 overload. The long term Bimmerphille and the most recent convert can find joy in the evergreen 2002.

Turn Your Hymnals to 2002 – David E. Davis, Jr. Blows His Mind On The Latest From BMW

As I sit here, fresh from the elegant embrace of BMW’s new 2002, it occurs to me that something 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 boxes and buy the wrong kind of car. Fools, fools! Terrible, terrible, I say. Why are you blowing your money on this year’s too-new-to-be-true face-lift of the Continental/ Countess / Mara/ Sprite/ Sprint St a t u s Symbol / Sting  Ray / Sex Substitute/ Mainliner / Belair / Newport/ Overkill / Electra / Eldorad o/ Javelin / Toad / GTO/ GTA / GTB/ GTS/ GTX/ Reality Blaster / Variant / Park Lane / Park Ward/ Ward-Heeler/ XK-E/ Dino/ Dud car when you should be buying a BMW 2002, I ask?

Down at the club Piggy Tremalion and Bucko Penoyer and all their twit friends are buying shrieking little 2- seaters with rag tops and skinny wire wheels, unaware that somewhere, some­ day, some guy in a BMW 2002 is going to blow them off so bad that they’ll henceforth leave every stoplight in second gear and never drive on a wind­ ing road again as long as they live.

In the suburbs, Biff Everykid and Kevin Acne and Marvin Sweatsock will press their fathers to buy H 0 Fire­ birds with tachometers mounted  out near  the  horizon   somewhe re  and enough power to light the city of Seat­tle, totally indifferent to the fact that they  could  fit  more  friends  into  a BMW in greater comfort and stop bet­ter and go around corners better and get about 29 times better gas mileage. Mr. and Mrs. America will paste a “Support Your Local Police” sticker on the back bumper of their new T­ Bird and run Old Glory up the radio antenna and never know that for about 2,500 bucks less they could have gotten a car with more leg room, more head room,   more   luggage   space,  good brakes, decent tires, independent rear suspension, a glove box finished like the inside of an expensive overcoat and an ashtray that slides out like  it was on the end of a butler’s arm -not to mention a lot of other good stuff they didn’t even know they could get on an automobile, like doors that fit and seats that don’t make you tired when you sit in them.

So far as I’m concerned, to hell with all of ’em. If they’re content to remain in the automotive dark, let them. I know about the BMW 2002, and I sus­pect enthusiasts will buy as many as those pink-cheeked Bavarians in their leather pants and mountain-climbing shoes would like to build and ship over here. Something between nine and ten million squares will miss out on this neat little 2-door sedan with all the cojones and brio and elan of cars twice its size and four times its price, but some ten thousand keen types will buy them in 1968, so the majority loses for once.

The 2002 is BMW’s way of coping with the smog problem. They couldn’t import their little l 600Ti, because their smog device won’t work on its multi­ carbureted engine. So they stuffed in the smooth quiet 2-liter (single car­ buretor) engine from the large 2000 sedan and – SHAZAM – instant winner!

To my way of thinking, the 2002 is one of modern civilization’s all-time best ways to get somewhere sitting down. It grabs you. You sit in mag­nificently-adjustable  seats  with  great, tall windows all around you. You are comfortable and you can see in every direction. You start it. Willing and un­ lumpy is how it feels. No rough idle, no zappy noises to indicate that the task you propose might be anything more than child’s play for all those 114 Bav­arian superhorses.

Depress the clutch. Easy. Like there was no spring. Snick. First gear. Remove weight of left foot from clutch. Place weight of right foot on accelerator. The minute it starts mov­ing, you know that Fangio and Moss and Tony Brooks and all those other big racing studs retired only because they feared that somed ay you’d have one of these, and when that day came, you’d be indomitable. They were right. You are indomitable.

First stoplight. I blow off aging Plymouth sedan and 6-cylinder Mus­tang. Not worthy of my steel. Too easy.Next time. Big old 6-banger Hea­ ley and ’65 GTO. GTO can’t believe I’m serious, lets me get away before he opens all the holes and comes smoking past with pain and outrage all over his stricken countenance. Nearly hits rear­ end of truck in panicky attempt to reaffirm virility. Austin-Healey a dif­ ferent matter. Tries for all he’s worth, but British engineering know-how and quality-craftsmanship not up to the job. I don’t even shift fast from third to fourth, just to let him feel my utter contempt.

Nobody believes it, until I suck their headlights out. But nobody doubts it, once that nearly-silent, unobtrusive lit­ tle car has disappeared down the road and around the next bend, still accel­erating without a sign of the brake lights. I learn not to tangle with the kids in their big hot Mothers with the 500 horsepower engines unless I can get them into a tight place demanding agility, brakes, and the raw courage that is build into the BMW  driver’s seat as a no-cost extra.

In its unique ability to blend fun­ and-games with no-nonsense virtue, this newest BMW also reflects another traditional  American  article of faith our unshakable belief that we can find and marry a pretty girl who will expertly cook, scrub floors, change diapers, keep the books, and still be the greatest thing since the San Francisco Earthquake in bed. It’s a dream to which we cling eternally, in spite of the fact that nobody can recall it ever hav­ ing come true. But, as if to erase our doubts, along comes an inexpensive little machine from Bavaria that really c a n p e rf o r m t he a u t o m o t i v e equivalent of all those diverse domes­ tic and erotic responsibilities, and hope springs anew.

I’ll be interested to see who those 10,000 owners of the 1968 BMW 2002 actually turn out to be.The twits won’t buy it, because it’s too sensible, too comfortable, too easy to live with. The kids won’t buy it because it doesn’t look like something on its way to a soft moon-landing and it doesn’t have three-billion horsepower. 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 per­ formance and the taste to appreciate its mechanical excellence.

They will not be the kind who buy invisible middle-of-the-line 4-door sedans because that’s what their friends and neighbors buy, nor will they be those pitiful men / boys who buy cars and use them as falsies for fleshing out baggy jockstraps. Good horses don’t like bad riders, and it’s doubtful if the 2002 will attract too many of the timid or confused fantasy-buyers. It’s too real.

That last phrase is kind of a key to the whole BMW bag. It is too real. For a couple of years now, “unreal” has been a big word with the semi-literate savages of hot rodding. It’s supposed to be a high compliment, but it turns out to be an unwittingly incisive com­ment on the whole metal flake-angel hair-Batmobile scene. LSD is a drag, not a drug, for that group. Gurus like George Barris and Ed Roth were blow­ ing their minds on fiberglass and tuck­ and-roll upholstery while the Indians still thought peyote nuts were some­ thing you put on chocolate sundaes.

Let me tell you there’s nothing unreal about the 2002. Give it a coat of pear­ lescent orange paint and surround the pedals with lavender angel hair and it would just naturally die of shame. Like a good sheep dog, it is ill-suited for show competition, only becoming beautiful when it’s doing its job. It is a devoted servant of man, delighted with its lot in life, asking only that it be treated with the respect it deserves. You can’t knock that …

What you like to look for are Tri­umphs and Porsches and such. Them you can slaughter, no matter how hard they try. And they always try. They really believe all that jazz about their hig hly-t u ned  su pe r-s op hist icat ed sports machines, and the first couple of drubbings at the hands of the 2002 make them think they’re off on a bad trip or something. But then they learn the awful truth, and they begin to hang back at traffic signals, pretending that they weren’t really racing at all. Ha! Grovel, Morgan. Slink home with your tail between your legs, MG-B. Hide in the garage when you see a BM W com­ ing. If you have to race with some­ thing, pick a sick kid on an old bicycle. But I don’t want you to get the notion that this is nothing more than a pocket street racer. The BM W 2002 may be the first car in history to suc­ cessfully bridge the gap between the diametrically-opposed automotive re­ quirements of the wildly romantic car nut, on one hand, and the hyperprag­ matic people at Consumer Reports, on the other. Enthusiasts’ cars invariably come off second-best in a CU evalua­ tion, because such high-spirited steeds often tend to be all desire and no protein -more Megdelen than Mom.

Caused to like the VW a lot, back when it was being hailed as the thinking man’s answer to the excess of Detroit, but now that the Beetle has joined Chevrolet at the pinnacle of establishment-acceptance, it’s  falling from CU ‘s favor. But the BMW 2002 is quite another matter. It is still obscure enough to have made no inroads at all with the right-thinking squares of the establishment. It rides like a dream. It has a surprising amount of room inside. It gets great gas mileage. It’s finished, inside and out, like a Mercedes-Benz, but it d oesn’t cost very much. All those qualifications are designed to earn the BM W a permanent place in the Con­ sumer hall of fame. But for the enthu­ siasts -at the same time, and without even stepping into a phone booth to change costume -it goes like bloody hell and handles like the original bear. No doubt about it, the BMW 2002 is bound to get Germany back in the CU charts, t o borrow a phrase from the pop vernacular.

If it wasn’t already German, I’d be tempted to say it could be as American as Mom’s apple pie or Rapp Brown’s carbine. Not American in the same sense as the contemporary domestic car, with all its vast complexity and nouveau riche self-consciousness, but American in the sense of Thomas Edi­ son and a-penny-saved-is-a-penny­ earned and Henry Ford I (before his ego overloaded all the fuses and short­ circuited his mind and conscience). The 2002 mirrors faithfully all those basic tenets of the Puritan ethic on which our Republic was supposedly based. It does everything it’s supposed to d o, and it d oes it with ingenuity, style, and verve.

The Germans have a word for it. The German paper AU TO BILD called the 2002 Flustern Bombe which means “Whispering Bomb,” and you should bear in mind that the German press speaks of bombs, whispering and oth­ erwise, with uniq ue authority. They, too, saw something American in the car’s design concept, but only insofar as BMW had elected to stuff a larger, smoother engine into their smallest vehicle.

But that’s really pure BMW, when you think about it. The current 2000 series started life in 1962 as a 1600, then it became an 1800 and finally a full two-liters -going from 94 to 1 14 horsepower in the process. The current 1600 was introd uced about a year-and­ a-half-ago, and BMW-philes every­ where began to think of that glorious day in the future when the factory would decide to put in the 2-liter engine. Well, sports fans, the glorious day arrived, and the resulting automo­ biles is everything the faithful could have been hoping for.

The engine  cranks  out  114 hp  at 5800 rpm and the way it’s geared itjust seems to wind forever -it’ll actually turn 60 mph in second, and an easy 80 in third. Top speed (which doubles as cruising speed) is a shade over a hun­ dred, and nothing in the chassis, run­ ning  gear, or engine ever gives the impression that it’s being worked too hard.

It’s  like  effortless,  no  kidding.  It could n’t  come  down  the  side  of  a mountain any more gracefully if Gower Chapion choreographed the whole trip. Maybe the neatest part of the whole deal is the fact that the 2002 was origi­ nally  proposed  as a kind  of  second­ choice, American anti-smog version fo the wailing l 600Ti they were selling in Germany, but the second choice ver­ sion  turns  out  to  be  better  than  the original. The 2002 is faster 0-60, and faster  at the top end  as well.  Not  to mention  the fact that  it’s a whole  lot smoother and  quieter.

How they can do all that good stuff and then screw it up with one of those incredible Blaupunkt radios is a little hard to imagine, but that’s what they did. The rule with  Blaupunkt  and Becker seems to be, “The Bigger and More Complicated and Expensive Our Radios Are, The Lousier The Recep­tion.” The 2002 had a lovely-looking AM/ FM affair neatly slipped into its console – easily a hu nd red-and-fifty bucks worth of radio -and I couldn’t pick up a Manhattan station from the far end of the Brooklyn Bridge. Hon­estly. It was maybe the dumbest radio anybod y every stuck in an automobile, like all Blaupunkt and Becker radios, yet the German car makers -for rea­ son unknown -continues to use them. It’s a great mystery. Motorola, Ben­ dix, Delco, and Philco can all sell you fool-proof, first-class radios for about 75 bones – the Japanese can knock one off for about 98 cents – but the German car radio you can buy throws up its hands in despair if you expect it to pull in a station more than three­ quarters of a mile away.

Fortunately, t he BM W is fast enough that you can keep picking up new stations as the old ones fade away. What you really want to do in this case, though, is install a good domestic ste­ reo tape system. Maybe a little kitchen, too. The car is nice enough that you’ll probably want to spend an occasional weekend in it -especially when you’re fighting with your wife, or there’s nothing good on television.

A final word of advice. The crazy­ mad Iittle BM W 2002 is every bit as good as I say it is -maybe better. If the 1600 was the best $2500 sedan CI D ever tested, the 2002 is most certainly the best $2850 sedan in the whole cotton-picking world. Besides, the model-number was increased by 25%, but the price increase for the larger engine only amounted to 14% and if that ain’t a fair deal …

Feel free to test-drive one, but please don’t tell any of those ten million squares who are planning to buy some­ thing else. They deserve whatever they get. Now turn your hymnals to Num­ ber 2002 and we’ll sing two choruses of Whispering Bomb …


This article was originally published in the November 1988 edition of Zundfolge