Disco Inferno

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Written by David S. Wallens

From the Jan. 2016 issue

Posted in Features

Ben Miller was simply looking for a first-year BMW 2002tii originally painted a rather eye-scorching, ’70s-defining, factory shade of yellow inexplicably called Golf. Only after fully consummating the deal did he find out what he’d really purchased: one of the few examples fully massaged by BMW tuning house Alpina.

It may look like most any other early 2002 with a Day- Glo paint job, but closer inspection reveals that this 1972 BMW received just about every possible Alpina upgrade, from a five-speed gearbox and quick-ratio steering box to a fuel-injection setup sporting individual throttle bodies. Its 2.0-liter engine makes nearly as much power as the one fitted inside the famed 2002 Turbo.

Don’t mistake Ben for your causal 2002 enthusiast, though. He owns 2002 AD, a BMW 2002 restoration house, and already has just about every possible variant of the model.

Alpina: Added Speed

The 1960s were a transitional time for BMW, as their home market finally desired something more than the basic bubble cars that defined the postwar period. BMW’s answer was the Neue Klasse line of sedans and coupes–thoroughly modern machines that had a sporting flair.

BMW unveiled these Neue Klasse cars with the 1962 release of the 1500, a sedan that sported pretty lines and a great chassis. Its 1500cc engine wasn’t exactly a screamer, though, delivering only 80 horsepower. BMW righted that issue the following year with the 1800. Those additional 300cc tacked on a much-needed 10 horsepower.

German gearhead Burkard Bovensiepen saw the overshadowed 1500 as an opportunity, developing a twin-Weber intake setup that delivered the performance of the bigger engine to the earlier car. BMW engineers tested the kit and found no downside. The automaker responded by giving the aftermarket carburetor setup their blessing.

Burkard began to develop more BMW speed parts in an outbuilding on the grounds of his father’s typewriter factory. The name of his dad’s company? Alpina. By 1965, Alpina had become a recognized supplier of BMW performance parts, and those carburetor kits and other bolt-ons led to BMW race cars fully prepped by the company.

“This is an Alpina street car,” Ben explains of his find. Where the 3.0CSL was the homologated, street-legal version of the Alpina-designed BMW 3.0CSL wide-body race cars, Ben scored the street version of Alpina’s iconic black-andorange 2002 race cars.

Based on the number of 2002 engines built by Alpina, Ben figures no more than 274 such cars ever existed. His 1972 example wears most of the other Alpina parts offered for the 2002 even the special Alpina gauge package, Alpina-badged Momo Prototipo steering wheel, and wider-than-stock steel wheels graced with Alpina center caps.

“Alpina was not a car manufacturer until 1983,” Ben explains. “People bought parts from Alpina and either installed them themselves, took their cars to Alpina to have their parts installed for them, or Alpina would supply a fully modified new vehicle to them.”

Today’s Alpina, still headed by Burkard Bovensiepen and his family, offers performance-tuned BMWs, some as close as your local BMW dealer, as well as performance parts for the entire line. Since the company’s founding half a century ago, it has remained faithful to that one German marque.

Rust in Peace

The Alpina modifications on this 2002 model may be subtle, but the rust isn’t. Before Ben purchased the car, it spent 36 years sitting in a parking lot in Japan. There was one small hurdle to clear before he could ship it stateside. “I had to pay a few thousand dollars in storage fees to the owner of the parking lot before they would let it be moved,” Ben explains.

From there, the 2002 was basically cargo. “I had to have it towed to the dock, lashed inside a shipping container, put on a boat, and shipped to the port of L.A.,” Ben recalls. “The container was loaded onto a truck and brought to my shop, where we borrowed a loading dock from a neighbor to unload the container.”

Despite sitting still for three dozen years, the car was rehabilitated and returned to the road quickly. Ben had to completely overhaul the cooling and brake systems as well as add fresh fluids and tires. The trunk harbored the biggest surprise of the repair process, however: the mummified remains of a large bird.

This Alpina-tuned 2002 made its big public debut at this past summer’s Legends of the Autobahn, the big BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz show held in Monterey. The car will be back in 2016, Ben says, although its condition won’t be the same.

“I have already taken the car completely apart and am having it media-blasted now in preparation for a full restoration this winter,” he explains. “It will be finished in time to be shown again at Monterey.”

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Reader comments:

bearmtnmartin
Jan. 15, 2016 2:33 p.m.

Where is the burning landrover?

TonyCarlos
May 6, 2016 10:42 a.m.

Sweet engine bay. Nothing as cool as those old mechanical injection systems.

Adrian_Thompson
Adrian_Thompson UltimaDork
May 6, 2016 11:03 a.m.
bearmtnmartin wrote: Where is the burning landrover?

That's what I came here expecting. Truth in advertising and all that.

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