2002 REDO: Building a New BMW 2002

This article was first published in our January 2007 edition of Classic Motorsport. Some information or prices may be different.

The last BMW 2002 came down the assembly line about 30 years ago, ending an important chapter in the manufacturer’s history. However, thanks to the magic of new old stock parts as well as the wrenching skills of BMW’s Mobile Tradition heritage department, we just drove a brand-new example.

Most car makers don’t spend a lot of time building their discontinued models, but BMW wanted to prove something: More than 90 percent of the parts that make up their 2002 are still available through their official channels. The look may be classic, but technically this car is only a few months old.

Looking Back to Go Forward

When the 2002 came out for the 1968 model year, BMW was still a struggling German car maker trying to figure out what it could do best. The company produced a string of beautiful but unsuccessful big cars in the early `50s, followed by a strange tangent of microcars during the latter half of the decade that admittedly saved the company from a Mercedes-Benz buyout. BMW finally started to gain steam with their 1600 models.

Released about halfway through the `60s, the 1600 models featured the now-legendary BMW looks along with an airy, near-perfect cabin. Unfortunately, BMW’s 1573cc four-cylinder engines weren’t powerful enough for American tastes, and the cars weren’t too successful in the U.S. A much-needed boost in sales came only after BWW followed the advice of U.S. importer Max Hoffman and fitted the boxy little Bavarian with a larger 2.0-liter engine.

The 2002 was a smash hit that helped pave the way for the huge sales and strong reputation that ultimately followed for the company. This model put BMW on the map with American enthusiasts, and today many still cherish the 2002 because the cars work so well as daily drivers, vintage racers or weekend cruisers.

Rewriting History

Above, BMW recently built this 2002 from scratch, using a glass shop so all the world could see.

While some car companies seem to abandon owners as soon as a new model is released, that’s not the case with BMW. Their Mobile Tradition supplies parts for models that have been out of production for at least 15 years.

Need a speedometer for a 507 or some chrome for an Isetta? They have it. The Mobile Tradition catalog is available on CD-ROM through BMW dealers under part number 72 00 0 301 255. The catalog can also be downloaded at here. Specialty houses like Maximillian Importing Company (phone 800-950-2002) also supply Mobile Tradition parts.

In an effort to showcase this line of parts, BMW recently built one of their most iconic models from scratch using their own supply of bits. This 1973 2002tii was built by master mechanic Arthur Herrmann and Klaus Kutscher, head of the BMW Mobile Tradition workshop. Their workspace was a specially constructed glass-walled shop located next to the Munich’s Olympic Tower. During an 11-month period that started in May 2005, thousands of visitors watched their progress.

The pair started with a brand-new body in white that had been found at a European dealership. When the final wrench was turned, 91 percent of the car’s components came from the Mobile Tradition catalog. The remainder mostly included driveline parts that had to be sourced and rebuilt.

Entering a Time Machine

The well-lit interior of the fish-tank shop near BMW HQ in Germany allowed passersby to witness the piece-by-piece birth of a new 2002. 

So, what would an essentially brand-new BMW 2002 be like to drive? After more than 30 years, would it still be clear why America—and the rest of the world—fell in love?

To just sit in a BMW 2002 is to begin to see and feel the attraction. While certainly Spartan, and perhaps even crude by today’s standards, the car’s layout, from the way the doors open and the windows wind down, to the modern, airy way the cabin feels, makes a statement.

Copied by so many, this car represents the beginnings of modern ergonomics. Nothing is in the wrong place. The now-legendary binnacle holds the tachometer, speedometer, fuel and temp gauges. The dash is low, but padded for safety. Visibility is perfect with no blind spots. Everything in the cabin, from the basket-weave seat upholstery to the optional leather-wrapped steering wheel and the perfectly placed shift lever, reeks of efficiency and quality, although certainly not of luxury.

The 130-horsepower Kugelfischer mechanically fuel-injected engine starts instantly and purrs like a modern engine. The shifter is stubborn, as the odometer had only clicked off about 1500 miles before our test drive. Once in gear, the clutch takes up smartly and everything feels like a brand-new car. No squeaks, no rattles and essentially no imperfections ruined the experience.

Once underway, about the only way we could tell that this was not a new car was by the wind noise. All old cars, no matter their age, seem to have some. It wasn’t until about 15 years ago that engineers effectively eradicated this problem.

Out on the road, the new-car feel continues. While not alarming, the 2002tii engine pulls with certainty. The only letdown here is the characteristic harmonic vibration that all ’02 engines have at about 4000 rpm, no matter how new they are.

The disc front/drum rear brake combination is confidence inspiring. The car handles well, despite its smallish, original 13-inch wheels and tires. Even when we took the car to a large deserted parking lot and tried to unhinge it, there was no drama.

Like the Weebles we all played with as kids, the 2002 wobbles on its soft-ish stock suspension—but it just won’t fall down. The handling is quite progressive, with a neutral handling balance usually not found in a modern car.

Reigniting an Old Flame

It only took us a few minutes behind the wheel to remember what made this car a legend and why it was so important for BMW. The overall feel is not only that of a new car, but of a great new car. The combination of practicality, quality and performance was just what the struggling company needed to launch it well into the next century.

Our only wish is that BMW would reintroduce a car this simple and light with a price tag under $30,000. If they did, they would have another huge hit, just as they did with the 2002.

Know the 2002

The 2002 not only introduced the American masses to BMW, but it was also one of the iconic sport sedans of the period. Here’s a quick history of the model’s U.S. presence:

  • 1966: The two-door BMW 1600 is released. It looks much like the later 2002, but its 1573cc engine makes 85 DIN horsepower.
  • 1968: A 1990cc engine producing 100 DIN horsepower turns the 1600 into the 2002. American enthusiasts quickly take notice.
  • 1971: The fuel-injected 2002tii joins the standard 2002 model in dealer showrooms. Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection helps bump up horsepower by 30 percent.
  • 1974: For 1974, the 2002 gets a small face-lift, with square tail lamps replacing the earlier round ones. The bumpers get bigger and heavier, too. The tii is short-lived, as BMW drops it from the U.S. market after the 1974 model year.
  • 1976: After nine years of production, this is the last year for the 2002. The 320i is launched for 1977 as the 3 Series cars have arrived.
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