Car-Guy Numerology2002 Is Finally Here And BMW Missed The Boat
Automotive enthusiasts around the world are getting all weak in the knees over BMW's launch of the new Mini, a German-designed, retrospectively styled interpretation of a British icon. There is no doubt that the Mini will be hugely successful and may eventually even make money for BMW, something the original Mini probably never did when it was owned by the British. But faithful BMW fanatics around the world have got to be scratching their heads over how the German carmaker could let the year 2002 arrive without making an equally exciting retro-car based on its original BMW 2002 model.
The BMW 2002 was probably the most important automobile BMW ever built. Before its arrival in the mid '60s, the Munich-based manufacturer was known for its boxer-engine motorcycles, a few odd little Isetta microcars and a range of expensive, limited-production sedans. This was a company going nowhere fast.
All of that changed, however, with the introduction of the BMW 1600-2 in 1966. Here was a robust, small two-door sedan with sophisticated independent front and rear suspension and a willing 1.6-liter overhead valve engine. It was something brand-new, and it introduced the world to the idea of a sport sedan. In 1967 BMW introduced the 1600ti, with twin Solex sidedraft carburetors as well as a front anti-roll bar, wider rims and bigger brakes.
But, this hotted-up and highly tuned 1600cc engine had trouble meeting U.S. emissions standards, and another solution was needed. It was found in the 114-bhp 2-liter engine from the company's larger 2000 series cars. This was transplanted into the 1600 chassis and introduced as the 2002 in 1968. The larger engine was all that was needed to turn the little BMW into a giant-killer, and a legend was born. The car sold very well and propelled BMW into the upper echelon of performance car manufacturers.
Most American enthusiasts probably first learned about the BMW 2002 in a 1968 issue of Car and Driver. David E. Davis, Jr. wrote one of automotive journalism's definitive car reviews when he penned "Turn your Hymnals to 2002," extolling the virtues of the newly introduced model. Read today, his review is filled with charming late-1960s references to squares and LSD and shag carpets, but the thing that is most clear is that Mr. Davis felt the little BMW was truly special. In many ways that one story was a defining moment for BMW in America, car journalism in general and automotive enthusiasts everywhere. Current owners of classic old BMW 2002s still sleep with a copy under their pillows.
Davis described the car this way: "To my way of thinking, the 2002 is one of modern civilization's all-time best ways to get somewhere sitting down." Later in his story he went on describe future BMW buyers as "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." That pretty well described the BMW buyer of the 1970s. It wasn't until the 1980s and '90s that BMW went after a different type of buyer, going upscale to compete with the offerings from Mercedes-Benz.
What was so good about the 2002?Remember, at the time it was introduced performance cars were either anemic British sports cars that were cramped, drafty, slow and unreliable, or huge V8-powered muscle cars that were fast in a straight line but limited in their cornering abilities. Fast, nimble and agile, the BMW 2002 sedan could outhandle sports cars and give everything but the most ferocious muscle cars a good run away from a stoplight. The only thing that came close to the BMW's performance was an Alfa Romeo, and they were both thin on the ground and even less reliable than the British cars. Best of all, the 2002 could do all of this with a spacious and comfortable cabin that had room for four with their entire complement of luggage. It was boxy with lots of glass area, almost the antithesis of the swoopy space needle styling that other companies were associating with performance.
Although the first 2002 models came with a single downdraft Solex carburetor, BMW was quick to provide quicker versions. The top of the heap was the 2002tii with mechanical fuel injection. These cars would produce 140 gross horsepower (about 125 of today's SAE horsepower) and had numerous suspension and brake upgrades. The tii stood for "touring international injection." The 2002tii was introduced in the U.S. in 1972 and offered real performance, both on the street and on the race track.