In the dictionary, next to the definition of sport sedan, you're quite likely to see a photo of a BMW 1602 or a 2002, a car known internally as the Type 114. Manufactured in many variations from 1966 through 1976, it helped re-establish then re-define the marque.
BMW was recovering from the devastation of World War II. Although the Count Albrecht Goertz-designed 507 is universally admired, it wasn't a sales success (254 were built between 1956 and 1959). Nor were the big V8-powered 502 sedans offered from 1954 to 1961. For a German sports car or luxury sedan, buyers looked to Stuttgart, not Munich. Where BMW enjoyed a degree of success was with low-priced, three-wheeled micro-cars, the Isetta 250/300/600, produced under license from Renzo Rivolta. These were powered by 250-, 300- and 600cc four-stroke BMW motorcycle engines.
The Isetta bought time for BMW to develop new models. Time that BMW used wisely, designing the car that would ultimately save the company: the 1500 sedan introduced at the 1961 Frankfurt Auto Show. These sporting four-door sedans, dubbed the 'New Class,' were first powered by a 1.5-liter sohc four and presaged the two-door 1602s that would follow. Later, more powerful 1.8-liter and 2.0-liter fours would make these cars true sport sedans, laying the foundation of performance heritage that created the BMW legend.
My high school tennis coach had a Type 114. I didn't realize it at the time, but he was on the automotive cutting-edge. In an era when gas-gulping Impalas and Galaxies ruled the road, his 1602 was like a breath of fresh air. With its airy greenhouse and spacious interior, it was comfortable and sporty. But for most Americans, the 1602 seemed underpowered. This was addressed about a year later with the introduction (in February 1968) of the 2.0-liter 2002-at the behest of American importer, Max Hoffman.
The 2002 would make BMW in America, offering an almost-perfect balance of handling and acceleration matched to a sense of style that endures today. During its production, the exterior was marred by the addition of federally mandated 5-mph bumpers, but this was more than offset by the introduction of Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, which transformed the 2002ti into the 130-bhp 1971 2002tii. In 1977, BMW raised the bar again, introducing the 3 Series 320. As the 2002 gracefully receded into history, the company went from strength to strength.
In the European car world, the Type 114 is the Tri-Five Chevy of BMWs; over the years many have been restored, but even more have been modified in ways that one can't imagine. While purists scoff at some upgrades, you have to tip your hat to the creativity of some owners. Go to enough BMW shows and you'll see some truly striking 2002 examples of that have been updated to modern specs. One example I came across sported a carbon fiber body with a first-generation M3 motor, combining the elegantly simple look of a vintage lightweight 2002 with tire-melting performance.
The enduring legacy of the 1602/2002 was consolidated by BMW's recent reconstruction of a 'new' 1973 2002tii, featuring 90 percent new parts currently available from BMW Mobile Tradition. More importantly, it shows that BMW values its heritage and continues to pay homage to the car that has come to define the brand in the hearts and minds of many fans. If any car deserves to be called an icon, it's the BMW 1602/2002.