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Family Affair – 1972 BMW 2002

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Text by Jeff Koch; photography by Jeff Koch and Thomas A. DeMauro.

At BMW, evolution is a way of life. Three decades separate the first 2002s and the last of the still-ubiquitous E30-generation 3-series, but over the years (and three generations), the brief has been remarkably constant: small, solid, sporting, and somewhat stately sedans. Front engine, rear-drive, room for four, all-independent suspension, an inline SOHC engine for maximum fun, and a consistent set of values join the Neue Klasse and two generations of 3-series at the hip.

It’s easy to see them as a continual evolution from one to the next over a course of years, but in truth each successive generation gains and loses elements that drivers will enjoy or decry, depending. Their basic personality and function remain the same–only the details change. And, while it’s become clichéd to talk about how a modern car shares DNA with its forebears (particularly when they share little more than a badge or a nameplate), there’s often plenty that can physically interchange between models from generation to generation. (Whether it speaks to the inherent rightness of the original engineering concept, or the accountants put pressure on the engineers to refine existing concepts rather than create new [read: expensive] ones from whole cloth, who can say.)

1972 BMW 2002

A little lower than stock, but not cartoonishly so; the owner was careful to restore the body back to as-new – down to the factory Malaga (maroon) color.

And so we present Roger Benson’s 1972 BMW 2002. One look tells you that Roger’s 2002 is far from stock, but at the same time, it’s fair to say that it is still substantially full of BMW components. However, he didn’t go the high-tech route and squeeze a late-model fuel-injected six under the hood; he went with a more period approach, one that could have been duplicated by anyone in the mid-’80s.

He found the car as a rough customer on the side of the road near his Colonie, New York, home in 2000; it was complete but tired, and needed everything. It was an original-owner car, however, and that added a certain luster to its shabby flanks. “It looked okay and it hadn’t been hit,” Roger tells us by way of explanation, “but it took several years to get it structurally sound.” The body itself required new floors and trunk, and new fenders and quarters were spliced in rather than saving the old steel, but other than necessary repairs, it’s been left largely stock. None of the chrome gingerbread has been shaved, monochromed or molded-in; the bumpers, thin and delicate despite the rubber-tipped over-riders, stay snug to the body’s contours; even the chrome strip that bisects the body at the beltline remains. Other than a comprehensive de-rusting, new fenders and multiple coats of fresh Malaga (maroon) paint applied by pal Brian Ashworth, Roger’s sole body addition was a ’70s-era Kamei chin spoiler.

1972 BMW 2002

The greenhouse looks enormous from this angle; the small bumper and round lamps are hallmarks of early ’02s.

If you’re looking for a blood transfusion, organ transplant or bone-marrow donation, where do you go first? Family. As the owner of a stock Neue Klasse sedan that you’ll be seeing in a future issue, Roger decided to go the modified route–a bold choice, considering how much nice stock ones are fetching on the market these days. But he had his reasons: “Modified cars are so much faster, more fun and more exciting. Fifty percent more horsepower than stock makes a 2002 a pretty interesting car to drive.”

And so, not much in the driveline is stock anymore, though most of it is BMW. With the SOHC M10 four living clear into the E30 generation, there are all sorts of tweaks you can introduce to a 2002; Roger invested in a Metric Mechanic-built 2,233cc M10, fortified with a stroked E30 M3 crank, a reciprocating mass that weighs four pounds less than stock, a hand-ported head that flows more than 20 percent better than stock, an uprated cam and 9.5:1 compression; a thirsty Weber 40-40 downdraft carburetor and a Stahl header all do their part to increase power by roughly 50 percent, to a rated 165 horses. An extra 50 horses doesn’t sound like much these days, but when you’ve only got 100 to start with, the result is significant and demonstrative. And having driven it, we can tell you that it is transformative: eye-widening torque from 2,000 RPM clear through redline, and not as much need to shift as you might think, since there’s plenty of power anywhere in the revs.

1972 BMW 2002

The Metric Mechanic-built 2300 is rated at 165 horsepower, but strapped into a lightweight 2002 feels like a whole lot more. The Weber 40-40 carb and Stahl header add to the ’02’s new urgency.

A shame, because shifting is such a pleasure. Out came the Getrag 242 four-speed that was stock in this particular ’02, and in went a Getrag 245/4, a five-speed with overdrive that appeared in early ’80s 320i models. Aardvark Racing sells an entire five-speed conversion kit for the 2002, including a shortened driveshaft. The rear end from a rare, desirable 1981 320iS (with a 3.70 final drive and a factory-equipped 25 percent limited-slip) bolts right in, and didn’t change things up much from the 2002’s stock 3.64 final drive. The shifter needs no coaxing up and down the pattern, and delivers quick action and just a long-enough throw that you don’t feel like you’re controlling a video game joystick. And on the open road, the .81 overdrive knocks down revs, quells noise, improves fuel economy and helps prolong engine life by reducing final drive to an effective 3.0.

Our family-tradition metaphor falls down with the chassis, as it relies more on non-BMW pieces than anything else in the car: H&R lowering coils, Bilstein shocks, and Ireland Engineering solid anti-roll bars front and rear give a purposeful drop. H&R claims that it only lowers the car an inch and a quarter, but the drop sure looks more significant than that, both in photos and in person. Brakes in front use 10-inch E21 rotors (same diameter as the 2002’s, but the E21 rotors are vented) and mid-1980s vented Volvo 240 front calipers, while nearly two-inch-larger (9.3 inches vs. 11.2 inches) 320i rear drum brakes work out back.

1972 BMW 2002

The one-year-only BMW 320iS donated both its smaller-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a set of ultra-comfortable Recaro chairs, seen here covered to seamlessly match the ’02 interior.

Bigger brakes require bigger wheels, and despite the bionic aftermarket underpinnings, Roger went with a stealthy approach to footwear: cross-lace 14 x 6.5-inch alloys are sourced from an E30, and roll on chunky 185/60 Yokohama radials. They’re far meatier in the wheel openings than the ’02’s stock 13-inchers, but not cartoonishly oversized, and the body hunkers down over them aggressively. The centers are detail-painted black, which gives it a haven’t-I-seen-you-somewhere-before?-maybe-not vibe–though the raised center clearly speaks to their origins.

And the result, once again, is both obvious and positive: this ’02 displays cornering acuity that makes you doubt you’re only on 185/60-series rubber, has sublime chassis control that does away with a stock 2002’s prodigious body lean without punching you in the kidneys over bumps, and brakes that (despite not being any larger in front, where most of the weight transfers while stopping) will halt your progress with alacrity if called upon.

1972 BMW 2002

Inside are all of the traditional 2002 trappings, with a couple of significant changes, most of them (once again) from the 320iS: a tighter steering wheel, and a set of Recaros that have been re-covered in a tan material that matches the rest of the ’02’s trim. “The big plus in the interior was the Recaros,” Roger tells us. “It really made that car a lot more comfortable for me. But the 320iS steering wheel was the right size for the car. Originally, BMW used a bigger wheel, since the 2002 has no power steering. But it was such a big, clunky, old-fashioned wheel…the 320iS wheel was totally comfortable, gives you right leverage when parking, and at the same time, it turns quickly enough when you’re driving at speed.” Roger also added a VDO gauge pod atop the dash, so he can keep an eye on his stroker motor’s critical functions. Indeed, a spin in his ’02 confirms that the transplanted Recaro chairs grip your hips better than just about any OE seat of the 2002’s era, the fat iS wheel is just the right diameter, and you feel ready to tackle the world from this upright little cockpit.

Improving an old car isn’t tough, but often in our experience, modified cars will do individual things well yet fail to gel cohesively as a whole. By using mostly BMW parts and pieces, this 2002 feels factory-fresh, frisky and fettled. Everything a stock 2002 does well–and their popularity suggests that they’re really rather good on their own, thank you–Roger’s gentle alterations, made by picking prime pieces from the BMW family tree, have made it better still.

Type: SOHC inline-four, iron block and aluminum head
Displacement: 2,233cc
Bore x stroke: 93.4mm x 84mm
Compression ratio: 9.5:1
Fuel delivery: Downdraft Weber 40/40 carburetor
Horsepower @ RPM: 165 (est.)
Torque @ RPM: N/A

Type: Getrag 245/4 five-speed manual transmission, all synchromesh
Ratios: 1st – 3.764; 2nd – 2.00; 3rd – 1.33; 4th – 1.00; 5th – 0.81

Front: Independent; H&R lowering springs, Bilstein shocks, Ireland Engineering 23mm anti-roll bar
Rear: H&R lowering springs, Bilstein shocks, Ireland Engineering 20mm anti-roll bar

Brakes Type: 10-inch BMW E21 rotor with Volvo ventilated caliper (front); BMW E21 11.2-inch drum (rear); hydraulic activation

Weights and Measures
Wheelbase: 98.4 inches
Overall length: 166.5 inches
Overall width: 62.6 inches
Overall height: 55.5 inches
Curb weight: 2,073 pounds

This article originally appeared in the January, 2014 issue of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.