By on September 2, 2010

There’s a wise old saying that warns not to propose marriage to a woman until you’ve met her mother. What if potential MIL is out of the country for an extended period, and you’re in a hurry? You could do what I did in 1977: look in the garage to see what she drives. There I found a BMW 2002 stashed securely away. And it wasn’t an automatic either. It’s all I needed to know: “Stephanie, will you marry me?”

If the 1979 Firebird Trans Am was a living dinosaur, than what was the little mammalian creature scurrying about underfoot that would eventually take its place, and revolutionize the performance car segment? The answer is indisputably the BMW 2002.

In the US, the original Honda Civic revolutionized the small car, and the 1976 Accord was the most influential modern car, defining the ubiquitous FWD configuration and capabilities for their respective classes. And the little boxy BMW joins them on the podium, creating and defining a class that has largely replaced the muscle cars of yore. And in the process, it no less than vaulted its maker from relative obscurity to the top of the premium car segment? Who in 1966 would have thunk that would happen? Absolutely nobody.

BMW was just barely coming off life support, thanks to the “Neue Klasse” cars that arrived a couple of years earlier. The 1500/1800/2000 sedans (CC here) were leading edge in their configuration, suspension and engine, but no one will accuse them of being beautiful. They were a tad too Germanic: tall, boxy, and a bit dowdy. Just the ticket for Germans who wanted a sporty sedan to haul the whole family with. But that’s not where the action was in the US market; those early four door BMWs were modest sellers here.

BMW’s brilliant move was to spin off a slightly smaller two-door variant, the 1600-02, sometimes referred to as the 1602. And they engaged Michelotti to make the styling a bit less home-baked. Even with all of 85hp (I’m going to use the Euro DIN hp numbers throughout this article because they more closely correspond to today’s SAE net horsepower rating), the lightweight (2000lb) 1600 was a sprightly performer for the times. But it was its fully independent suspension that really made it stand out in the crowd, as well as its all-round balance and poise. Alfa Romeo, whose hot little sedans had defined and practically owned this segment, was one-upped. The 1600 co-opted the lusty sportiness of the Giulia, but with Teutonic engineering and build quality.

The supple yet well controlled suspension was perhaps the single most defining aspect of the 1600/2002. Yes, there were other hot little European sedans to be had, such as the Ford Cortina GT, the Alfas, the Opel Kadett GT 1900, and the Fiat 124, among others. And import drivers had come to appreciate the remarkable capabilities (and quirks) of Mercedes’ and VW’s rear swing axles. But neither of them targeted the sporty sedan market. With the exception of the similarly irs equipped (but less sporty) Peugeot 504, Americans for the most part were uninitiated with its benefits in a sporty sedan. Certainly, the domestics did nothing to further that, except for the Corvair. But rear-engined cars, and their unique little vices were a class unto themselves.

But the little BMW 1600 was the mold from which all modern RWD cars have sprung, and once one experienced its joys, very few if ever went back to chattering, shuddering, stiffly-sprung live rear axles. Detroit’s only formula of how to make cars handle better was with stiffer springs and shocks. Great for a perfectly smooth road or the track; wretched on a bumpy winding road. The BMW broke the pony cars’ thrall with superb handling along with a ride that didn’t break it’s drivers’ backs.

I had a religious experience at the hands of a priest in seventh grade (no, not that kind). A new young priest arrived at Immaculate Contraception in 1966, driving the first 1600 in Towson. As the youngest cleric on the totem pole, he got to oversee the CYO (youth organization). No hanky-panky though; he was cool, bright, and car nut. I got to ride with him to a retreat way out in Northern Baltimore County, and he drove like the very devil himself. I had never experienced someone driving the snot out of a car like this; it was a divine revelation.

The little 1600 had to be spanked hard to fly, but in the right hands it did, although it’s chassis was capable of much more.  BMW was on it. Soon Europeans were relishing the 1600 Ti, a juiced up little bomb, and a foreshadowing of what VW did with its original Euro-only GTI some years later.

But the 1600 Ti’s timing was too advanced, literally, for the US. Smog controls nixed it, but BMW’s brilliant US distributor, Max Hoffman, had the solution: imitate the Americans. Forget high-winding little engines; just drop the bigger 2 liter engine out of the 2000 sedan in the 1600. It was cheaper to build than the 1600Ti, and Americans twist more towards torque than absolute horsepower. The 2002 was conceived in America, and then conquered it.

One hundred horsepower; that’s what the 2002 legend was made with. Later versions undoubtedly had even less. But in 1970 it was good enough for a 9.6 second run from zero to sixty (C/D), the same as a 1975 Trans Am 400. And the bigger four’s torque forgave lazy shifting: this was not a high-strung mill, and peaked at 5800 rpm. Everyone raved about it, and Stephanie’s brother convinced their Mom to spend a major chunk of a small inheritance on hers. This despite the fact she was a single working mom with four kids. Someone had their priorities…on second thought, maybe the 2002 in the garage should have given me pause.

I didn’t get a lot of seat time in her car, but a brisk late-night dash up 395 to Mammoth Mountain was more than enough to leave indelible impressions. The several times I had to rescue MIL because her BMW had overheated in LA traffic are also memorable. The 2002 was not without its faults, overheating being the worst of them. The cramped rear seat was pretty high on the list: this is a tiny car for today’s standards, but the accommodations for the driver were excellent: fine seats, tasteful and high-quality interior appointments compared to Detroit’s cheesy seventies’ bordello-look, and unparalleled visibility. The 2002 was truly the antithesis of the pony cars (and all new cars) when it comes to the drivers position and the unobstructed view out: it’s like riding in a glass box.

The BMW mothership may not have initiated the move to drop the 2 L into the 1600, but they wasted no time in also making the ti version from the sedan and coupe available too. Also banned from the US because of its polluting ways, the 2002 ti sported 120 horses. And it quickly became the GTO of Europe. The final trick was fuel injection, a Kugelfischer unit, that bought power to 130 hp, and made it EPA compliant. Arriving in 1971, the 2002Tii instantly became the hot setup for those in the know. Wider wheels, upgraded suspension, bigger tires, and a hair-trigger response from the gas pedal. Stats don’t really do justice to these cars, but the 2002 Tii clicked of the run to sixty in 8.20 seconds and topped out at an honest 120 mph. Not bad for a brick with a glass box on top of it.

The 2002s initiated a whole generation of drivers in the joys of moderate oversteer. Not the terminal kind, when an ass-heavy rear-engined car no longer can fight the law centrifugal force. The 2002 started out with mild under steer, but transitioned into a happy ass-out attitude that could be sustained and controlled with the throttle, and not something to be feared or vanquished like in a VW.

I could write about the 2002 all day; it was the biggest single boon bestowed on eager drivers in modern history. Evolution has favored the BMW, as  has the cachet the BMW name earned thanks so much to the 2002. And now its successor, hardly recognizable as a direct descendant, outsells all of the pony cars and spawned a host of imitators. Darwin would understand.

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60 Comments on “Curbside Classic: 1972 BMW 2002 Tii – The Second Most Influential Modern Car In America...”

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    In one of the dumber moves of my youth, I passed up a new 1600 in favor of a Mazda RX-2 in 1973 (they were about the same price).  I had moved from DC to Houston with my slightly hot-rodded VW Karmann Ghia.  Despite having grown up in DC without air conditioning in either car or house, Houston’s combination of heat and humidity was more than I could deal with.  The VW not really being amenable to add-on a/c, I went looking for a new car.  The 2002 was out of my price range, but if the 1600 also had overheating issues, perhaps I made the right choice after all.  The Mazda tolerated the add-on a/c unit without complaint.  I recall that the BMW ads of the time touted not only its IRS, but that fact that, unlike the IRS in Mercedes and other cars, it did not use swing axles, but used two joints on each side of the differential so that the tire was not subject to wild camber changes.  This probably had a lot to do with the car’s handling and controllable oversteer.  The 2002 and probably the 1600 could easily humiliate any of the other “sports cars” of the time, with the exception of the Porsche 911 (assuming the Porsche driver kept is “foot in the carburetor” while hustling around curves and didn’t lose his nerve and drop the throttle or — God forbid — use the brakes.

    • 0 avatar

      Speaking of the RX-2…. dying to see a write up of that little beast. Saw millions of those growing up here in jersey.

      BTW: Paul, thanks for the great snaps and write-up– your ‘column’ has quickly become my favorite part of this awesome sight!

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Me too! I’ve been desperate to find either a RX2, 3 or 4. Never say never.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always wondered what different roles the RX2 and RX3 served. From where I’m looking, they seem to be functionally interchangable (notwithstanding the absence of a 4-door version of the RX3).

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the late ’70s, as a high schooler, I owned two successive 1602s followed by a RX-2 so it’s easy to compare.

      The Mazda, by comparison, had duller suspension, steering and brakes. A competent, but uninteresting car. The trans was a much better shifter, and the engine was sensational. Not a ton of torque, but the power would just keep coming. Eerie sensation. But overall, simply not the driver’s car the BMW was. Japan had a ways to go.

      Oh, and the dual point distributor was a secret preemptive revenge for the movie “Gung Ho.”

    • 0 avatar

      My college girlfriend from Santa Barbara had a new  Red ’74 2002 her mother had a Silver  ’74 2002Tii and her father had a new ’74 Porsche 911, they were kind/foolish enough to let me drive all of them.  We went to college in Santa Fe and I drove the red one all the time for two years.
      One day two buddies and I went skiing in the morning and we had to get back to town for a soccer game we were playing in that afternoon. We left late since it was a perfect day for skiing as usual. I set the world record from the ski area to town. 13 minutes.
      It was 13 miles on snowy semi paved mountain roads. At one point we were completely sideways to the road with the car pointing over an abyss that was so deep all you could see out of the front was air, before guard rails, and I was looking down the road through the drivers side window. It was pretty quiet in the car right about then. In fact my buddies were quiet the whole way down that day, nary a whimper.
      No one at the college believed us about the time since it was usually a 30-35 minute drive. Thing is my buddy Marshal, who for some reason was sitting in the middle of the back seat so he could see out the front, he saw a lot that day, was timing it on his new watch. So three people know it was true.
      I had two Tii’s of my own after that and can confirm that all three of them in the right hands could run away from almost anything on the road in those days to the shock of all the other American ‘sports’ cars out there, even the six cylinder Ford Escort. They did have an interesting habit of lifting the inside rear wheel under hard cornering but tricycles are very stable and forgiving. Never had any problems with the brakes that some posters mention but then I didn’t use them much.
      It would fill more pages and time than we have here to tell all the great stories and cross country trips I had in those but the best were in the Red 2002.
      The closest I have come to the sheer exuberance of driving 2002’s since then is my wife’s yellow 2002 MINI Cooper S. Hmm…. both iconic BMW’s, go figure.  Sometimes I am permitted to drive it to go skiing here in the Alps where we live…..she hasn’t heard the earlier stories and I am not telling her because I want to keep driving the MINI and surprising all the ‘sports’ cars I pass.
      Geneva, Switzerland

  • avatar

    “There’s a wise old saying that warns not to propose marriage to a woman until you’ve met her mother.”

    Important corollary:  The woman should also meet the man’s mother, especially if the latter is widowed or divorced!  (Don’t ask me how I know this!)

  • avatar

    Great little car, I would love to see a modern remake of this. Just look at it, the visibility, the simple styling, the compactness. absolutely beautiful. I would like to see this next to a 2010 Ford Taurus and BMW 1 series. just to see how car styling and sizes have changed.

    • 0 avatar

      ’91-94 Nissan Sentra SE-R.   As close as you’ll get.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, and the rear windows flipped open, too! But the “vent” windows were sealed – cheapskates! I long for visibility like that, though.

    • 0 avatar

      Dead on with the SE-R; my father bought one toward the end of 1990 and said it was very close to his long sold 2002.  Of course he also said there were articles in the BMW newsletters about using Ford spares to make repairs cheaper and the HVAC system from a Datsun 510 to get decent airflow.  2002s are the default small coupe nationwide but there should also be some surviving 510s in the west, too.

    • 0 avatar

      Possibly the MazdaSpeed Protege.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a 91 Sentra SE (poor man’s SE-R, modern 1600?)  At any rate, I LOVED that car.  Great shifter, great seats, ergonomics were spot on, the engine loved to rev.  I traded it for an MR-2, and regretted it.  One of the greatest cars I ever owned.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Oh man. Great article. I really wanted buy one of those back when, but, alas, I didn’t have the money. It is the antithesis of everything the modern sedan has become, and that is a tragedy.

  • avatar

    That brings back memories. My mother had an orange 1600 and she loved it – even though it had problems starting on cold days and the engine overheated during the summer.

  • avatar

    Still the best BMW ever. If they made them like this now, I would have one.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Sweet car and I’m mature enough to realize the antithesis of they type of automobile my father raised me to lust after.

  • avatar

    One of my happiest ever driving moments ever was sometime in 1971 on Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains above LA. I had new radials on my ’62 Midget and encountered a 1600 on a nice stretch of empty road in the middle of a sunny day. We had a lot of fun, and I can still hear the tires screeching.

  • avatar

    My roommate bought the non-Tii version of this car back in the early 90s (we’ll leave the attempting to cross a mountain pass in the winter w/o good tires and/or chains story for another time) and it was quite fun to drive once I got used to it.  It was the complete opposite driving experience of the heavy big-block American cars I was used to.  I remember that the turn signal stalk was on the right side of the steering column which took some getting used to.

    I will add that the rear differentials in these cars were undersized and tended to grenade.  Roommate and I drove 200 miles to a Portland wrecking yard to get a replacement, we bought it and (in one of my brighter moments) before leaving for home, decided to open up the cover just to see what we were getting and THAT one was toast as well!  Took it back inside, showed them, they went out and removed another one, we checked that one, good to go.  I got to install it on my birthday too (you’re welcome, Gary!!).

    Oh, and never, ever try to replace the driveshaft u-joints yourself on one of these either.  The yokes are so narrow that it is virtually impossible to remove either the caps or the joint, and once you have the new joints in, there is nothing in the design which allows for centering of the joints, leading to driveline vibrations.  You have to have a setup to center the joint and then stake the caps in place.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you.  Your memory is better than mine except for maybe the getting towed back to North Bend part of the experience. And after all that effort with the differential, u-joints, wheel bearings, etc. (lesson: never buy an ’02 from a guy specializing in light restoration of VW bugs) I switched my allegiance to Alfas at least for 70’s cars–see my reply below.

  • avatar

    Fantastic cars!! I owned 3 of them in the 90s and still keep my eye peeled for clean ones.

  • avatar


    what do one of these (in good nick) fetch nowadays? Is it an affordable classic or not so much??

  • avatar

    I would say the modern iteration of this is the ’91 BMW 318is. Sad that it was a one-year-only car. I’ve had two, they were brilliant!

    There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a well-located live axle. The ride and handling of that aforementioned Alfa Giulia gave up absolutely nothing to a 2002, and the Alfa had the better motor too. I’m not even sure that a 2002 rusted any slower… The 2002 was better looking though.

    And the best of both worlds is the de Dion axle, as found under the back of my Alfa GTV6. All the advantages of both, none of the disadvantages, other than expense.

  • avatar

    I delivered the London Free Press six mornings a week from 1970 – 1973 in a very small Ontario town, and one of my customers had the exact car pictured with this Curbside Classic. The same colour, the same interior and the same badging on the truck lid. How do I remember this? It was my first ever live, in-the-flesh introduction to a BMW. And the memory has stayed with me all this time.

    Where I grew up (southern Ontario) was a bastion of Detroit products, something to do with being right across the river from Detroit itself, and smack-dab in the middle of Ontario production (Windsor, Oakville, Oshawa, etc.), and so my exposure to imports was relatively sparse.

    Oh sure, we had VW’s and Benz’s, with the occasional English car (my mother owned a Riley 1.5 Saloon when I was younger), and even the odd sighting of a Renault or Peugeot, or miracles of miracles, a Citroen DS. But the German cars were either woefully inadequate (VW Beetle) or very expensive (Mercedes Benz), the British cars were rust buckets within hours of landing on the East coast, and French cars, well, they were always sort of odd-duck looking (in the inimitable French style). Japanese manufacturers had only just started making inroads in North America, and Ontario wasn’t a place to see a Toyota or Datsun, not quite yet, anyway.

    The only (up to that time, anyway) European car I lusted after was Volvos – 1800,  544 or 122, and by 1970 we had the 144 of course. And then I saw the BMW 2002 – it was lust at first sight. It looked like it went fast and looked like it had to handle like a race car. And then one lucky morning I talked to the man that owned the car. He was from Germany, and I think he found my drooling over his car amusing, enough so that he took me for several drives. If I was early enough delivering the newspaper, I would catch him coming home from his job in London Ontario, and he would take me for a short jaunt once in a while. Needless to say, I kept trying to catch him coming home!

    It was quieter inside than any domestic car other than Lincolns and Cadillacs, it had a beautiful throaty exhaust (which I later came to call “sexhausty”) and sounded awesome approaching redline. Compared to the sound of a V-8, I’ll take that beautiful high gurling note from the 2002 anyday.

    Thank you Paul, for letting my mind wander all through my lunch. One of my all-time favourite cars, period. If I had some disposable income, this would be second on my list to aquire, after a ’53 or ’54 Kaiser Manhattan Dragon.

  • avatar

    The visibility in these must truly be awesome – note the thinness of the A and C pillars!  I wish modern designs would give as much concern to visibility.

    I hope to drive one of these one day if only to experience the ancestor of my current daily driver.

    Great article, Paul.  Thanks.

  • avatar

    Great write up there Paul,

    I’ve hear many a good thing about these cars, both the 1600 and the 2002 and was’t the BMW 318i an updated variation of that car when it was released in the 70’s? Good friends had the 318i for many years, never got to ride in it or anything but did have to move it from time to time when I house sat for them however and yes, it was a 5spd manual. I still see the 1600/2002 variants plying the streets of Seattle if not parked from time to time.

    As for the Accord, my parents had several, but the first one was a ’76 blue on blue 5spd and as far as we know, it was one of the first ones, if not the first one registered in Tacoma that year. Sadly due to 2 daughters in college at the same time during that time frame and being on a school administrator’s salary, he had to give up the Honda 2 years in so I never got to experience it when it came time to learn how to drive a few years later. :-(

    But I DO want to mention that the Fiat 128 was also a ground breaking car as it predated both the Civic and the Rabbit by about 5 years with it’s ultra modern (for the time) FWD setup as it had full independent suspension, unequal length half shafts, a separate transmission along side the motor and the motor itself was SOHC, very rare and very advanced for 1969 when first introduced, now that basic setup is old hat and rather ubiquitous and mainstream today and I recall one review of it at the time, Popular Mechanics? when they tested a ’72 128 and found it a very nice handling car for the time, oh, the car came with RADIALS, also unheard of for most cars as well at that time and it had a major contribution to the handling and safety of the car, of which Fiat was into promoting even then.

    I know the 124 Spider had a DOHC motor as far back as 1966, independent rear suspension in ’67 instead of the solid axle and leaf springs, the non spider 124 made do with the pushrod motors instead though.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Yes, the 128 was a ground breaking car, but that wasn’t all it broke regularly. It’s reliability rep dampened its impact in the US. But it was extremely influential in Europe.
      Amazingly enough, I ran into one on the street in Eugene a couple of years ago, but before I started CC. Too bad.

    • 0 avatar

      I drove 128s for years here in California, and their reliability was O.K…

      …after you fixed everything that was screwed up by previous mechanics.

      My fav: FIAT spec’d 90W gear oil for these, *no* EP (no “Extreme Pressure” additive). Try to find that here in the U.S. Instead, U.S. mechanics would fill it with 90W-EP, because that’s the only 90W available here. Result: the EP additive would destroy the transaxle bearings.

      FIAT eventually noticed the problem and told their dealers to use 20W-50 engine oil instead, but too late for the brand.

      BTW, it’s splitting hairs, but the 128 rear axle wasn’t truly independent; it had one transverse leaf spring shared by both wheels. Regardless, it was lightweight, robust, and effective; 128s were lots of fun to drive.


    • 0 avatar

      To Paul N,
      What you say about the 128 being not really all that reliable (when one got a bad sample), true, and the rust issues of the times in which this car was made, sad really, as it had potential here, given it’s state of the art technology.
      But the point was, it WAS quite the advanced car for what was sold here at the time and that was primarily why I mentioned it.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      “the 128 rear axle wasn’t truly independent; it had one transverse leaf spring shared by both wheels”
      Haven’t Corvettes used such a system?

    • 0 avatar

      The C2, C3, and C4 Corvettes have a transverse spring that is effectively two separate springs.  One side is isolated from the other and does not affect its position.  It is as independent as it gets.  The C5 and C6 use a design that also acts as an anti-roll bar.  If that is not a true independent suspension, then any suspension with an anti-roll bar is also not a true independent suspension.  An anti-roll bar is a spring too.

  • avatar

    I have never owned a 2002 but have always kind of wanted one.  Not my normal kind of car, but the legendary driving experience mated to a really clean, good looking car with 60s era german build-quality.  What’s not to like?

  • avatar

    one of my mother’s brothers (he’s 70+)has a 1973 Fiat 128.  It’s a stock model, 4 spd., baby yellow and hasn’t seen the outside of the garage since the day he drove it off the dealers’ store front back in ’73.  Won’t even lend it to his daughter!!!!

    I ‘d love to send you pictures but the car is in Mar Del Plata Argentina.
    These little cars have had their suspensions and engines tuned to the bejeezus by the young uns down there but Uncle Jorge’s baby lives in darkness and gets a weeekly shower and polish.   Which reminds me…… I wonder what he wants for it…..

    • 0 avatar

      I love my 02.  Probably one of my best car purchases.  It isn’t a Tii or a roundie, but it has endless smile-producing capacity.

      @fastback – entry price is pretty modest although prices for a nice Tii are higher than the carb’d models.  You can pick up a reasonable driver for $3-5,000, and a nicely sorted, but not concourse, car for under $10k.  I recommend these to anyone.

  • avatar

    couldn’t agree more with everything you wrote, paul. the trans-am was the most “uncool” thing you could drive in my high school and the 2002 tii was the “ultimate driving machine.” the bmw bavaria was also held in high esteem. still, pretty much the way i see things…

  • avatar

     Alfa Romeo, whose hot little sedans had defined and practically owned this segment, was one-upped.

    Not exactly.  In 1972 Alfa Romeo introduced the Alfetta sedan with a transaxle layout, inboard rear brakes to reduce unsprung weight, and a de Dion rear suspension.

    Alfas may not sell well for any number of reasons but being one upped in technology by BMW is certainly not one of them.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I was referring to 1966. 1972 is six years later.

    • 0 avatar

      My point was that what was new in ’66 was not by ’72. (And the auto under discussion is a ’72.)

    • 0 avatar

      Still Mr. Niedermeyer, Alfa was not one upped by BMW. That happened many years later.

    • 0 avatar

      As a two-time 2002 owner including a restored ’74 tii and a two-time Alfa 105-series owner including currently a ’73 Giulia Super (imported from Europe as they are so hard to find in the U.S.), I’ll add my $0.02.  I had always believed the 2002, with the tii being the holy grail, was the quintessential sports sedan.  That is until I drove one of these Alfas.  The feel of the Alfa has it all over the BMW in terms of being a driver’s car–steering is lighter, quicker, and has better feel.  Transmission (a 5-speed standard instead of the BMW 4-speed) is tighter, crisper, and more direct feeling.  Brakes (4-wheel discs instead of rear drums in the BMW) are stronger with a better pedal feel.  Engine (DOHC all alloy compared to the BMW SOHC iron block, dual sidedraft carbs compared to single carb in the BMW until Alfa switched to mechanical fuel injection in ’69, which BMW adopted in ’72 for the tii) revs quicker while filling your ears with wonderful sounds.  I will call it a draw though as far as the suspension.  The independent rear of the BMW isn’t as jittery as the solid Alfa axle, but overall I think the Alfa is much more fun to drive in a spirited manner in terms of handling–the better steering also being a large part of that.  In summary the Alfa feels lithe and always eager to go–the way I always imagined a proper vintage sports car should, while the BMW is very fun to drive if pushed, but always conveys the feel of a “small army tank” to go with the fun.

      Like a lot of BMW owners, I was initially very concerned about Italian car reliability before I’d owned an Alfa, but have found these late 60’s and early 70’s Alfas to be very solid and well built and they’ve never had some common BMW issues like inadequate cooling systems.

      Lest you think I’m now a BMW hater, I’ve also owned 4 E30 3-series including an ’88 M3.  My current daily driver–a recently acquired ’91 318is (very lucky to have found an original owner example with under 50K miles).  I did think about trying to find a late 80’s Alfa Milano before the 318is came up, but the major reason for going BMW was to insure the reliability needed for a daily driver.  Thus, I’d also say that if I was driving back in the late 60’s and early 70’s and had the means to afford either an Alfa Giulia or BMW 2002, I probably would have given the nod to the BMW for practical reasons.  So I certainly understand why the BMW sold in numbers that the Alfa did not (not to mention that BMW figured out how to properly market and advertise their cars, something Alfa never did successfully).  But, 40 years later, neither one of these is likely to be used as daily transportation for the majority of buyers so it really comes down to the driving experience.  In that regard, the Alfa is the easy choice for those who have driven really nice examples of both.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    My grandfather bought a 1600 at the factory, then drove all over Europe with it and brought it home. My main surprise when I saw it, no speedometer.

  • avatar

    It’s a shame BMW missed the opportunity to revive this as a retro-car about, oh, eight years ago. I’d buy one, and judging from other comments here, I wouldn’t be alone. I couldn’t afford one back in the day, but my NSU 1000 TT looked like a 3/4 scale replica.

  • avatar
    Andy D

    Amongst my fellow E 28ers ( gen 2 5 series) there  are  many 2k2 owners.  They both  share   elemental  BMW  DNA. The   E 28  is   a section  of   annual Vintage  at  the  Vineyards, Memorial  Day  weekend.  Lately, it  has  been  held  at  the Shelton  Vineyards and   we  hole  up  in the    Mayberry Hampton  Inn.  We  fit  well  together and  we  tolerate E 21 and  E 30  guys too. The event  is  open  to BMWs built  pre 90  Small  cars  with  moderate, wimpy  by  modern tastes,  power.  Durable,  easy  to  constantly  maintain, comparatively cheap to  run, lotsa  world wide  help  with parts  and   knowledge from like  minded gear heads on  the inter net.   Doan  sweat  the U joints.  Replacing  them takes  a  bit  of  finesse,  but  is   doable  for  a shade tree hack with  a  Dremel  and a  tack welder. You can  use  3/4″, 19 mm, OD  wrought  washers as  shims  to   center  the the  caps  in the  yokes.  Then  you squish  them  in  a vise and tack weld  the  top  washer  to  the  yoke.    Or  for the  purists, you can  get  the  machine  shop  version  that  adds  snap rings.

  • avatar

    Just saw a late 80s/early 90’s 318tii (?) 3 door on the drive into work today.  Was pretty eerie to spot that today after reading this thread yesterday.  :) 

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    these are gorgeous little cars and suddenly I want one again. But living in Texas, and seeing the overheating caveat, my heart sinks and then I wonder “couldn’t a better fan and perhaps an enhanced/larger radiator handle such issues?” I guess I don’t understand enough of such matters as I’m certain that if it were that simple it would have been done long ago many times over.
    But again, a beautiful little vehicle.

  • avatar

    Options on test car: anti-freeze?  Anyhow, back in the day a colleague of mine owned one that sported a Blaupunkt Berlin stalk mounted cassette player.  A real classic.

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    Paul, there’s another old saying: Go with your gut. That (1st) opening paragraph was the best opening paragraph I’ve ever read on TTAC. I was kinda shocked you second guessed it!

    My first car was a Triumph Spitfire. Having learned that lesson, my second and third cars were 1602s. While I don’t doubt the universal appeal of the whole /02 series, the light-year advancement of a supple suspension system that could soak up the New England ruts, pot holes, frost heaves and what not, and STILL allow you to corner at speed — THAT was an absolute revelation.

    Great review.

  • avatar

    Agreed, we all love these cars. But “influential”? If it was really influential, how come nothing built today looks like this? This kind of unrestricted visibility might almost be available in a Scion XB, but that has a totally different drivetrain and mission in in life. The Mini is upright, but the windows are short and the front wheels are driven. Today’s BMW 3-series are still RWD, but much bigger and shaped like flame-styled suppositories, as wind tunnels and popular taste demands. I really can’t think of a closer cousin to the 2002 than my New Beetle TDI: it’s economical, handles pretty well, reminds others of the good old days, and I can sit upright in it and see out of it. Not only was the 2002 never duplicated, it’s not even imitated anymore.

  • avatar

    These cars still today get the same pass as a Porsche. You have idealized their memory while forgetting the reality of their respective cost. By the time I started looking at new sports cars, my choices were this car the Datsun 1600 or any of the American ponys. My personal recollection primarily concentrates on the memory that I could buy the Datsun AND a 6cyl. pony for the BMW price. I also recall passing one of my high school compatriots with said 1600. They suffer from the same problems today, ergo, Bring Mamas Wallet being the nom de plum of most used examples. The Quandt family thanks you and the lemming like auto press for your indulgence.

  • avatar

    The simplicity of this car is something I really miss. Look at that engine bay- 4 visible wires, I assume going from the dizzy to the plugs. Exposed cam cover + intake manifold. What looks like easy access to everything you need.
    Cars like the B13 SE-R, mid 90s Civics, etc. followed in such humble DIY friendliness. Now as we move into an era of digital dipsticks and fiberoptic engine harnesses, I grow nostalgic. Shame, I feel like most of these cars were claimed by rust… no biggie, its Japanese ascendants were galvanized.
    Nice write up. Thanks

  • avatar

    I was lucky enough to buy a ’73 tii brand new – still have the bill of sale [$5300, something like only $175 more than a regular 2002] in Fiord Blue and the owner’s manuals, which are the most entertaining I have ever seen. Never had overheating problems, but had to replace the turn indicator stalk a coupe of times [$114]. Could make it do tricks on a cloverleaf, as the cops that were following me will glowingly attest. Drove it [part of the time as my toy, when I had company cars] for 11 years and 113 K miles until an idiot rear-ended me in his block long Mercury and effectively totalled it – the adjuster said it was the strongest car he’d ever seen]. I had just had the body done and a new water pump, but never touched the engine, though it burned oil. Tried the 320 that came after it, the Porsche 924, and the 318ti – all boring and underpowered by comparison. Would love to see a tii replacement.

  • avatar
    Paul Martin

    I’ve owned both 128s – a new 1.1 liter 1972 Fiat 128 (when in college) and now a 2009 BMW 128 6MT (when my kids are out of college) – and for the same reasons.  Light, responsive, great visibility and just a joy to drive.  Of course, light is relative.  The Fiat weighed 1760 pounds, the BMW about 3200.  Couldn’t afford an Alfa GTV 1750 or a BMW 2002 back then.  I’ve always dreamed about picking up one of those Alfas when I retire.  The only comment here that I disagree with concerns looks.  Those Alfas are among the most beautiful cars ever made.

  • avatar

    BTW, I hope TTAC won’t mind me adding this here.  One of my own personal favorite curbside classics met it’s maker today.  A 1985 Dodge 600SE.  I saw it in it’s owners driveway in the mornings (if I was early enough) and also at his place of work.  Alas, as I drove past the house today, the Dodge was on the back of a wrecker’s flatbed, and the owner and the driver were leaning on the hood, signing over the title.

    25 years of service…I think he got his money’s worth.

    * sniff *

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    My 1974 2002 was the only car I ever cried over when I sold it.  Nothing more to add to this, other than I sorely wish it was still sitting in my garage today…

  • avatar

    Paul, thanks for a great piece on a much-loved old car.
    I still drive my ’72 tii a few miles every weekend, and it’s a joy – as Jamie Kitman recently wrote, there’s a true pleasure in driving a “slow car” in these times.  It still performs and handles admirably in today’s traffic, but I’ll admit the brakes aren’t up to par with modern standards.   We ’02 owners used to say that all 2002s had ABS because you had to stand on the brake pedal to make them stop, so lockup was rarely a threat!
    The wonderful thing about the 2002 is the amount of love it gets from average folks on the street as well as die-hard car nuts.  It’s the type of car that makes people in-the-know reminisce over the one they or their parents once owned, and makes even those who know nothing about cars wave and laugh because it’s so bloody cute.  I have a feeling I’ll keep this thing till it, or I, pass on to the next life!
    For those considering a vintage toy, I’d recommend a non-tii round tail light car…carbs are far easier to keep in order than finicky mechanical fuel injection pumps.  I warn you, though, the 2002 bug is a lifetime addiction – I had a ’76 in college before someone rear-ended me at a light, and it took me almost a dozen years before I found the right one with which to replace it.  The time in between was spent waxing nostalgic over the car that was lost, but the time since has been spent reveling in the unadulterated pleasure of finally buying the “right” year, model, and colour I always wanted.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane and a reminder of what made these cars so groundbreaking in their day!

  • avatar

    I had two of these back in college, a used 1971 in the same color as above purchased for $2100 in 1972.  It was the same price as a new Datsun 510.  I would have bought the Datsun if any sedans were still available, but only wagons with a live axle were still at local dealers.  It was a great car for a year.  Myself and a college buddy almost broke the land speed record driving from Washington, DC to Albuquerque in 27 hours in January 1973.  Then it blew a thermostat and overheated in Tenn on the way back to VA from NM the next spring.  After getting major engine repairs, since my car knowledge was none back then, the mechanic advised selling it.  I replaced it with an even worse 1968 2002, one of the first shipped here.  I installed racing anti sway bars and it was like driving a slot car.  It was my beginning education in auto repair!  Then it seized the engine at 100,300 miles, again in TN!  Got a junkyard engine with 30,000 miles for $800 installed, then had the bad luck to be rear ended by a drunk 6 months later.   My 2008 Mini Cooper S is the closest to driving those cars, but I still think about buying another, eyeing a  1973 tii with the 5 speed conversion.

  • avatar

    I have owned 2 2002s and am working on a third. They are a blast to drive and currently an appreciating hobby. I have made an average of 400% off each one I sold!

    Here is a great site to search for them.

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