Retrospective: Driving Impressions of a BMW 2002

BMW 2002 Front View 750x500

I rarely turn down an opportunity to drive older cars, and when my buddy Matt brought his recently purchased BMW 2002 to breakfast Saturday morning …

I rarely turn down an opportunity to drive older cars, and when my buddy Matt brought his recently purchased BMW 2002 to breakfast Saturday morning I prevailed on him to toss me the keys.

Just to keep me honest, his daughter, Natalie Fenaroli, came along to supervise (a better driver than most of us – and fresh off testing/training in Formula Fords in New Zealand – Actually she wanted to come along so she’d get to drive it home; she was gaming her father.

The BMW 2002 was the start of the American fascination with BMW. The late David E. Davis’ paean to the 2002 in Car and Driver set in motion the idea that the Bavarians were building world beater performance touring cars. And the 2002 was all David E. Davis said it was. I can remember lusting after one in the 1970s and then not being able to will myself to fork over the cash needed to purchase one (one of the dumbest decisions I ever made).

S0 Une BMW 2002 Tii neuve 52610 655x483I approach driving old cars with some trepidation. I can tell you the tale of two Model As, one poorly maintained and a handful (mechanical brakes that needed adjustment) and the other better than new. So you have to be prepared to discount the rough edges of age to find the gem underneath.

Opening the door you get an idea quickly of why these cars are light – the door is thin, extremely so when compared to the chunky thick – safety – first versions that we live with now. The seat belts had no tensioner, and they had to be carefully reeled out. And don’t even think about airbags. One thing this 2002 was afflicted with however, were those nasty late ’70s 5 mph bumpers.

It had been awhile since I’d driven a car equipped with carburetors, and Natalie had to remind me what the starting sequence was; pump the accelerator twice – nice mechanical linkage to the throttle plate in the carb – and then crank the engine with the key twisted full right. If you let off the key, you had to start the sequence over (but pump the accelerator too much and you’ll flood the carb).

BMW 2002 tii 4 655x483

The car starts, and wonder of wonders, it’s equipped with a working AC unit. Nice cold air (at the expense of a few of the 2.0L four’s ponies). The other item this 2002 was afflicted with was an automatic transmission. But the cost of a 2002 with an auto is less than a similar example with a manual transmission – and this car was purchased with a daily commute in traffic as its mission in life.

The steering wheel is thin but transmits road feel to the hands in copious amounts. The steering is not power assisted, so it’s a bit heavy (especially if you’re used to the overboosted/anesthetized Lexus/Buick steering paradigm).

Underway and we’re in a pretty crowded area with lots of cars trying to find parking spaces, pedestrians, bicycles, and a busy street to turn onto. It’s now that you appreciate the acres of glass in the 2002. This is what a ‘greenhouse’ on a car should be. Tall windows, thin pillars and, as a result, wraparound vision.

The AC and automatic tranny soak up their fair share of horses and subsequently it would be hard to describe the acceleration as quick – but it’s perfectly capable of hanging with traffic. It’s when you slow down that you get jolted back to the ’70s. There is no power assist. So it’s all about how much leg muscle you can bring to the party. Once you’re aware that this isn’t a dainty little on/off switch, the brakes are actually a delight to use. Good pedal feedback and decent stopping distances.

The sensations of driving this car gave the impression of dealing with something that was simple and quite honest. Decent power (and even better if I’d have switched off the AC), excellent steering feel, good brakes, and an eagerness to go where pointed were what shown through in the short drive.

The icing on the cake would have been to drive the BMW 2002 back to back with say, a 1977 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. That would have shown just how startling the car was to buyers of the era. The BMW 2002 was all that was good with cars in the late 1970s, at a time when cars were in transition thanks to air pollution and safety regulations.

When I pulled up to the stop outside of the restaurant we had breakfast at, set the brake and hit the emergency flasher button, I found Matt and described my impressions of the car. When I looked back at the car, Natalie had found her way into the driver’s seat and Matt was definitely going to be a passenger on the ride home.


34 responses to “Retrospective: Driving Impressions of a BMW 2002”

  1. K Hysenaj says:


  2. 14th BMW says:

    You really don’t know what a 2002 is like based on that drive. You really need to drive one with a stick…the auto was a total dog; completely bogged you down in corners and starts. Downshift and that 4-banger would just sing and send you quickly on your way! Also, can’t believe that you didn’t turn off the A/C, which at that time was a huge drain on the HP (and really didn’t work that well anyway…ever heard the story of a BMW dealer taking some execs out in a Bavaria from LA to LV in the summer with air full blast and they almost died from the heat?).  The 2002 was so light on its feet, esp., with performance tires; safety requirements simply won’t let such a car be built today (eg., thin pillars, empty doors).

    • Matt says:

      The reason not to turn off the AC is it is hot and muggy here in KC MO USA in the summer time. Your recollections though maybe true at one time are not the case with this car. Sabine as the car is known has an updated Bauer ac compressor. The AC is enough to freeze you out of the car in minutes. Having the AC on does not affect the performance enough to leave it off. 
      The auto though not as sporty as a manual, quickly drops gears to get going. For the vintage of the car and size of the motor it works very well. Sure you can say a manual is a better sporty car, an early one is cooler, an Alpina or Turbo are the one’s to have, but at the end of the day, we have have made this a daily driver and family hauler and it serves us well. A 2002 as a daily driver is just so darn cool! Buy them in good condition, keep em maintained and they are easy to live with.

  3. Simon Kiani says:

    No car like it:)

  4. Shadoe722 says:

    The 2002 was the one of a couple of cars that caught my eye as a teenager in the 70’s and continues to, to this day……

  5. BMW is never die…….

  6. My manual stick from 1968 whit LPG and no AC

  7. skip says:

    Still have my 76 BMW that I bought new. Stick shift, and I passed over airconditioning to keep it light and as agile as I could. If it ever breaks I may sell it, but that hasn’t happened yet. After a week in my pig/dog minivan it reminds me why I bought the silly thing in the first place.

  8. Haitham Kebrit says:

    my babe, had it for 12 years and still, adorable, love u babe

  9. Cliff Warren says:

    I have a 1975 BMW 2002, and also a 1998 BMW 323i Convertible. The 2002 is definitely more FUN to drive, they’re both great, but the ’02 is awesome.

  10. Meero7676 says:

    B M W  4 E V E R

  11. Ayol87 says:

    through the same experience….

  12. Sami Ayubi says:

    but it’s not a ‘proper’ BMW with only four cyl….. 

    haha! not really! 

    but as a 318ti owner I get sick of hearing that on a near-daily basis.. :p 

  13. Quark says:

    The car in the photo does not have the 5 mph bumpers.  It is likely a 1973 or earlier model.  I had a 1976 2002 with the manual transmission, and it had the 5 mph bumpers, which project out further and have accordian like black bumper extensions along each side of the car, back and front.

  14. Dreamridelimousinesdrl says:

    BMW has created a drivable book. It’s
    really more of a readable R/C car, actually; the back cover contains four
    wheels connected to a motor that propels the hardcover about at the whims of a
    remote control. According to me BMW is getting involved such a project.


    Wedding Car Hire Melbourne

  15. Taxbuster says:

    My first “dub” was a ’73 2002, maroon on black, standard, of course. What a fantastic car, with Michelin XAS radials, that car held the road no matter what. Saved me from my own stupidity more than once. Drove the mountains in the Canadian Rockies at speeds I can’t even think of now – forty years later.

    No-one knew what they were back then – the first BMW I drove was a Bavaria, with a clutch that you really needed to step on. The 2002 was lighter on the clutch, and I remember the vehicle as a heavy one, with a very solid door – not like the writer at all. The doors closed with a gentle touch and a solid thunk. Come to think of it, that’s just what they do today!!

  16. Magikben says:

    All 2002’s in the US had power brakes.

  17. AndrejVilar says:

    Car of generation!! I owned 1600, 1802, 2002, 2002ti – then 316…:-))

  18. A good idea but slightly flawed execution…. you really need to drive a slightly modded carb car or a tii…. having owned a tii, I can safely say it is one of the most delicious driving experiences the World can offer.

  19. MN says:

    Loved my 1972 2002tii for over a decade! I miss it dearly.

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