Mike passed away at 80 years old this year. But, his memory and his story live on with his 1970 BMW 2002, which the family plans to keep driving. The automobile is undoubtedly one of the single most important inventions to mankind in history. Before this, it was our own two feet or horses that brought us around to where we needed to go. Then the invention of these horseless carriages replaced them. But despite being an amalgamation of metal parts, we came to realize there is more to these cars than just transportation. Enthusiasts were born.
The Decision to Choose the 2002 for the LA Commute
One such car enthusiast was named Mike Manley. He was a software programmer and at the age of 26, he was looking for a new car. Living in Long Beach, Mike wanted a car he could enjoy, and something that was good on gas compared to many of the larger American cars of the time (this would pay dividends during the 1973 oil crisis). Luckily, a friend of his told him about this cool new German sports coupe called the 2002.
BMW’s Struggles and the Birth of the 2002
The BMW 2002 was introduced to the world in 1968. Its story was rather interesting. During the 1950s and 1960s, BMW was struggling financially as they attempted to revive automobile manufacturing following WWII as they were largely known for motorcycle production prior to the war, and their car manufacturing had been fairly limited. With a dramatic change needed to keep the company alive, the ‘Neue Klasse’ series of sedans and coupes were an attempt to revive the brand and appeal to a broader market. This began with the 1962 BMW 1600. The 1600cc engine offered 84hp. This wasn’t enough for some BMW engineers who wanted more power. Soon, they stuffed a larger 2.0L four-cylinder engine (code name M10) under the hood that offered 100hp. Fortunately for the US consumer, this caught the attention of Max Hoffman.
Max Hoffman’s Influence on Bringing the 2002 to the US
Max was a prominent car dealership network owner who escaped Austria prior to World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, the US Car Market was dominated by the big three from Detroit: Ford, Chrysler, & General Motors. During these two decades, they comprised over 85% of the US car market, peaking in 1965 with over 90%. German and Japanese car brands were still relatively obscure at the time. Max Hoffman wanted to change this. Prior to the war, he worked as an importer of American cars in Austria for distribution to much of Europe. In America, he reversed this business by importing German cars to the United States. He was so influential he even helped Porsche design their crest they still use to this day. If it were not for Max, we may never have gotten the 2002 in the US, or the three series, five series, and every other BMW created after.
Mike’s Journey to Obtain His Grenada Red 2002
This brings things back to 1970. Because of Mike’s friend’s suggestion, he was sold on the idea for this car. Availability around LA was low. Luckily, after calling Wheeler Motors in Grants Pass, Oregon, he was able to find one. It was a Grenada Red model with the black ‘Skai’ black vinyl interior. This would be his car. He flew up to Oregon and purchased the car for $3,608. Soon after turning on the ignition for the first time, Mike Manley fell in love with his car. It was by sheer coincidence that when he went to the DMV and received his license plate, it read ‘239 BMW.’
The 2002’s Transformation from Commuter to Family Car
The 2002 became more than just a commuter. It gained the love and respect of the whole family. In 1972, Michelle Manley was born. She came home from the hospital in that 2002 and grew up with it. It became a part of the family, an extension of her father. The family would take many road trips together. From Simi Valley, they would travel up to San Jose to visit family. The famous canyon roads and mountain passes around southern California were a playground for Mike and his kids who recalled fond memories of their dad dropping down a gear and letting the short wheelbase of the 2002 rotate through corners with joy. The family would travel together on road trips to Yosemite & Sequoia National Parks. Despite no air conditioning, it made its way out to Las Vegas in the summer. On one such road trip, the headlights failed at night through the Cajon Pass, and they had to closely follow behind an 18-wheeler until they got to a safer spot with lighting near the Vegas strip.
Michelle Manley’s Childhood Memories
897,000 miles can take its toll on a car’s components. Remarkably, the chassis and some of the components of the car are mostly original. While living in Southern California, Mike would take his car to Santa Monica for maintenance at Speedway Motors (renamed to Ocean Auto Care later). Despite meticulous maintenance efforts, the car did require two complete engine rebuilds at nearly 300,000 miles each. This is a testament to the reliability and durability of the M10 engine. In 1997, the family moved up to Rockland, California, near Sacramento. From there, Morris Motors took over repairs and maintenance. One mechanic there named Chris worked on the car for over 25 years.
Engine Rebuilds and Longevity of the M10 Engine
Inevitably, a car that has lived a life that long is bound to have some issues and surprisingly it only had one major failure. One evening, following a return home trip from San Jose, Michelle was expecting to see her father soon. There was a knock at the door. But, it was not her father. It was a Saturday morning jogger sent over to tell me: “Your dad wants me to tell you his car is on fire; he’s just down the street.” Thankfully a quick response from the fire department limited the damage. Despite what might have consigned most cars to the junkyard, the car only required a rebuilt carburetor, some wiring and a new hood. The car just wanted to keep driving.
The Car’s Year of Rest and Return to the Road
Mike Manley passed away this summer. His story isn’t over. While the car sat for nearly a year, Michelle and her husband Bill brought the car back to their house and was in need of repair. The mechanic who took care of their father’s car for over two decades had left the shop they had used. They instead brought it to IPB Autosport in Sacramento for some simple routine maintenance, and to get it running again. After a brake fluid flush, oil change, and spark plugs, the car was ready to hit the road again. The shop even ran a compression test to check on the engine. For such an old engine block, all four cylinder readings came back over 135 psi. New, the motor runs over 150 psi. Not bad for cresting the edge of 900,000 miles on a 54-year-old car.
Encounters with Chris, the Longtime Mechanic
One day while running errands at a local strip mall, Bill came out to the car to see a man staring at the car. His eyes were glued to it, almost completely oblivious to Bill’s attempts to get his attention. “I know this car. I knew the owner. How’d you get this?” They soon realized they both had a connection to this car & its owner. The man’s name was Chris, the car’s mechanic for the past twenty-five years. He asked to check on the car he hadn’t seen now for several years. Instantly, he knew how to pop the clamshell hood and check the dipstick. Overall, he seemed happy the car was still running but suspected they used the wrong engine oil weight from his brief observations. He once again offered his services to help look after Mike’s 2002.
When BMW introduced their “Neue Klasse” of cars, including the 2002 it saved the company. It also cemented their reputation for fun driver’s cars that brought joy to countless BMW owners over the past several decades. This was what Mike found in the car. But it wasn’t just an experience he kept to himself. He shared this with his family. From the first few days of her life coming home from the hospital, to all those road trips, and all the life milestones in between… all were bookended by trips in that 2002. It was an extension of Mike. Michelle gladly recalled these memories together in our interview. They have no plans on letting the car sit. The whole family drives manuals and even Mike’s grandkids take turns driving it.
The Car as More Than a Vehicle
Any car enthusiast will tell you a car is more than the sum of its parts. The memories and miles we put on our cars and the stories we get to create from driving are what we really treasure the most. The act of driving itself is a destination all of its own. It reminds me of what Jack Kerouac in his famous novel On The Road said; “Nothing behind me, everything in front of me, as is ever so on the road.” This lesson, and the man Mike meant to his family, lives on with his BMW 2002. The best thing we can leave behind in this world is a legacy. Mike’s will live on with every turn of the ignition, every gear change, every corner they take on future drives. This is a great reminder to all of us to get out and drive.
Mike would always say: “This is such a great car, and just plain fun and gutsy to drive.” Enjoy the ride!
[Photos provided by the Manley Family]