Built in the early 1970s, BMW's 2002 tii is arguably one of the prettiest and sportiest compact classics – 2002 Turbo aside. We drive this ex-UK car in the picturesque Winelands of South Africa.
Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms
Touring Car Racing and Sports Cars by Stefan Knittel. That's the name of the book that the owner of this 1973 BMW 2002 tii lent me a few months before this planned shoot and drive of his pride and joy.
I’m familiar with the basics of BMW’s illustrious racing history, but this book goes back to the very beginning and shares all the important highlights of each model and series through the decades. One thing is clear; BMW proudly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the other sporting manufacturers’ achievements.
Pictures of Hans-Joachim Stuck with one wheel in the air are etched in our minds and so is another picture, published in this book, of Stuck sliding around a corner on the Nürburgring with a wide-arched Alpina BMW 2002. Let’s also not forget that Schnitzer won the German Circuit Championship in a BMW 2000 ti (Neue Klasse four-door progenitor of the 2002) in 1966, just one of several class and series wins that illustrated this car’s racing prowess.
Then, in 1968 Ernst Furtmayr won the touring car category of the European Hillclimb Championship in a Schnitzer-prepared BMW 2002. On top of all these successes at the circuit, the 2002 also proved itself as a formidable rallying machine.
The background this reading has provided helps me understand these little cars’ importance in BMW's history. And as I approach the 2002 tii for my first drive, I’m keen to sample for myself what can surely be considered the undiluted essence of BMW.
The light Sahara Beige paint makes the car stand out and suits it perfectly. Make no mistake, a considerable amount of money was spent on it even before the current owner bought the car in the UK, and just as much since he has been enjoying it in sunny South Africa. More on that later...
Prior to entering the cockpit, I step back and admire the car side-on, drinking in its lines. The relatively tall windows provide perfect visibility. A visual balance to the three-box design has been masterfully achieved here by BMW staff designers Georg Bertram and Manfred Rennen, under the guidance of design director Wilhelm Hofmeister. Chrome beadings along the windows, shoulder line and lower body add the touch that lifts the tii above that of its lesser siblings.
It is hard not to be impressed by the compact size of the 2002. Its footprint on the road is small and when I open the door and step in, I again realise how this car becomes a part of you on an intimate level, something that modern cars can only dream of.
The cabin has received a lot of attention during the past year. These include artfully upholstered leather seats and light-brown Coco-Mat carpets in the front cabin. The original German Loop carpets are still fitted throughout of the cabin.
The E21 BMW Recaro seats were often fitted to 2002s at the time, and it is clear to see why enthusiasts 50-years ago and today decide to go for this option. It really suits the classic, yet sporty nature of the car. The owner further explains the fitment of these seats: “The only sport seats you were able to get in the 2002 came with the 2002 Turbo, and those seats are simply impossible to find.”
As for the rest, it’s all original. “This is a Petri 3.0-litre CSL steering wheel. It was an option back in the day on the 2002 tii and the first owner specified the car with this steering wheel.”
The wheel has a fantastic patina with lots of little cracks. I squeeze it, pleasantly finding it still relatively soft, the three drilled holes on each of the three spokes a reminder that it's a sports sedan you are about to drive.
The owner has added a couple of personal touches. There are double Swiss- made Stadion stopwatches mounted on the dashboard in front of the passenger,
or should I say navigator? These serve as a homage to the owner’s late father who used the mechanical devices to record lap times of F1 cars at the legendary Kyalami circuit in the 70s when South Africa still formed part of the global calendar. The radio is the original Blaupunkt Bavaria unit, but with its innards modified to accept external MP3 devices.
The seats are immensely comfortable and you sit low and snug in them, and they provide more than ample headroom. They offer decent support and travel to provide a perfect command of the steering wheel. The result is that you also have a good view over the bonnet. Apart from that, they are gorgeous to look at and perfectly fit the colour combination of the carpets and rest of the cabin.
The Alpina-topped gearlever falls perfectly to hand left of my knee and is a joy to use. It moves with ease between the four ratios. Apart from the Turbo this was the sportiest 2002, meaning a shortened first gear, a stronger clutch and a marginally longer axle ratio, to offer an increase in top speed. At 1.87-metres my knees are a little bent and pushed up, but I’m still very comfortable, which is mostly down to the seats.
In the past two years the engine received a serious amount of work. It has been to the engineering shop to be re-sleeved, with internals like rings and pistons also being replaced. It has already been run-in and been for its first service and is in tiptop condition.
Once you’ve turned the thin key – complete with its teardrop end and classic BWM key ring – the engine catches and there is a decent note from the exhaust. As expected, it is not deep, but it sounds more purposeful than I thought a 2.0-litre could. Under the bonnet the engine has been tweaked and fitted with a Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system.
On the open mountain pass as well as through the twistier pieces of tarmac through the woods, the car really comes alive. There is enough torque to potter around from 2 500 to 3 000rpm, but it is upwards from here where the engine is at its happiest. Past 4 000rpm the engine performs at its best and at this point there is still more than 2 000rpm left on the rev counter. Combine that with the relatively powerful engine and a weight of less than a tonne and the tii feels light, nimble and provides extremely predictable but fun handling.
The steering wheel brims with feedback, partly because there is no power steering, and you feel part of the car at all speeds. Although I never have to use the brakes in anger, they work well and eagerly scrub off speed when the pedal is pressed.
The car also inspires confidence and with some more time behind the wheel I can imagine how you would quickly start to reach the limits of adhesion on your favourite piece of twisting tarmac. Its size is another benefit to the driving experience. The pictures show just how compact this classic performance sedan actually is. On the road it doesn’t take up as much space as a modern car. The result is that on narrower roads you still have ample space to play with and to place the car. What a joy it must have been to race it on some of the twisty and tight circuits and roads in Europe.
The owner is absolutely meticulous in his approach to car ownership and maintenance. He bought the 2002 tii in 2003 in the UK during a working stint in London and has since continuously improved the car’s condition and appearance.
“It is a 1973 pre-August 2002 tii. From August onwards the rear lights became angular and the grille at the front changed. I bought the car in March 2003 in London from a family who owned it from new”. A two-owner, 48-year old car is surely a rarity these days!
He has one of the most comprehensive folders I’ve ever seen on a classic car. He has kept all the details he received when purchasing it and has kept all invoices since he became the custodian. Needless to say, the folder is thick.
He saw the car advertised in the printed version of an automotive classifieds. “I had to phone numerous times, the seller only getting back to me around a week later. He apologised and said he had received more than 30 calls, but I was the first one who left a message. I went to have a look at the car and bought it. Incidentally, the seller was actually a Lancia collector. I then drove the car for a year in London before importing it to South Africa. The car was restored in 1995 in the UK and the sons of the lady whose car it was were still driving it when I bought it. She had gotten a little tired of driving a car without power steering.”
During the year in London the owner took the car to renowned BMW specialists Jaymic. “They did a few cosmetic updates for me such as chrome beading and repaired a small rust spot, but nothing serious. I searched for a long time and in 2004 finally found a set of correct Alpina rims in Berlin, Germany.
However, the most significant work done on the car started in 2016. These included a full rebuild of the brakes, suspension and fuel system to name but three.” Since the restoration in 1995, no paintwork has been done to the car; quite impressive, as it looks like the car received a re-spray only last year.
“It was always my late-father’s dream car. I saw one on a truck driving through Kroonstad in the Free State in 1986 when I was in grade 9. In 1988 I got my first car, a standard 2002, and my dad also got himself one. Both of us drove our cars until he passed on in 1994. Then our cars were sold. But, from when I arrived in London in 1999 until I bought the car in 2003, I actively searched for a good example.”
The book I read is one of many that highlight BMW’s racing history and the significance of the 2002 race cars, but I think the car is best summed up in the 1968 BMW 2002 launch report from American motoring writer, David E. Davis for Car and Driver. His thorough and extensive report ends with: “A final word of advice. The crazy-mad little BMW 2002 is every bit as good as I say it is — maybe better.
Model: BMW 2002 tii
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 97kW at 5 800 rpm
Torque: 181N.m at 4 500rpm
Transmission: 4-speed manual
0-100 kph: 9.8 seconds
Top speed: 190 kph
Kerb weight: 1 010 kg