Light, Nimble, Agile: An Automotive Masterstroke
In the mid-1960s, Bayerische Motoren Werke was still reeling from the devastating financial effects of WWII. They were sitting a very distant third behind VW and Mercedes and while they had had limited success, the company was nothing like the behemoth it is today. Then they launched the 2002 and by doing so, effectively redefined an entire genre of car – the compact sports sedan – and it’s no overstatement to say that without it, BMW may have died.
History of the BMW 2002tii
Between 1968 and 1974 when the first 320i came out, BMW made 38,703 of the 2002tii range. A quite astonishing feat for what was considered to be a small manufacturer of big cars and motorcycles because they tapped into a newly-affluent market who were looking for a car that bridged the gap between a practical everyday family car and a cheeky sports car that worked equally as well as a pure drivers car.
The 2002tii was light, nimble and agile and offered a real-world alternative to pricey Mercs. Iits introduction into the US to counter the streets clogged with Mustangs and oversized gas guzzlers was a welcome tonic and was the result of an ultimatum from one of BMWs main US importers. To compete in the US, he essentially strong-armed them into getting rid of the rear doors and putting their biggest engine into the original BMW 1500. The 2002 was born.
Through no-one knew it at the time, it was a masterstroke. The 2002tii came equipped with a 2.0-litre in-line 4-cylinder SOHC engine with a Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system. It produced 130 bhp and a 0-60 time of 8.2 seconds, respectable even today for a sporty 2-door family car.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the 2002tii is the ‘bathtub’ sill line that skirts the car, marking the shut-lines of the boot and bonnet. Below the line it’s basically sheet metal, save for slightly flared wheel arches and the unmistakable straight and narrow BMW grill of the 70s and early 80s. Another beautiful design feature that stands out is the position of the front indicator lights and eagle-eyed BMW enthusiasts will notice that the current 1-Series and the 2002tii share a similar front end look.
If you’ve ever been in a 3-Series, climbing into a 2002tii will have a very familiar feel. A full centre console is complemented by high quality plastic trim, bucket seats and a large centre clock. Under the hood, the surprisingly economical 2.0-litre 2002tii had dual carburettors which produced 130 bhp and while that doesn’t sound much, it was high on torque and immense fun flogging it round corners. It’s not without its faults but like most cars of its age, there’s really nothing to complain about.
An interesting side note was that at the time, BMW were so humble about what they were doing, they didn’t badge the centre of the steering wheel but they did on the gearstick. It was – and remains – a car for driving, not showing off in.
It’s fair to say that the BMW 2002tii doesn’t have the sweeping curves of the Mercedes’ and Jaguars of the time but it remains a stunning looking car. A 1974 model in good condition will likely set buyers back around $20,000 give or take mileage, condition, owners etc, but there’s no doubting this cars’ place in the history of the automobile. To a large extent, BMW owes its life to the success of the 2002. A host of pretenders to its throne emerged and while many compared favourably, none could match the kudos of such an important car to such an important company.