BMW 2002 A Technical History

This October marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the BMW 1600 and BMW 1602.

Many BMW owners have had their lives changed as a result of that event but really know little of the car’s development. This article will trace the USA version 2002. No attempt has been made to chronicle the touring (hatchback), turbo, cabriolet, ti (touring international), twin carbs etc. All “years” refer to the year of usual introduction. Hence, although I’ve seen some “l977” cars, they are not dealt with because in truth they are titled in the year they were sold.

To recount the saga of the 2002 we must go back to the 1600. The 1600 is an older model, having been introduced in Europe in 1966. Some individuals imported them directly to the U.S. The early 1600 was called a 1600/2. Prior to and simultaneous with its production was the bulkier 4 door version of the same car, the I 600 (no slash 2 after its name). Although it looked like an 1800 or 2000 to most people, there were many subtle differences. The 1600/2 got the “/2” to distinguish it, which referred to the fact that it had two doors not four. The 1600 was introduced to the U.S. as a 1967 model and continued through the 1971 model year.

In 1968 BMW decided to stuff a 2 liter engine into the car. The new car was to he called the 2000/2 but, as I’ve been told, when you say that in German it comes out “2002.” Besides, the symmetry of the number is rather neat. The 1968 2002 is a quite distinctive car. As with many BMW models there are “early” and “late” versions of the same car, a parts man’s nightmare. The later updated versions are introduced after the European car shows and hence become available in the U.S. only in March, the middle of our model year. The 1968 2002 was really a reworked 1600. The only functional difference was a tachometer. The first 300 or so didn’t even have the tach, just the larger engine. In fact many of the early 2002s didn’t even have a hydraulic clutch, just the large clutch actuated mechanically like the 1600. The early 2002s did not have sway bars. The car was initially available only in red, silver or white while at the same time the 1600 came in about nine colors. The car had a “Jackie Gleason” steering wheel. Remember Ralph’s bus? This continued till 1970.

Emission controls on the car were basic: a smog pump and diverter valve (“gulp” valve to the cognoscenti). It became dubbed the gulp valve because when it failed it went “gulp, gulp, gulp. When the owner went to the parts counter and was told $21 (1968 dollars!) he also went “gulp, gulp”! In truth it was a General Motors part, complete with GM markings and part number (the “70” preceding the part number was not on the part), which was originally used on mid-size California version GM cars. It only cost $9 at the Chevy dealer.

The drive line on a 1968 was somewhat unique in that it was the only 2002 to use a long neck differential and a drive-shaft with replaceable universal joints. It had 1600 half shafts with a U-joint instead of the constant velocity joint later models had. Weak points in the 1968 were the half shaft (cardan) boots and Ujoints which often didn’t receive proper maintenance. There was a hydraulic system which complied with U.S. laws but was a had system, only marginally serviceable. Some parts for the brake system of a 1968 2002 are no longer available. A final subtle difference between the I 600 and 2002 was that the 2002 had fully reclining seats while the 1600 did not.

The year 1969 did little to change the basic car. Most of the changes were the result of U.S. legislation. Again we had the “early” and “late” versions of the car. The early 1969s had a three-finger (Borg & Beck type) clutch like the l968s and the six bolt flywheel (which occasionally came loose). However, unlike some l968s, all of them had hydraulic clutch linkage. A problem which plagued the early I 969s was a fly- wheel that was far heavier than the 1600 flywheel and the holes in it were larger than the bolts which held it to the crankshaft. The flywheel would “walk” on the bolts and elon gate the holes in it and sometimes stretch the bolts or damage the crankshaft.

Nor subtleties like the different carpets, trim rings on the two piece hubcaps and blacked-out grilles, the early l969s were in truth identical to the I 1968s. The 1969s delivered after January 1969 were substantially different. The cars had 15″ wipers instead of the totally inadequate 13″ ones previously offered. Federal regulations required headrests and side reflectors on the front of the car, and a different seat belt was used. Other changes came about partly by regulation and partly by evolution (a continuing program of improvements?). The regulations for the first time took into account the unladen weight of the car and this brought about some changes.

The clutch set-up was changed substantially. A lighter flywheel and a diaphragm (self-adjusting) clutch were introduced. This greatly reduced the weight of the clutch set-up. The late l969s also brought some different paint colors and eliminated some earlier ones. There was also a change in interior colors (only for the 2002). Likewise, one of the exterior colors were strictly for 2002s which is why you will never see a legitimate Colorado-colored 1600.

The first BMW metallic paint fiasco occurred in 1969 with the l968s. Only one metallic color was imported, Polaris (silver). The color darkened incredibly iii just a few months and resulted in the paint being reformulated for 1969 and called “Polaris Neu.” The 1969 year brought with it two new metallic paints which developed problems of their own in 1971 or so.

The late 1969 models eliminated the reliable long neck differential and U joints in the half shafts. BMW introduced constant velocity joints (“no-maintenance”) and eliminated the replaceable Ujoints in the drive-shaft. The CV joints were previously used on the 2000CS. At the same time the 1969 had a “short neck” differential. This unit was cheaper to produce, lighter and held less fluid, while having substantially lower reliability than the long neck differential. Anyone who followed lMSA RS racing had noticed long ago that the teams using a long neck never had a failure, whereas the shortneck units scarcely lasted longer than one race. Nick Craw (who drove the Miller & Nor- burn Car) once remarked he had a differential worth $ 10,000 in his race car.

Some Federal standards were obnoxious but others really were beneficial. The brakes on the 1969 were far superior in design although not any better at stopping the car. They utilized a “double circuit” system with twin pistons in the calipers and larger brake pads. The rear drum diameter was increased from 200mm to 231 mm.

The 2002 automatic was introduced in 1969. This was a quite unreliable unit prone to premature failure (50,000 miles). It is doubtful if any early 2002 automatic is still on its original transmission. Yet another distinction for l969s was the introduction of day/night mirrors, only on the 2002.

Tinted glass was first introduced on late 1969 models, as were one piece hubcaps. The 1969 one-piece hubcap had a “frosty” finish which was quick to peel off.

When the first 1970s were born some changes were immediately apparent: A five blade fan and larger capacity radiator; headrests were different; more exterior colors were added without phasing out the old ones; the front side markers were 1/4″ shorter (like the 6 cylinders) and portended the trend which was to follow for the next couple decades — that of the homogeneity of the line. The directional’s assumed their bulgy and protuberant look mandated by the Feds. The rear side markers were illuminated and seat belt/shoulder harnesses became spider-web like, adjustable only after using the correct swear words. This was one of the first truly user-hostile accessories, eclipsed only by seat-belt inter locks a half decade later. The steering wheel was changed as was the dashboard padding. The “frosty” hubcaps were replaced by polished ones. Sway bars which were a mandatory “option” on standard shift cars became standard equipment and not available on automatic transmission-equipped cars.

A different cylinder head was brought in with the 1970s. It was marked with the cast ing “121 ti” rather that the 121. Even serious engine builders in the US had difficulty noticing the difference, a small modification on the exhaust side below where the air injectors were. The “121” and “121 ti” heads were fully interchangeable. Prices in 1970 were again higher. BMW no longer held the delivered price of the car to their previous years’ level; that ended earlier. Then again, any one of us would be pleased to buy a new BMW for the 1970 price of under $4000.

Heated rear windows were introduced as a limited availability option. This was the only change besides the vapor recovery system for the fuel tank and one subtler Federally mandated changes.
The year 1971 brought lots of changes for the car There were no real mechanical changes. A nitrous oxide line was added to the pollution controls, some new colors were introduced and several phased out. The tan interior was slightly different, a change only noticeable when placed next to the earlier one. In late 1970 most of the cars had a black metal spoked, leather covered (“TI”) steering wheel previously used in the European version which had twin carbs. Folklore attributed the placement of the optional TI wheel in the U.S. spec cars to a strike at the company which produced the plastic steering wheels used previously and subsequently. The leather covered wheels were an expedient substitution for the year in which the factory was supposed to have been idled by a strike. This also replaced the “Jackie Gleason” large diameter one.

The front bumper brackets on 1971s were changed. They resisted towing damage slightly better than the earlier ones but you could still interchange the parts. Seat belts were slightly improved and permitted easier adjustment. The tangle they left still couldn’t be called “user friendly” and often they would drag on the ground while the car was underway. The left side mirror became larger and got a more contemporary look.

Late 1971s were dramatically different. Folklore says they were really to have been 1972s kit since 1971s were sold out they were 1972s released early. They had a different transmission which was more forgiving of bad shifts. The trade-off was that output shaft flanges and output shafts failed. There were late I97ls and very late 1971s.

The very late `71s hit our shores in April. They had the now familiar rubber moldings at knee level along the sides of the car. Also, the rear bumpers wrapped around the car extending to the rear wheel arch. Finally the seat belts started to be user-friendly and retracted by means of an inertial reel. Sometimes the seat belts would pivot on the mounting and the inertial reels wouldn’t retract. The only distinction between a late 1971 and early 1972 was the “billboard” (FASTEN SEAT BELTS) atop the dash and a `”buzzer” which alerted you to unfastened seat belts.

With the introduction of the I 972s the speedometer gained a tenths wheel (real bonus to SCCA class B rallyists). In 1971 a very limited number of five speed transmissions snuck into the US. The importer at the time (Hoffman Motors) would not honor orders for them, and in an interview with me the late Max Hoffman denied that any ever were imported. Then again, a few limited slip differentials also were imported while Hoffman Motors was denying their existence as well, even though I owned a car equipped with both.

No 2002 automatics were imported in 1971. The decision was probably forced by the excessive problems and sagging sales experienced in the previous years. No mention was made of the automatic in the U.S. sales brochures.

The console was changed substantially in late 1971 as were the other controls as well. In earlier cars it stopped forward of the shift lever and the lever was surrounded by a round shift boot. The four way flasher switch was now housed there along with a spare “dummy” button that many owners used for a kill switch or fog lights. The I97ls used the right hand stalk for turn signals and wipers as well. The left stalk still controlled the high beams and “light horn” (FLASHER). Heated windows became less of an oddity and the position of the heated rear window switch was changed. The shape of the knobs on the steering column was changed and made larger. Heater controls became more complicated and the dashboard became a two piece affair instead of three pieces. The fuse box became 12 position with an entirely different (and safer) routing bus.

The biggest change for the 2002 series was the introduction of the 2002tii. The “fuelie” was much more expensive and much faster. It became the standard of performance of smaller BMWs. The tii has also survived in remarkable numbers since it is the true enthusiasts’ car. The 2002tii had larger diameter wheels , larger brake booster, larger diameter brake master cylinder, heavier duty front spindles, larger and thicker front rotors and brake pads as well as a tastefully mounted clock on the dash. It also boasted virtually no emission controls, heavy duty front spindles, boxed rear A arms, heavier clutch and a 3.45:1 differential yielding a higher top end. 2002s had a 3.64:1 rear end and I 6()0s had a 4.11:1 ratio.

Let’s depart from the 2002 and follow the 2002tii `till its end. In 1973 the plastic intake manifold trumpets were changed to more reliable aluminum ones which didn’t have any 0-rings to blow out. Some small modifications were made to the injection pump linkage. In 1974 a new distributor was installed along with some other minor emission controls. Other than that the car remained parallel to the 2002. The 1974 2002tii was slower but this was primarily due to a difference in weight (the baby buggy bumpers, sound deadening, etc.). In late 1972 the car was fitted with a 3.64:1 differential, like the 2002. The early 2002tii had 10: I compression ratio. When the differential ratio charged, so did the compression ratio.

The 2002tii had wider wheels, partly because the 4 1/2″ ones would not fit over the larger calipers. The early (VERY) early 2002tiis had a spare tire compartment which would only hold a 4 1/2″ wheel. Real bummer if you had a flat on the front. I still remember having a flat tire on a customers’ car and having to move a rear wheel to the front and then put the spare tire on the rear. Again, this was at a time when Panteras had different diameter wheels front and rear.

BMW introduced, in Europe only, the 2002 turbo, which was a 2002tii with still more modifications. This had still larger rear brakes (like the 320i) and larger vented front rotors. Some of them had Recaro sport seats and a turbocharger. It also had some really nice graphics which were not politically correct (in an age when political correctness didn’t exist) in that they advertised performance and fuel waste during Energy Crunch I. The car’s performance was staggering. It would give a Cobra or a Porsche a run for it money.

Back to the 2002. The instruments underwent a facial with the numbers being slimmer and more pleasing to the eye. The “5Os” look was gone from the dashboard and flat black was substituted for the silver portions. Again, in June 1972 a “late” version became available. It had a two barrel carburetor and different emission controls an EGR (exhaust gas recirculation) system. The only way to tell a late 1972 (with two bbl) from a 1973 is by the bumper brackets. The 1972s’ grilles were blacked out using a material which wouldn’t chip or fade as easily as it had on earlier cars. The 1972s were intended to run on regular grade leaded gas but in fact few did satisfactorily. In large part this was due to a lowering of the octane by the seven sister oil companies. The reliable manual choke was updated to a failure-prone automatic choke.

In 1972 the government mandated a change in horsepower ratings. We switched from SAE gross HP in 1972 to SAE net in 1973. A lot of misguided folks advertise the last of the l40HP tii’s. l600s were 96 gross HP; 2002s up to 1972 were 113 gross HP and 1972 2002tiis were 140 gross HP. With the new system 1973 2002tiis produced 125 net HP; 2002s 98 net HP; 1975 and later dropped slightly to 96 net HP.

In 1973 the front bumpers were more streamlined as the over-riders had a lower profile. At the same time the bumper was moved forward and the rear bumper moved back in order to meet the 2mph standards. The front bumper brackets were very substantial and shaped like a “Y” rather than like a “J” as they had previously been. The heater/vent controls on the dash became illuminated and were labeled in English. In shopping for a used 2002 you’ll find that the 1972 and 1973 command the highest prices, as well they should. They are the nicest examples (except for a 1967 1600) of the two door BMW sedan.

The second BMW metallic paint fiasco occurred late in 1972. Various theories have beer advanced. Polaris Neu (silver) became Polaris NN. The color no longer darkened, however it crazed after just a few months. There are lots of “causes.” BMW used a clear coat on top of the base color coat. It was maintained that the rain drops beading or the clear coat acted like small magnifying lenses, heating the clear coat and burning through it. Opportunistic rain drops then penetrated the clear coat and separated the clear from the base coat which expanded and contracted at different rates. In those days owners were told `T.S.’ an attitude which recently cost BMW of North America $4 million at the hands of a dilettante doctor from Alabama who couldn’t handle the fact that his car was repainted. (No one can take a bad joke anymore in the lard of Fords, Chevy’s and 8th grade educations!). Had it been a pick-up truck the jury probably would have said it was the final stage of dealer PDI.

The E-12 cylinder head was introduced with its new triple hemispherical combustion chamber and larger intake valves and lower compression. Compression was lowered despite a “pop top” piston.
1973 brought few other changes except for slightly different colored upholstery and different seat padding. A rubberized pad was added to the transmission tunnel to prevent scuffing of the carpet by the accelerator foot.

1974 was a turning point — downhill for the BMW 2002. Large protruding baby-buggy bumpers were added to comply with Federal regulation. The grille and tail lights were re-styled and looked better with the large bumpers. However, they looked ever better on the non-USA versions of the car! Again, the yearly dose of increased emission controls. The carpets were now one piece, molded and shrunk-fit to the car. This was the first obvious production line change to save money made by BMW AG. These carpets were a real pain for anyone who was trying to install rear speakers neatly. Seat adjuster knobs were different as were the turn signals and wiper controls. The turn signals moved to the left of the steering column. A new four spoke steering wheel was added, with padded center, again as a result of Federal Regulations meant to protect us. On the 2002tii this wheel was padded. The road wheels became 5″ steel with a small center cap featuring the BMW logo. This design carried over to the 320i with a 5″ wheel and the same center cap. The “test” button or the dashboard was eliminated and the warning light would let you know if you were either low on brake fluid or had left that hand-brake on (Silly you?).

The automatic reappeared in greater numbers in 1974. It was an interesting car. For a period they all had “mag” (which were 5″ wide) wheels which combined with the ridiculous price of an automatic transmission and sunroof made them several thousand dollars more expensive that the 2002. The mags were installed on random 2002s also (mostly by dealers). Once again, folklore has it that a computer programming screw-up at the factory dictated that they go on automatics only. The 1974 heater rear window and tinted glass became mandatory options. The instrument panel was worsened by the addition of plastic “wood grain” or the dash coupled with cross-hairs. Rather incredible since BMW was one of the last to still use real wood or the flagship of the line, the 3.0CS. The seats had a new material that “breathed” and didn’t encourage perspiration as much. The headrests on a 1974 were somewhat unmanageable with the bars being moved to the outboard edges and the material matching the seats.
1974 saw BMW increase production and import a lot of foreign unskilled labor. Many 1974 2002s had excessive oil consumption necessitating surgery while under warranty.

Still more folklore from Germany. A BMW senior executive was touring the facility where engines were assembled. He observed a young worker (probably unskilled) installing rings on a piston. The young man was carefully lining up the ring gaps on all three ring grooves so that the gap was in a straight line. The BMW executive promptly put a stop to this. Any engine builder will tell you the ring grooves should never be lined up in a straight line. How ever this little anecdote provides an insight to what was going on at BMW at the time.

1974 was not a good year for the 2002. Bumpers and safety standards left their mark. The interiors were cheapened and looked mass produced, the cars were slower and much more prone to expensive mechanical failures. When used 2002s were plentiful the prices reflected these shortcomings as purists felt the round tail light version more desirable.

The 1975 model year coming after the hysterics of the great oil crunch and the gullibility of Congress and the naivete’ of the American public that ignore legislation would forestall a re-occurrence, was greatly hobbled. In fact 1975 didn’t see a crunch but did see a shortfall for 22 months! The 1975 cars had unrealistic levels of anti-pollution controls. The infamous thermal reactors made their appearance and in reality tried to choke the very life out of an otherwise superb engine. Performance was at a low ebb; the cars ran willingly on regular gas but the engines had low life expectancy even with superb maintenance. The 1975 2002 in stock trim with operational pollution controls has to be one of the least desirable BMWs to own (after a 3.0Si automatic!).

The tailpipe of the `75 2002 exits from the center of the car. Headrests were again changed. A release button on the seat back made the headrests readily adjustable, finally; headrests finally realized their mission in life instead of being relegated to the trunk. New upholstery and more colors were introduced at the expense of some others which were retired. The latches on the rear window allowed the windows to be locked in the open position and not blown shut when the car was underway.

The left side mirror again got larger and actually was not as pleasing to the eye. BMW stuck with this design well into the 320i series finally retiring it with the 1980 320i. Nearly any mechanic with substantial experience on the 2002 will tell you 1975 is the least interesting year to own, in stock configuration. However, after its 20th birthday, I doubt that few still are “stock.” Prices generally reflect this, even after 21 years.

The final year for the 2002, 1976 was a great year despite still low performance. The emission controls were again reworked with the elimination of the thermal reactor. A new cylinder head (“E21”) was introduced with a return to lighter and flat top pistons. The 1976s ran better on regular gas. The engine or 1976 2002s was smoother than it had been for many years with the 2bbl carb. BMW changed the rear end gearing to 3.90:1 from 3.64:1 (lower top end, more acceleration). This creates the illusion of a faster car. You cannot go as fast but you’ll get to speed faster. Unfortunately, a lot of the cars had the speedo installed for the 3.64:1 differential. When owners complained of this BMW of North America furnished the dealer with a sticker to cover up the old numbers on the speedo; this did not take into account the odometer which was off by a comparable amount. At this time Hoffman Motors was not in the picture any longer and BMW of North America never made an attempt to rectify this. Oddly, this flagrant flaunting of the odometer laws was never questioned.

Corduroy (velour) seats were introduced along with really beautiful velour carpets. These carpets were only on about 1 in 15 cars, perhaps BMW was using it up as they neared the end of the model run? The steering wheel was a more comfortable padded four spoke wheel. This survived into the 320i series. Intermittent windshield wipers were added. The fuel tank was slightly repositioned and held more gas despite being the same size as or the 1975. Fuel economy was substantially unchanged largely due to the rear end ratio, but still was better than the earlier years.

Late 1 976s are distinguished from earlier ones by a different cover on the hand-brake lever. This molded grip will retrofit earlier cars. The old grip or the hand-brake was the last part of the car
with a I 950s look to it.

1976 2002s are quite desirable to own. They were smooth, had low oil consumption and finally BMW had gotten all the little gremlins out of the 2002 only to retire it.

So much for the evolution of the 2002. I don’t pretend that every single change over the years has been documented here (fillister head machine screws on the steering column became wood screws in 1975). This is intended to trace the basic development of the car. For many people the 2002 will be the only BMW they will ever own. For others it is one they will read about but never experience the joy of driving. For yet many others it is the best BMW ever built, second, perhaps only to the M3.

Ed. note: the author Michael Potheau. BMW CCA member no. 2 and proprietor of parts-supplier Circle Tire, was instrumental in founding the Club. This article first appeared in the Boston Bimmer and then in the April 1987 Roundel. Michel has updated and added to it for us. Rob Mitchell long-time CCA -er and BMW Product Information Manageer added his expertise to the original version.

Author: Michel Potheau
BMW CCA’s (and maybe the world’s) foremost ’02 authority.


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