BWM 2002 FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about BMW 2002’s

Please note that the author of this FAQ is unknown but appears to be a writer/editor from Roundel. If you happen to know who wrote this very helpful Q&A, please let me know so we may give credit where credit is due. Thank you.

Why the hell would I want to drop four grand on a fifteen year-old car when I can buy a Yugo

Since the Roundel is a family magazine, I’ll let the comment about the Yugo pass. The point is, however, well taken: When $4000 will buy a late model GI’I, not to mention the lion’s share of a new econobox, why spend it on a BMW 2002? Clearly I’m already addressing a sympathetic audience, but let me offer a few caveats.

The last BMW 2002 rolled off the assembly line in 1976, the first in (egad!) 1968. Sports cars this old are not for everyone. Major components need rebuilding. Door and window seals and firewall sound insulation deteriorate, making the cars noisy at highway speeds. Obscure rubber bushings underneath the car dissolve. If you go crying to the mechanic every time you think the thing needs a tune up, you’ll be out a lot of money. And then there’s rust. These are not, however, design flaws specifically endemic to BMW; any older car will need attention. It’s just that the level of performance you expect from a sports car makes you notice the things that aren’t up to spec. If you habitually did four wheel slides and full-bore runs up entrance ramps in a Dodge Dart, the squirmy suspension would drive you nuts and that famous slant six would suck its share of oil.

On the other hand, older cars have quite a few virtues. First and foremost, they are easier to repair. When you open the hood, you see the components laid out the way God intended them: fuel pump, carburetor, and engine are connected in a manner that does not require a P.h.D. in plumbing to comprehend. Emission controls are superficial add-ons, rather than integral parts of the engine design. Then there is the financial aspect. Ignore for a moment the high purchase price of most new cars; the cost of the taxes and the insurance is enough to pay for replacement of the exhaust, tires, brakes, and probably quite a bit more, on a used car. And, if the car is a well cared-for classic like a 2002, it will appreciate in value. Friends of mine think I’m crazy when I drop $220 on something like a set of calipers. Frankly, I think they’re a bit off for shelling out $350/month in payments for a new car that will lose much of its value by the time it’s paid off. To each his/her own.

In short, buy what you want. If you want a cheap, dependable commuter car, look through Consumer’s Guide for used Toyota’s. If you have your heart set on a 2002, buy one. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

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OK I’ve been warned. So what’s so good about 2002s anyway?

That’s easy. They’re sports cars that do a lot of things well. If you listen to and obey the warning signs and sounds, they’re extremely dependable. Granted, I usually carry enough tools to repair a small plane, but I’ve never had a 2002 die and leave me in the lurch. You can drive them all day at 8/10 without blowing head gaskets and still get decent mileage. They handle well. They are easy to repair. They respond well to gerry-rigging and modification. Parts prices aren’t completely outrageous (only moderately outrageous). Used parts are fairly ubiquitous. And this musician can’t put 4 guitars in the back of a 911.

Perhaps a story will illustrate. When my wife and I were planning to drive from Austin to Colorado to do some backpacking, we had the-choice of taking our VW-camper with its newly rebuilt engine or the Ig12 2002 that I’d recently bought and had not yet worked all the bugs out of. Although the BMW 2002 was obviously faster, we opted for the “proven” car. About 100 miles out the bus started running very hot. We limped it home and were trying to decide whether to fix it, rent a car, postpone the vacation or take the BMW. This responsible mechanic was adamant against driving an “unproven” car to Colorado. My wife pressed me: “What’s wrong with it?” Well, it burns oil. There’s no spare tire. A million little things.” So we bought a case of Castrol and a can of Fix-o-Flat, stuffed the car to the gills with camping equipment and coolers, and made it to Santa Fe the first day and Durango the next. That’s what’s so good about 2002’s

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What are the differences between years?

More than I can recap here. For a more thorough list, see Michel Potheau’s excellent article “2002 In Memoriam – A Technical History” in the April ’87 Roundel. That having been said, I’d like to briefly describe the changes in the engine.

Until mid-1972, the 2002 was equipped with the old style head. Stamped “121” or “121ti” on the intake side, the head had small combustion chambers, 44mm intake valves, and was fed by a single-barreled Solex carburetor equipped with a manual choke. The carb ran forever and was easy to adjust, but didn’t provide the kick that the engine was capable of.

In mid-1972, BMW changed the carburetor, the head, and the pistons. The single-barreled Solex was replaced with a progressive two-barreled Solex. The concept of a progressive carburetor is a good one; the primary barrel is always opening, but the secondary barrel only starts to kick in when the throttle is 2h of the way to the floor (sounds like one of those “twin trak shaving systems”), thus boosting performance while retaining fuel economy. Unfortunately, the progressive Solex turned out to be a miserable carburetor. It was prone to stumbling – and hard starting, the automatic choke was virtually unadjustable, and attempting to rebuild it was a terrible exercise in misplaced loyalty. The newer style E12 head had larger hemispherical combustion chambers, 46rnm intake valves, and better flow than the 121 head. With no other changes, these larger chambers would have produced less compression, so dome-topped pistons were added to mitigate this effect. Pistons are not interchangeable between the 121 and E12 heads, although both heads and piston sets fit aU engine blocks.

In 1976 BMW redid the engine again, this time installing the E21 head (later put on the 320i) and flat top pistons. The engine ran smoothly enough, but the low compression dropped the output to 95 horsepower. A rear end with a higher gear ratio was added to restore some measure of acceleration, but top speed suffered as a result.

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Yow. Where does the 2002tii fit into all this?

The tii was a “special” fuel-injected 2002 imported from 1972 to 1974. Simply speaking, today’s cars have fuel injection to provide both economy and some degree of power (it’s easier to computer-control fuel injection than carburetors), but in the 2002tii’s day, an engine was fuel injected to make it fast. There’s a fine line between pleasure and pain. The Kugelfischer fuel injection that all tiis are outfitted with is famous for providing its owner with both. The fuel injection pump itself is relatively bulletproof (it better be — OEM replacements weigh in at near $2100, with rebuilds available for around $350), but the linkage rods connecting the fuel and air components tend to wear, making proper synchronization difficult for the average backyard mechanic. To handle the extra power, the tii was outfitted with a braking system vastly superior to stock, utilizing a larger master cylinder/power assist booster and the same massive front calipers used on the Bavaria/3.0 sedan. While the stock 2002 came with 4 inch wheels until 1974, the 2002tii always had the wider 5 inch wheels, and it should be noted that the narrower wheels will not clear the tii’s front calipers. Joe mechanic here felt awfully stupid when he had his snows mounted on a spare set of rims, threw them on the car, and found the – front wheels completely immobilized. Aside from the fuel injection and higher compression pistons, tii engines are almost exactly the same as stock. The head differs only in the absence of a hole for the mechanical fuel pump rod; plug up the hole in a stock head and you have a tii head. The engine block, however, has an oil port on the left side to feed the fuel injection pump. Thus it is not possible to retrofit the tii fuel injection system onto a stock engine, even if you wanted to.

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Is there something special about the 1972 2002tii? I keep hearing it discussed in hushed, revered tones.

In a word, yes. The Tii underwent the same head change in mid-1972 as other 2002s, so for half a year, there was a 2002tii with a 121ti head. This early Tii used 10:1 compression pistons and was fitted with the larger 46mm intake valves that were later put on al the E12 heads. The resulting 142 horsepower was used to push a 3.45 rear end. At 4000 rpm, where their 3.64 rear end ratio puts most other 2002s at about 70 mph, the early ’72 tii hums closer to 80. The car is most easily recognized by the black plastic plenum tubes on the engine’s intake; later Tiis used metal ones.

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Were there any other variants? I’ve heard about a Ti.

The 2002ti was basically a Tii with twin Solex 40phh side-draft carburetors instead of fuel injection. It had the same improved braking system, tachometer, clock and mechanical, advance distributor as the tii. There is some confusion as to whether or not the ti used a different cam than a stock 2002. Every manual I’ve ever looked at lists all 1600-2002 models as having the same 264 degree cam. The 300 degree “factory sport cam” you hear about was only installed in the 180(ti’s and has bearing surfaces larger in diameter than the journals in a 2002 head). In plain English, it doesn’t fit. You can have the head align bored, but there are numerous standard-sized after-market cams that work just as well. The ti was never commercially imported here (can you imagine an air pump sucking the life out of dual carbs?). and many of the ones around have had the twin Solexe’s replaced with Weber 40DCOEs.

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Whenever someone mentions a problem with their 2002, I always hear “they all do that.” What do they all, uh, do?

Quite a few things. The classic one is jumpy gauges resulting from a badly grounded instrument panel. More troublesome is their appetite for radiators. It’s been said that the engineers who designed the 2002’s cooling system envisioned cool, gentle breezes wafting through the Bavarian forests, not the sun-baked stretches of summer on the American inter-states. Thus, 2002s tend to run hot unless their cooling systems are in near-perfect condition. Whenever I buy a 2002 that I plan to depend on, I swallow hard and spend the S200 to buy the new radiator, water pump, thermostat and hoses needed to pre-empt trouble. Some annoying quirks: the nut on the transmission output shaft has a tendency to loosen up, allowing the flange to fail; no amount of RTV seems able to squelch the oil leak between the upper and lower valve covers; when the engines get old they blow oil past the valve guides with a vengeance when you let your foot off the accelerator at speed; the door stops crack, allowing propped-open doors to swing shut, and – oh yes – except for freshly (and I mean freshly) rebuilt gearboxes and certain “ultimate” transmissions, they all munch second gear. Also, rust is a problem (he says with a devastating degree of understatement).

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Is there anything that you can do to keep the rust off?

Sure. Be a fanatic and keep the car off the road in the winter. Seriously. Short of this, oil undercoating seems to work well, but it doesn’t do wonders for the rubber bushings that live under the car. The jokes about “real-time undercoating” (engine and transmission leaks) would be funny if they weren’t so true. I’d avoid the hard, tar-based undercoating like the plague. When they start to crack, they can trap water between the coating and the body, providing the perfect environment for rust to fester unnoticed. I have similar reservations about using gravel-guard coatings on the rocker panels.

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I often see the word “Weber” used in 2002 ads. What does it mean?

When used in the singular, it usually means that the stock Solex has been replaced with a Weber 32/36 DGAV progressive two barreled downdraft carburetor. This is a great setup, providing better starting, good mileage and increased performance, and the conversion is easy if the car already has a two barreled Solex (mid ’72 and on). If the ad says “Weber’s,” two Weber 40DCOE two barreled side-draft carbs and their attendant intake manifolds have been installed, resulting in a very hot (and very thirsty) setup where each barrel directly feeds one cylinder.

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Does any BMW 2002 have a 5-speed?

Yes, but because virtually none of them were factory installed, they’re as rare as hen’s teeth. The 4-speed’s proclivity for lunched lay-shaft bearings and synchros makes its removal a near certainty during a 2002’s lifetime, so a transmission “update” becomes very tempting. A 5-speed overdrive gearbox from a 320i will physically bolt up to a 2002 engine (as in a 5-speed close ratio unit), but since the 5-speed is longer than the stock 4-speed, installation necessitates shortening and balancing the drive-shaft and moving the transmission mounts that are welded under the hump. All of this can be done, but it ain’t cheap. The added fuel economy of running overdrive on the highway to eke out a few more miles per gallon will take a long, long time to offset the expense. If lowering highway revs is the main objective, you can look for a 3.45 rear end from an early tii. Anyway, 2002s hum along okay in their upper rev ranges. The picture may improve in the near future; the book value of 320i’s is dropping, so salvage yards are starting to ask less for S-speeds out of wrecked cars. For now, though, 5-speeds are still categorized with other fanatic-level 2002 modifications like 15 ” modular wheels, trick fender flares, and rear disc brakes

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How about air conditioning?

No 2002 ever had factory air conditioning. Quite a few, though, were installed at the dealer, generally using Behr components and a nice, factory-looking console. The after-market units were usually York systems that didn’t include a fan in front of the evaporator, making them virtually useless in traffic. Neither of these systems were renowned for their efficiency. Don’t expect a 2002 a/c to be able to cool off the entire passenger compartment; they generally wage a losing battle against the sun streaming in through the “greenhouse” of windows. turn it on high and aim it at your face. If you wish to rejuvenate a dead or dying system, the new rotary-type compressors are smaller, lighter, and work much better than their reciprocating counterparts.

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Okay. You’ve sold me. What do you recommend I buy?

I could just say “buy a nice, tight tii” and be done with it, but that would spoil all the fun. So here we go. The old/new 2002 debate occasionally rivals the intensity of those Lite Beer commercials (“Classic — Lines.” “Working Bumpers.” “CLASSIC LINES!” “WORKING BUMPERS!”) and only nov threatens to be overshadowed by the larger, yuppie true enthusiast debate.

There is a smaller, more technical argument over which head is better, the 121ti or the E12 (“Higher Compression.” “Better Flow.” “HIGHER . . .” Never mind ) that is worth touching on. On one hand, a stock 12lti equipped 2002 has more horsepower than a stock E12 car (yes Virginia the older ones really were faster) but this is due mainly to the added weight, lower compression pistons and emission controls mandated in the later models by EPA/DOT regulations. The main point here is that BMW did not frivolously redesign the head. Almost any 2002 you buy will either have or need a rebuilt engine and it’s an easy matter to install moderately higher compression pistons to compliment the E12 head. Having owned both, I think that the head alone doesn’t make nearly as much difference as the overall condition of the engine. Similarly, the ’74 and ’75 models, frequently regarded as somewhat tainted due to excessive oil consumption and ridiculous levels of emission controls, are very rarely found in their original state, since most of the thermal reactors and smog pumps were heaved into the trash when their engines were rebuilt.

As for the bumpers, well, with all deference to the “real BMWs have round taillights” crowd, there’s no accounting for taste. What’s important to you? Living in Boston, I prefer big bumpers (purists are already burning me in effigy), so that restricts you to 74-76. If your state has emissions testing, check the years at which the requirements change. In Massachusetts, there’s one set of specs for 1g70-1g74 and another for 1975-1g79. This means that a late model 2002 is up there with the 320i’s with the catalytic converters. If you have your heart set on tricking out the engine, this is a very serious matter; I once had to pull a 292 degree cam out of a ’75 to get it to pass inspection. Then again, the older ones are lighter, the lines are more classic, and because they look, um, older, their purchase price is lower (actually, because they are older, their purchase price is lower). Since mechanically there are not really all that many differences, I recommend to people that they buy a rust-free car of any year, and certainly a rust-free ’71 will be cheaper than a rust-free ’76. If you want something hotter than stock and are entertaining the notion of engine modification (high compression pistons, dual Webers, long duration cam), do yourself a favor and at least test drive a nice, tight tii before you open this can of worms. When the engine is fresh and the fuel injection and ignition are spot on, they scream.


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