Guest contributor: Yan Alexandre on his 1967 BMW 1600ti
The Blenheim Gang is one of our favorite motoring-related destinations on the web, effortlessly blending a love of both cars and funky pop culture and served through a playful (witness the great website name), uniquely French lens. And for that we have its editor (and one of our long-time favorite photographers), Yan Alexandre, to thank.
When he’s not running the Blenheim Gang, Yan can be found driving his 1967 1600ti. We talked to Yan about what he loves most about this car.
MCB: Why the 1600ti?
YA: The 1600ti was my first classic car, and also the first time I really had the opportunity to choose a car by and for myself, so for me it was a bit of an important decision. I was searching for a car with a sporty character, but one that had enough room to bring friends, wasn’t too expensive to run and maintain, and was robust enough to be a daily driver. It had to cost between 5,000-7,000 €, and be a car from the ’60s— a genuine classic. I wasn’t searching for a particular car, and several – from various makes and countries of origin – matched my list of criteria. For a long time I thought that *perfect* first classic car would be an MGB GT!
MCB: How did you find the 1600ti?
YA: I was in touch with a Swiss classic car dealer, and one day he called to let me know he had found something for me. I had some friends living in Geneva go take a look at the car, and they told me it looked okay. So I took the train to Switzerland, saw the car, and fell in love with it at first sight, buying it on the spot. But truth be told, I had never considered buying a BMW prior to then and hadn’t known the 1600ti even existed before the dealer’s call.
The trip back from Geneva to Paris on B roads was like a dream come true, but it became a nightmare rather quickly after that: during my first rally about a month after purchase, the head gasket blew (in fact the head was cracked); then a tire blew out on the motorway; and then while the car was on a lift, I discovered that below the beautiful paint, the sills were totally rotten— and that was just the beginning. I did have all these issues addressed over time, so it runs great now.
MCB: How long was your search?
YA: Very long— something like three years, as I wanted to make sure I was buying the right car. I came so close to buying so many different ones: a Lancia Fulvia, an MG Midget, a Fiat X1/9, a Rover P5B, a TVR Taimar.. even a tiny (and fake) Vanden Plas Princess 1100. But each time I came close there ended up being something or other wrong with these cars (although as luck would have it, there turned out to be plenty wrong with the 1600ti as well..).
MCB: What’s it like to own?
YA: After spending some money to sort out all the issues, it became a fantastic car to drive, meeting my expectations in every way. The car is fast enough to take part in a number of drives and rallies, but practical enough to daily drive in Paris— all the more after I swapped the old and worn 1600 gearbox (with a cable clutch) for a more modern 2002 hydraulic one, which is incredibly light and precise. In Poland I got the cylinder block welded, and since then I’ve never had a problem with the engine. The two Solex twin carburetors can be an issue (I had two failures in the middle of nowhere that stranded me for awhile), so you do need to take pains to adjust or have them adjusted.
MCB: What’s it like to drive?
YA: I’ve never driven another New Class, but a guy who owned both a 1600ti and a 2002ti told me the 1600ti is harder – but also more fun and rewarding – to drive at speed, as you really have to rev the engine to tap into its peak power. It’s a very thin margin: below 4000 rpm there’s nothing, the redline is somewhere like 5500 rpm, so that is the range in which you have to operate. In comparison to its main competitor, the Alfa Giulia Sprint 1300 Junior, I find you have slightly less power but more responsiveness to the steering. While the Alfa is a GT, to me the BMW feels a bit more like a GTi. You can feel it even in the different seating positions in those cars.
The 1600ti is very quiet and comfortable, and the boot is huge, so you really can use it for long trips with your girlfriend. It’s just better to avoid motorways, though, as at 120km/h (75mph) and up the engine can start to get noisy. Quite frankly, you feel more like you’re in a sedan than in a sports car or coupé, but you do have enough power (105 hp, which was a lot in 1967) to keep up with modern trafic.
MCB: What makes you love this car, and what are some of your favorite things about it?
YA: Its versatility. I don’t know any car from the ’60s that offers quite the same combination of practicality, ease of use, and emotional connection. I also love all the ’60s touches: lots of chrome inside and out; the huge wooden steering wheel and gear shift knob; the little quarter vent windows; the tiny clock in the middle of the dashboard. The greenhouse is really impressive, and people who get in the car for the first time remark on how bright and airy it feels inside the car.
And of course the reliability of the M10 engine is particularly noteworthy. I once drove the car 23 straight hours, at speed, from Luxembourg to Kraków, and not once did the car hiccup or overheat even in the slightest. It’s often hard to believe that this is a 45 year-old car.
MCB: What should a person look out for when buying one?
YA: The 1600ti in particular is now very rare— some say there are only around 80 remaining worldwide, and that includes all the ones that are no longer on the road. It’s quite easy to turn a normal 1600 to a 1600ti (just as it is a 2002 to a 2002ti)— simply add 2 twin-bore carburetors and an anti-roll bar in the front (though the 2002ti does also have a rear anti-roll bar). The only parts that are specific to the ti are its pistons, which have a very specific shape. If you have them, it’s a ti; if you don’t, it isn’t.
The rest of the car is the same as any early 02. Not counting the Turbo, I believe the 1600ti is the most expensive 02 to maintain, as it combines relatively rare engine specifications with all the trim pieces of the earlier BMWs— some of them now very hard to find. But you can find most of the components, at least in Europe, from several well-known BMW parts dealers.
Finally, with BMWs being BMWs, most of the features on these cars came as options. Your 1600 could come without a tachometer or key-locked filler cap. The wooden steering wheel is also quite rare. If you find a car equipped with it, buy it!
MCB: What would you like to own in the future?
YA: I dream about so many cheap and fun cars, such as a W123 Merc (coupé or estate) or 528i E28 BMW. The 1600ti’s greatest strength is also its main problem: it’s so versatile, it’s hard to identify a car that’ll complement it properly. In the 1600ti I already have a sedan, a sports car (albeit one that’s admittedly a bit poky), and a ’60s classic, all rolled into one. I still dream of an MGB GT or a Reliant Scimitar SE5A, but it’s the same issue with those. It seems my next car quest will take as long as the previous. And I’m not yet ready to sell the BMW.
MCB: You’ve driven a lot of nice cars in your capacity as editor of the Blenheim Gang. What are some of your favorites?
YA: The best driving experience I ever had was traveling from Paris to Spa (and back) in a real Lotus Seven. I think it’s the most amazing car to drive. No other road legal car feels like it’s simply an extended part of your body. The steering is so responsive, you only have to think about turning and the car follows your thoughts instantly. And you sit so low that you don’t need to go really fast to feel the thrill of speed, although you could easily outrun anyone on a winding road if you wanted— the big blast of the exhaust right behind you. It’s as pure a driving experience as it gets. A street legal race-modified Seven S2 would be my all-time favorite driver’s car.
I also love modern Lotuses. I drove the latest Elise in the French Alps, and it was fantastic. I love the fact that the car is slightly underpowered, which means I, as an average driver, can drive fast while staying within my limits. The Evora S is great as well – it’s like an Elise you can also use on the motorway – and despite its many faults, I love it (and perhaps also because 99% of people would probably choose a Cayman S over it).
Having said that, you might be surprised to learn that my favorite car is actually the Rolls-Royce Phantom. You can’t truly understand what a Rolls-Royce is like until you’ve been chauffeured in one— and I don’t mean for five minutes around the block, but a true owner’s experience. I had the chance to experience that during a visit to the factory in Goodwood, which came complete with chauffeur service in a LWB Phantom from Heathrow. It’s like being in an hotel suite floating down the road. Then you drive it, and it will amaze you even more. This car has the lightest controls that exist anywhere, it’s just impossible to fathom. And it’s so huge, it’s like driving the entire Plaza Hotel down Fifth Avenue, seated in a fine leather armchair with just one finger on the wheel. And a glass of cognac in the other hand. But since you can’t properly drive a Phantom – unless you want everyone to think you’re a chauffeur (not exactly the best part of owning a Rolls) – I think the day I win the lottery, I’ll go for the most baroque Drophead Coupé available.
MCB: Living in Europe, you are obviously blessed with world class driving roads. What are your favorites?
YA: The French Alps are fantastic. You can find all kinds of mindblowing roads there, for all types of sports cars, from the tiny Elise to massive supercars. My favorite roads are the forgotten passes, the ones with no traffic that feel like they’ve been frozen in time since the ’50s. The next step is to explore the Swiss, Austrian, and Italian Alps. The Ardennes (between Spa-Francorchamps and Luxembourg) are quite nice, too, and there are some nice breweries there as well.
But my favorites scenic roads are actually in Scotland and Wales. I just love everything about the United Kingdom, and going there is always fantastic. You just have to deal with very narrow bumpy roads, and oncoming trafic that can come at you quite fast— on the opposite side of the road, no less. Scary, sometimes.
MCB: Any concluding thoughts?
YA: Forget about whether your car is dirty, rusted, ugly, common, or underpowered. Just drive it. No wrong will come out of that, just adventures and new encounters.
Words and images: Yan Alexandre, bleinheimgang.com