Guest contributor: Will Beaumont on his 1971 BMW 2002

In a family where British and Italian cars are considered to be the only cars worth owning, my penchant for something German makes me a slight outcast. Okay, that’s not exactly true – we are all enthusiastic about good cars no matter the nationality – but it is true that out of the four of us (and a garage with more cars than people), I am the only on who owns something that isn’t British or Italian— a 1971 BMW 2002.

I had just turned 19. After driving a car kindly lent by my dad for a couple of years, I felt it was time to buy a car of my own. Other than a frivolous purchase from a few years earlier (a 1500 VW Beetle), this would be my first car, and I knew how I’d buy it: with an influx of money that I was expecting in the form of a student loan. Now, a proper student would have moved away and spent that money on a ludicrously small (but still expensive) flat or house to share with a collection of people who have little or no idea about hygiene, and the rest on lots of £1 bottles of alcopops. I, on the other hand, decided to stay at home and spend the money on something to help me on my commute to University.

With a limited budget, my options weren’t spectacular, but I was nevertheless determined to buy something interesting, as well as a classic. I began the process of narrowing down my list. It had to be rear wheel drive, so the gorgeous (and at the time reasonably affordable) Lancia Fulvia was regrettably out. An Alfa 105 coupe had originally been first on my list, but turned out to be far too expensive for immediately usable examples. The Giulia was much the same way. Maybe something from Ford, then— a Cortina perhaps, or a MkI or MkII Escort. Again, too expensive for one that wasn’t peasant spec! Now a BMW 2002— still a little too much… but what about a 1602?

I had always been a fan of the Neue Klasse series, but I had also been pretty publicly anti-BMW. I had never had a problem with the cars themselves, just the reputation of the people who drove them. A lot of diehard car people, especially in the UK, held the same opinion: what should have been the obvious choice for any real driver had become off-putting, given that BMWs had become synonymous with ostentatious, crass, and tasteless displays of wealth.

Fortunately, though, no one could criticise you for trying to display wealth with a scruffy, sub-£2000, 30-year-old 1602. I got over my inverted snobbery and bid for a Verona Red 1975 1602 on eBay (an invaluable resource for any classic car owner). I won the auction and bought the car, sight unseen, for a mere £1,600.

I thoroughly loved it. I ran it with Minilites and sans bumpers, in true traditional boy racer fashion. But that was about as racy as it got. The clutch slipped when you used any more than a quarter of the accelerator, and it was determined not to rev past 4,000 rpm. Something had to be done, and I’m not one for doing things by half.

A plan was set to replace the 160,000 mile 1600cc with a rebuilt 2000cc, which I happily acquired for free from a 2002 Touring donor car. It would feature a lovely set of high-compression pistons and a set of even nicer 40 DHLA Dellortos. The suspension would receive a 30mm drop, Bilstein dampers all around, and some camber plates to try to eradicate the hint of positive camber at the front— no small task for someone with little to no experience in mechanical endeavours. Fortunately, I had a very capable dad to guide me through the work, an on-and-off process that would eventually take a couple of years. Two summers later, it was finally ready.

The start of the summer meant I could use the car for what I had always hoped: to drive it abroad. That summer, a friend and I headed for the Alps with a tent. We covered approximately 3000 miles and almost circled the whole of France. At this point I was glad I had opted for the Bavarian rather than a Ford. The Alps, Cote d’Azur, Le Mans, and Reims just seemed more fitting for a car from the Continent rather than from Dagenham.

Unlike clothes of the ’70s, though, the cars don’t have the same resilience— if only car manufacturers could have used poly blend instead of steel! The 1602 wouldn’t have made it through its vehicle inspection at the end of the summer, so once again, I would have to take the car off the road for the winter. Mechanical tasks – no matter how in-depth – never scared me, but I had sleepless nights thinking about one thing: rust. Body work is not something I ever felt I could take on, which is unfortunate given that this seems more expensive to farm out than mechanical work.

Sharp-eyed readers will have noticed that the majority of the photos in this article rather pointedly do not depict a 1975 BMW 1602. The real anoraks might have even questioned whether the paint was Verona Red at all. Let me explain: once the car was pulled off the road, the body work was to begin. I stripped the 1602 of all its parts in preparation for the expensive and time-consuming rust removal to be done. What eventually happened was that I found a 2002 shell that had been ‘restored’ (all rusty panels replaced or patched) and painted in a similar – but not quite matching – shade of red.

I snapped it up as not only was it a rust-free shell, but also a mere fraction of the cost of having my existing shell repaired. I transferred all the good parts: engine, suspension, and interior from the 1602 into my new, freshly painted, roundtail, 1971 2002. While putting things back together, I also couldn’t help installing a 5-speed overdrive gearbox and a low-ratio Gripper limited slip differential.

Fast forward to summer of 2010. As was done the previous summer, I embarked on another continental driving holiday. First I stopped at LeMans Classic; then it was on to Cortona, Italy, via Switzerland and the infamous Stelvio Pass.

Now, at this point, you’d be forgiven for thinking that I only use my car for fun continental alpine pass driving. But in truth, I am quite fortunate to say that this is my daily car. It might not be the perfect daily for most people – the suspension is quite firm, it’s geared quite low, it’s a little on the noisy side, the LSD is a bit too aggressive, the racing harnesses render the rear seats useless, and the front seats mean that if I do have a passenger they must be slim – but for me it’s pretty much perfect. I don’t cover a large number of miles in a week, but I do try to have as much fun as possible. I can’t tell you how much fun I do have, but with the sound of the twin carbs and what is probably a bit-too-aggressive-for-the-road LSD, I think you can probably imagine. The car handles beautifully and if there is ever a hint of understeer, a healthy amount of throttle can cut it in the bud.

This will be my first winter where I will, hopefully, be able to continue keeping the car on the road. I am thoroughly looking forward to snow and ice, but even more than that, next summer’s annual continental trip. My initial plans this time are to go to Spain over the Pyrenees. Or maybe the Nürburgring and then the Alps again. Or perhaps the Isle of Man via Wales, and then an Anglesey track day…

Words and images: William Beaumont

Will Beaumont is a graphic designer and the editor of The Idealist, a lifestyle magazine. His website can be found here.

~ by velofinds on November 5, 2010.

5 Responses to “Guest contributor: Will Beaumont on his 1971 BMW 2002”

  1. VERY recognisable story. I ended up with an Alfa 105.

    Nice car by the way, especially love the seats. Your story reminded me of the fact I have to take a trip to the circuit of Reims with my Bertone. Probably next year!

  2. Nice car! 🙂

  3. The car looks great Will, plenty of character. I like where that aerial is too! I’ve not ever noticed that before, is that factory placement?

  4. So fresh! Love the little details.

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