The 2002 is the car that put BMW on the map in the United States and defined the brand as a purveyor of purposeful driving machines. (It predates “The Ultimate Driving Machine” tagline.) The fact that it offers lively performance, provides a visceral experience behind the wheel, is mechanically robust, and possesses a straight-edged Bauhaus style further cements the 2002’s status as a top-flight European collectible.
As trumpeted in a seminal road test in Car and Driver, written by David E. Davis, Jr., the 2002 stood apart from the thundering but one-dimensional Detroit muscle cars and wheezy roadsters that defined automotive enthusiasm in the late 1960s and early ’70s. For those who owned a 2002 back in the day—or even years later as a beater—the cars often had an impact whose power did not diminish over time.
Don Dethlefsen, of The Werk Shop, a BMW-specialist restorer outside Chicago, says it’s not uncommon for clients to bring him a car for restoration that they’ve held onto for decades. Whereas The Werk Shop used to have mostly BMW 3.0 coupes with only the odd 2002, now the 2002 dominates. It seems a generation that experienced the beloved family car in their youth are now at a point in their lives where they’re able to bring one back to life.
The car’s popularity when it was new means that the universe of people who’ve been touched by a 2002 experience is large. That has created a thriving ecosystem for 2002 owners—with clubs, forums, and parts suppliers—but it also means that those who are on the outside looking to get in have lots of company. Here’s what to know if you’re among them.
Year-by-year rundown of the BMW 2002
The 2002 was an outgrowth of BMW’s Neue Klasse 1600 models. Developed with the encouragement of BMW’s U.S. importer, Max Hoffman—the man behind so many desirable European cars of the 1950s and ’60s—the 2002 amped up the sportiness inherent in the Neue Klasse compacts by installing the larger, 2.0-liter M10 engine into the two-door body.
The car was sold from 1968 through 1976. At launch, the 2.0-liter engine featured a single Solex carburetor and made an advertised 100 horsepower (a dual-carb version with 119 horsepower, the “ti” or “touring international”, was not imported). It was paired with a Getrag four-speed manual, soon joined by a much less desirable ZF three-speed automatic. (A five-speed manual was a later option but few cars were so equipped.)
Visually, the early cars are the cleanest, with slim chrome bumpers, round taillights, and single aluminum molding that encircles the body starting at the leading edge of the hood and extending straight back just under the door handles and onto the trailing edge of the trunk lid. With the second model year came the arrival of four-piston front-brake calipers and a new rear axle design. Mid-year ’71 saw the addition of a lower body rub strip and rubber strips on the chrome bumpers, as well as minor changes to the instrument cluster and center console.
The most significant change in the 2002 lifespan arrived for 1972 in the form of the tii, a fuel-injected model that remained through ’74. The tii (for “touring international” and “injection”) featured Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection that together with a higher compression ratio and larger valves boosted output to 130 horsepower. The tii also got beefier brake and suspension components, larger-diameter wheels, and a heavier clutch (the tii came only with stick shift). The mechanical makeover was comprehensive, but the tii was stealth in terms of looks—only the “tii” badge on the rear distinguishes this model.
Mid-year in ’72, both 2002 models switched to a new (E12) cylinder head, and the standard car got an EGR in place of the previous air pump and switched from a manual to an automatic choke.
Bumpers began their migration out from the body in ’73 but the squared-off energy-absorbing bumpers didn’t arrive until 1974, part of a visual makeover that also saw the grille insert switch from aluminum to black plastic and, sadly, the round taillights (thus, the “roundie” moniker for these earlier ’02s) supplanted by chunky rectangular units. Inside, the revised instrument cluster got a fake-wood surround, the upholstery changed, and the turn-signal stalk moved from the right to the left side of the steering column.
Changes for 1975 mostly involved onerous new emissions controls for the carbureted engine (the tii was gone) and new seats. The final model year of 1976 saw more fiddling with emissions controls with the problematic thermal reactor removed, a new (E21) cylinder head, and a lower axle ratio of 3.90:1 vs 3.64:1 (on non-California cars) providing slightly quicker acceleration.
The mighty 2002 Turbo (and other special models)
There are several intriguing models that were never sold in the U.S. Chief among them is the 2002 Turbo, considered the ne plus ultra of the breed and one of the most desirable BMWs ever. Introduced for 1974, this bad boy ran headlong into the global fuel crisis; BMW killed it after a single model year and just 1672 examples were built. Boosted to 170 horsepower (40 more than the tii) and 181 lb-ft of torque (up from 130), the blown 2.0-liter delivered its goods in the all-or-nothing way of early turbocharged engines, a quality that seems to have only enhanced its mystique. The Turbo also eschewed the tii’s understated visual approach in favor of racing graphics in the classic Bimmer tri-color scheme of dark blue, light blue, and red; flared wheel arches over wider wheels; and the front bumper replaced by an air dam (to which the truly hardcore add a mirror-script “turbo,” a provocation that upset the German press at the car’s debut).
Other gray-market variants include the fairly awkward-looking Baur targa conversion, a handful of 1971-only full convertibles, and the stubby-tailed hatchback Touring.
What to watch out for on a BMW 2002
Given that the model was offered from 1968–76, there are plenty of 2002s around. The bad news is that these cars typically were not creampuffs driven only to church on Sundays. Resign yourself to high mileage and look for something well sorted that has been either sympathetically maintained or carefully restored.
As is so often the case with collector cars, rust is your biggest worry. In the 2002, the special places to check for rust are the rear shock towers (visible in the forward part of the trunk), the front floors, and the frame rails connecting the front crossmembers to the floor, as well as those under the gas tank. The rocker panels in these cars are structural, so be sure to check for rust there, too. In the front fenders, it can lurk in the upper corners behind the turn signals and at the bottom of the fender behind the front wheels—front fenders are only available used and becoming harder to find.
Worn valve guides are a common issue. Look for a puff of blue smoke on deceleration. Check for oil leaks at the front and rear main seals, the valve cover, the distributor housing, and the oil pan. The Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection in the tii is widely regarded as unfussy—at least compared to its contemporaries—but by now the pump may be ready for a rebuild. The Solex carburetors used in the standard model can be problematic and is often replaced with a Weber 32-36 or 38-38.
Second-gear synchros are the weak spot in the generally robust manual transmission, although you’ll also want to look for leaks at the shaft seals. Further down the driveline, check the flex disc at the front of the driveshaft for cracks and the center support bearing on the driveshaft for sagging.
Outside of the drivetrain, the heater blower motor is a weak spot, and is labor-intensive to replace. A cracked dash is common but can be rewrapped—again, however, removing it from the car is a big job. The sunroof is another feature that commonly needs rebuilding. The tab there can be $1000 in parts alone.
The original air conditioning system was dealer-installed and can be from one of several different manufacturers used back in the day. But regardless of which brand it is, Kaelin Thompson, of La Jolla Independent BMW Service, says, “Original [piston-style] compressors are junk.” Ben Miller, of 2002AD in Southern California, adds, “You never see an original A/C system that’s still working.”
If you want to get it working, figure on a new compressor, drier, condenser, and related hoses, at a cost of $2000. Air conditioning can be added to a non-A/C car, and while the modern kit won’t look original it will perform better. 2002AD charges $2900 for the kit plus installation.
Still, Thompson says, “Everything can be fixed.” And although BMW made a splash a few years ago by building a 2002 entirely from remanufactured parts (save for the chassis), some items are no longer available new.
BMW 2002 modifications
The 2002 is a car that appeals more to drivers than to staunch preservationists, and as such, there are several common modifications that enhance its usability. Upfitting to a later BMW five-speed manual is a popular change allowing for more relaxed highway cruising. A car that originally was equipped with an automatic makes a better candidate for the swap because automatic cars had a wider transmission tunnel that better accommodates the physically larger five-speed gearbox, which is typically sourced from an E21-generation 3 Series. For the non-tii cars, fitting a Weber 32-36 or a 38-38 carburetor is a recommended upgrade for better dependability. And the weak factory sealed-beam headlights can be upgraded to Hella H4 bulbs.
“I think the 2002s sit a little high,” Dethlefsen notes. “I like the back end to squat a bit, so we change the springs.” He advises sticking with rubber rather than urethane bushings, however, in order to preserve ride quality. “The most important upgrade is a set of 19-mm and 21-mm sway bars,” he adds. “It’s probably the best improvement to the handling of a 2002.”
What the BMW 2002 is worth today
Aside from the all-but-unobtanium Turbos—now well into the six figures—the most desirable examples of the breed are the round-taillight tii models, followed by the 1974 tii, then the roundie regular cars, and finally the square-taillight regular model. (The well-sorted ’76 version is arguably the pick among that latter set.)
A round-taillight 2002 in #3 (Good) condition is worth $14,100–$16,500, depending on model year. That’s an increase of 8 percent over one year ago and a roughly 25-percent jump from 2017. Later, square-taillight cars have seen similar appreciation over the past two years, and stand at $11,600–$13,500 in Good condition. An automatic transmission drags down values by 15 percent, while a sunroof adds roughly the same amount
Currently, the tii (again in Good condition) commands roughly twice as much as a standard car. A 1972–73 roundie tii is $30,600 in Good condition, while buyers can save roughly 10 percent by choosing a ’74 for $27,600. The tii has been appreciating more quickly than the standard car, possibly pulled upward in the wake of the skyrocketing Turbo. “2002 Turbo prices have gotten so crazy-high that some people are being priced out of the Turbo and turning to the tii as the next best thing,” says Hagerty valuation expert Andrew Newton, “since it’s still a premium performance model that’s a clear step above more pedestrian base cars.”
Examples of the 2002 tii in Good condition have zoomed 55 percent in value in the last two years, although the rate of increase has cooled somewhat to about 9 percent the past year. Looking further back, prices for all 2002s were largely flat until 2015. Since the beginning of ’15, values for most base roundies up by 45 percent. For the tii, values have more than doubled, increasing by 143–160 percent. That’s on average across all conditions, with most of the growth coming from the #2-condition (Excellent) and #1-condition (Concours) cars
Newton also sees a couple macro factors behind the increased popularity of the 2002: “First, interest in collectible BMWs is up nearly across the board, so it’s only natural that people would turn to these. Second, enthusiasts and collectors increasingly seem to prefer usability, so the 2002 has big appeal in that it’s still a proper classic car with performance to match its contemporaries, but it’s also relatively reliable and you can fit a fair bit of stuff in it.”
Noting that solid driver-quality examples are still priced in the teens, Newton says, “They arguably still have a fair bit of room to grow.”
For the love of driving
As compelling as the appreciation case may be, it still pales next to the driving-enjoyment argument. With its SOHC inline-four, four-wheel independent suspension, manual worm-and-roller steering, power disc/drum brakes, and excellent visibility in all directions, the 2002 stood out like a beacon among its contemporaries. As the cornerstone on which the house of BMW was built, its historical significance is undeniable, but the car’s charming combination of honesty and sophistication is the true force powering the 2002 on the collector-car scene.