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Better handling and just enough power

When Agulian hands over the keys for a test drive, I climb into an interior that has also received a thorough going-over, with new door and rear panels, carpeting and headliner. A pair of reupholstered Recaros from a 320is provide a comfortable, secure position from which to drive, and a three-spoke, period-correct sport steering wheel frames the 2002 gauge cluster with its legible, easy-to-read dials. Otherwise, a boost gauge mounted discreetly in the center console is the only tip-off that this isn’t a normal 2002.

When I turn the key, the engine fires with a raspy burble through the Magnaflow muffler. At lower rpm, the BMW feels pretty much like a stock tii, with a nice wedge of torque from the eager engine propelling

the car forward. As the tach needle arcs toward and then past 4,000 rpm, however, everything changes. The hybrid turbo comes on boost, and acceleration ramps up considerably. It’s not a sudden burst of power, but you can definitely feel it.

While the turbo makes itself known at around the same engine speed as an original 2002 Turbo, the smoother, more progressive power delivery of Agulian’s car makes everything feel better-sorted. And because it’s running relatively low boost pressure, the motor feels nicely understressed, encouraging me to wring it out to redline as often as I find enough straight road. While a full bar of boost would likely add another 30 or so horsepower, the performance of the car as it is feels close to that of an original Turbo…but better, just as Agulian intended.

Straight-line speed holds its own appeal, but this ’02 wasn’t built to be a drag racer. Instead, it was designed as a well-rounded canyon carver, and indeed the BMW sticks like a the proverbial leech through a series of curves, with impressive mechanical grip considering the relatively small 225-series tires fitted to each wheel.

The modified suspension and perfect alignment result in an extremely nimble little coupe. Some drivers might find the stiffer setup a turn-off, but the firm ride feels like a good match for the turbocharged power on tap. Add to that the close-ratio gearing and you have a sure-fire recipe for big fun.

“I wanted to build a car similar to what someone would have built with a 2002 Turbo back in the ‘70s,” says Agulian.

And that’s exactly what he’s done, crafting a modern take on a retro tuner car. In avoiding the temptation to crank up the boost for maximum horsepower and instead constraining the project to extract more refined performance, Agulian has created a well-balanced turbocharged ’02. Starting with the basic ingredients from BMW’s 1973 concept, he’s polished them into a far more driveable package, one that’s very much like the original, only better.

So is the price. Agulian tells us he has roughly $21,500 in the car, including the price of the tii that served as its basis. At half or one-third the price of a restored 2002 Turbo, that sounds like a bargain.

Also from Issue 104

  • 3D Design, ESS tuned Z4 35is
  • First Drive in the 2012 F10 M5 sedan
  • First drive in the 1 Series-based ActiveE
  • AC Schnitzer MINI Eagle prototype
  • 535i Gran Turismo vs. Honda Accord Crosstour
  • Market Update: E39 5 Series
  • Cooling system preventive maintenance
  • Tuned 7 Series: Hartge H7S
  • Saratoga Automobile Museum BMW gathering
  • BMW racing glory and James Clay interview
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