Turn the key and the 2002’s stock gauges spring to life. Press the right pedal and an unusual exhaust tone erupts through the sunroof. It’s pure BMW, but deeper and more aggressive than the usual two-liter bark of an M10 four-cylinder.
Engage first gear and let out the mechanical clutch. Torque is present in abundance but easily transferred to the ground thanks to a limited-slip differential. A light touch on the Momo steering wheel is all that’s needed as the first corner approaches.
Narrow by today’s standards, the Bridgestone Potenza tires squirm on 15-inch BBS RS rims as the pace quickens. But they also give plenty of warning when grip begins to slip away. With its slim hips and petite footprint, this 1973 BMW 2002 is both nimble and easy to position. With each passing corner, my grin broadens.
When I press harder, two modifications make their presence known. The E30 M3 powerplant conversion is a big step up from stock, yet it’s a good match for the upgraded suspension, which features Bilstein sport shocks, H&R variable rate springs and adjustable anti-roll bars. The brakes are modified, too, with oversized ventilated discs on all four wheels. When I reach the final corner, I’m flying. I’m also sure I’ll come out the other side.
This BMW has just the right balance of grip vs. oversteer. A little more gas swings the tail out, a little less eases it back in smoothly. A modern M3 goes faster, handles better and has all the driver-assist features you could possibly want, but it doesn’t compare with the visceral nature of this judiciously modified car.
Enhanced driving dynamics aside, this bright red 2002 has the uncanny ability to gather a crowd wherever it goes. Perhaps it’s the Chili Red paint (from the modern MINI palette) or the appealing vintage custom interior. It probably helps that classic round taillight 2002s are enjoying renewed popularity for their good looks, reliability and performance.
Just for the joy of driving