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
Being popular wasn’t on Alan Rich’s mind when he started thinking about restoring this 1973 model. He was much more interested in experiencing the joy a well-sorted example could provide.
“As soon as I sold my previous ‘72 2002 in 2005, I was overcome with seller’s remorse,” Rich says. “I found myself looking at Craigslist that very afternoon for another one. No other car I have ever owned has produced that kind of emotion when we parted ways.”
Since he couldn’t get his old car back, Rich, who was then resident in Portland, Oregon but now lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, was faced with a dilemma.
“Do I buy a reasonably nice example and restore it to its original glory for the rest of the world to enjoy and appreciate?” he asked himself. “Or do I risk alienating BMW purists by modifying it in an effort to make an already iconic car quicker and a little more fun to drive?”
Since he’d already owned two stock versions, he decided to go the modified route, creating what’s known in ’02 enthusiast circles as an “M2”—a 2002 powered by an S14 four-cylinder sourced from an E30 M3. While you might expect the S14 to be harder to come by, the donor chassis took longer to locate.
“The unfortunate reality is that a good share of the remaining ’02s out there have been either made into track cars or are sitting on blocks somewhere with a well intentioned owner hoping to restore it someday, or they’re long forgotten in a farmer’s field, leaving a pretty small pool to choose from,” he opines.
Rich knew how important finding the right car would be. It needed to be straight, rust-free and unmolested—and this time it needed to have a factory sunroof, which his last 2002 had lacked.
“I searched Craigslist every week in all the usual sunshine states for that elusive BMW. After months of frustration I opened the search area to North America, looking at countless cars in the process. Two years later, in 2007, I eventually found a ’73 sunroof model at a shop called Munich Motorworks in Portland, Oregon—right in my own backyard!”
From father to son…again
The faded Atlantic blue BMW had minimal history, but the golf club smashed through the windshield left a clue that a previous restoration had not ended well. At some point, raccoons had made a home in the back seat and mice had taken up residence in the heater box. Based on the amount of surface rust, it was obviously a neglected car that had been stored outside for some period of time. It was also an automatic transmission model with no engine. Not exactly the diamond-in-the-rough barn find Rich was dreaming about.
Fortunately, a lot of the important hard-to-find parts were in the trunk of the multi-hued blue BMW. Rich paid shop owner Joseph Gilmore the full asking price, and in return was allowed to store the car and work on it at the seller’s repair shop. Rebuilding the 2002 on a lift, the way he wanted to, was a dream come true. Rich could complete his project with his son Zach, then 16, and pass on the same love for cars that his father had given to him.
“I caught the BMW bug at age 14 growing up in suburban Colorado during the 1970s,” Rich recalls. “A neighbor’s Verona red 2002 started it all. My dad was an engineer, a great mechanic, and more of a Porsche 911 guy. He was a product of post-WWII depression in England, so he took care of his stuff and kept it. He never bought into the ‘buy a new car every couple of years’ philosophy. He believed in paying a little more up front, buying quality, taking care of it and never paying anyone else to do something you could do.”
From Colorado, the Rich family moved to California where Alan met his future wife, Marcy. After college, the young couple moved to Oregon and started a family, which eventually included the BMW ’02 Rich sold in 2005. In the two years that passed between that car’s sale and his acquisition of the Atlantic ’02, he had plenty of time to think about what he really wanted from his BMW experience.
“I approached this restoration with the understanding that in its original form the 2002 was the iconic little Bimmer that put BMW on the map in the U.S. It combined agile handling, solid German engineering and practical four-person accommodations in a reasonably priced package,” he says. “So, how would I go about modifying this ’02, making it better without sacrificing its unique charm and character? I dug out my list of desirable 2002 dream car upgrades that I’d been carrying around for twenty years and got started.”
With a little help from raccoons
The first thing Alan and Zach did was strip the car. The previous raccoon tenants had already performed some of the demolition. The headliner was in shreds, and the dash was so weathered it came out in a dozen small chunks. The front seats and carpet were sold for scrap. Only the rear seat’s metal frame and springs were salvageable.
After the entire car was media blasted, they could see the areas that really matter, like rocker panels, wheel wells and strut towers, which were rust-free. The usual trunk corrosion was easily eliminated, but the hood was too far gone. The shop owner could see Alan was serious about breathing life back into the old car, so he generously donated another hood to the cause.
With the car in bare metal, Rich pere et fils had a rolling tub that could serve as a blank canvas. The plan was to leave the body looking fairly stock without adding fender flares, hood scoops or a rear wing. The chrome bumpers would stay, and the missing beltline trim and body molding would be replaced.
Before that could happen, the car needed lots of body work. In the process, the holes for the front license plate, side-marker lights, and reflector mounting holes were welded up providing a cleaner look. The original exhaust outlet hole on the passenger side of the rear apron was also eliminated, replaced by a new central exit.
After a custom rear shock tower brace and rear-mount battery hold-down were welded in, the car was prepped for paint. Courtesy Autobody in Beaverton, Oregon applied four coats of “MINI Cooper Chili Red” urethane paint #581 and three layers of clear coat.
“I’ve always loved red cars as far back as I can remember,” reports Rich. “I chose BMW-MINI Chili Red because to my eye it’s a true red. It doesn’t drift toward an orange tone like BMW Henna Red, and it does not veer towards burgundy like BMW Malaga. Since nothing else on the car was stock, I figured, what the heck?”
Rich’s BMW features brand-new OEM stock trim, including chrome mirrors and front grilles. Euro versions of the license plate lights, front and rear bumper over-riders and front turn signals add flair. A front air dam was also added, with accessory lighting and a large vent for the oil cooler. An Ireland Engineering front strut brace was also installed.
Inside, new OEM carpet, headliner, sun visors and new Recaro heated front seats with mesh headrests from an E21 320i were installed. Matching red and black upholstery on the rear bench and door panels completes the sporty M look, along with Momo accessories—like a leather steering wheel with vintage Roundel horn button, leather shift knob and e-brake handle. The final touch is a custom center console with VDO gauges and a trick Alpine stereo.
The engine is the heart and soul of any car—and Rich’s plan wasn’t about to cool off here. He bought a totaled 1990 E30 M3, parted it out on eBay, and kept the S14 engine for free. Off it went to the engine rebuilder, where displacement was increased from 2.3 to 2.5 liters with an Evo crank, 11.1:1 high-compression pistons and forged I-beam connecting rods. The DME chip was upgraded to a Dinan Stage 2. Rich also fitted a high-capacity oil cooler, oversized aluminum radiator, custom S14 oil pan, ceramic-coated headers and an Ireland Engineering stainless steel exhaust system.
Based on compression ratio and other mods, Alan believes the horsepower to be in the 245 range, compared to 200 hp for a stock S14 and more than double the original M10’s horsepower with only a minor increase in weight. To transmit all that newfound power, Rich gave the ’02 a heavy-duty clutch with a lightweight aluminum flywheel, a short-shift Getrag 245 five-speed transmission with S14 bell housing modifications and a 25% limited-slip differential whose custom 4:10 ratio reduces the car’s top speed but ensures lots of fun getting there.
Fortunately for Alan and Zach, they weren’t the first to attempt transplanting an S14 engine into a 2002. More than 100 S14-2002s have been built worldwide, and loads of documentation was available to help with the transplant process. Dave Varco of Aardvark Racing in Bonita, California was instrumental in supplying parts and direction for the “M2” conversion.
As Rich notes, the 2002’s original wiring harness doesn’t remotely resemble the wiring harness for the E30 M3, so that part needed to be adapted to accommodate the more modern powerplant. The S14 is a little larger than the M10, and the motor mounts require slight modification as does the sub-frame, and the stock S14 headers interfere with the 2002 steering arm.
“Better to find this out before you pull out of the garage to discover you can only turn left!” Rich exclaims.
When new, 2002s came stock with 13-inch steel wheels with hubcaps and 165/70 tires. Rich wanted to upgrade to 15-inch wheels with 195/50 tires in front and 205/50s in the rear, but finding a set of the elusive BBS RS 15-inch wheels in staggered 6.5 and 7.0-inch widths proved more difficult than locating a crack-free dash. And it took another year of experimenting with spring rates and anti-roll bar settings before everything was properly balanced for Rich’s driving style.
and accumulating miles
In 2008, Rich and the team at Portland’s Pacific Motorsports put the final touches on the hot rod ’02. To match the other body emblems, four 70mm red, blue and purple cloisonné BMW Motorsport badges went on the wheels. A custom “M2” badge was mounted to the trunk, identifying this motorsport BMW as something different. Groovy.
Over the past seven years this fiery red 2002 has gone on many long drives and won a few trophies along the way.
“I suppose the BMW CCA 2013 Oktoberfest Concours d’Elegance in Monterey means the most to me,” he says. There, his 1973 BMW took second in the 2002 division by the tightest of margins, scoring 74 points against the 74.5 points of a ‘72 2002tii that had been trailered to the event. It also won one of the six novice trophies that day.
Still, Rich insists this car was built primarily for driving, and the 30,000 cockpit miles on the odometer since completion are convincing proof of that. Eager and intensely enthusiastic about his car, he sums it up beautifully.
“I’m loyal to the marque that we all know as the ultimate driving machine. But I’m even more loyal to this BMW. It has old school looks mated to turnkey dependability with a spirited fuel-injected powerplant. This car is a keeper that Zach and I can enjoy for many years to come.”