Battleship Gray

Stored for ten years under a tarp, this 1976 2002 emerged to become a stunning resto-mod through the efforts of owner Karl Klewiada and his son Eric, with help from an expert painter and an experienced engine builder.

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July 21, 2016

Blame me. It’s all my fault.

I was just beginning my academic career teaching photography at Montclair State University in New Jersey, and part of my pedagogical charge was convincing my students that BMW’s spritely little 2002, not Detroit’s heavy iron, was the way to automotive Nirvana. (This was a long time ago, back when you could still buy one new.)

Some of my students were more receptive than others to this idea, especially if they’d already experienced German cars. Having customized a 1961 VW Beetle with his dad upon turning 16, Karl Klewiada proved particularly amenable to my instruction.

“Professor Schnitzer introduced me to the world of BMW 2002s, and it was an incredible eye-opener,” Klewiada recalls. “Who would ever think that a boxy car like that could be so amazing to drive? Not to mention that Klaus had an even higher passion for extreme driving than me. I think the BMW 2002s just naturally bring that out in people!”

Klewiada got his first BMW in 1979, when he bought a new 320iS. Since then, he’s had a slew of interesting European cars, including a 2008 M3 that he regrets selling and a 2009 Porsche 911 4S, plus a Kawasaki KZ900 and a 1979 BMW R100 motorcycle.

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Through it all, the 2002’s simplicity continued to appeal, and so did the car’s driving dynamics. More importantly, perhaps, the car’s ease of modification drew him back. A Bellingham, Washington builder of extraordinarily clever and interesting objects who began his career as a wind-tunnel model maker at Boeing, Klewiada planned to personalize his 2002 before he’d even started looking for one.

His first choice was a tii, naturally enough, but good examples were few and far between in the Pacific Northwest. When a co-worker mentioned that one of his Boeing teammates owned a 2002 that had been parked under a tarp for about ten years, Klewiada was ready to compromise. The car was a 1976 model that had left the factory in Inka orange but now wore Granada red, and though it wasn’t running it would serve as a good starting point for a resto-mod. It didn’t hurt that Klewiada’s son Eric had started taking auto body classes at a local technical college, turning the 2002 into an educational father-son project.

From prep to pièce de résistance

The home workshop was readied, and the dirty and dusty disassembly process began. During disassembly, Klewiada photographed and labeled every part to facilitate reassembly years later.

“By doing this, and with frequent references to the BMW 2002 FAQ forum, it made the reassembly process (years later) fun and rewarding, especially since I didn’t know what half of the stuff was at the time!” he recalls.

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The father-and-son team first attacked the body with aircraft paint stripper (rather toxic), and continued with scraping and sanding. It was a slow process thanks to the car’s multiple layers of paint, and it did little for the hard-to-reach areas. Eventually, they put the 2002’s skeleton on a trailer and took it to a shop for high-pressure blasting with bicarbonate of soda, an environmentally friendly method that was developed to clean the Statue of Liberty.

Further prep work and paint primer was done in Eric’s auto body class, and then the car was trailered to Lam Phan’s Affordable Autoworks in Bellingham. Phan’s crew replaced the floors, performed rust perforation surgery, gave the fenders a slight flare, excised the fuel filler door, relocated the rear exhaust exit point to dead center, removed the rear trunk key mechanism and replaced it with an electronic opener.

Phan eliminated all traces of chrome body trim, painting all remaining trim black or body color. He also got rid of the car’s original “diving board” U.S.-spec bumpers, replacing them with much smaller and shapelier pre-’74-style bumpers in fiberglass, which Klewiada reworked himself after finding the initial quality inadequate. In addition to their improved aesthetics, the bumpers are lighter than the originals, reducing the car’s polar moment of inertia.

Finally, Phan applied a stunning coat of gray paint that Klewiada calls the pièce de résistance. It consists of a PPG DBC base coat with three coats of clear, the latter polished to a better-than-new finish. A set of period-correct Hella driving lights adds the final touch to the car’s exterior.

A beautifully built up motor

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While the body was being rejuvenated, engine and mechanical guru Patrick O’Neil of Midnight Motorsport was rebuilding the M10 engine. The block and head were completely stripped, cleaned and magnafluxed, and all four cylinders were bored from the stock 89mm to 90mm. All internal components—including the 9.5:1 compression ratio (same as stock) pistons from Ireland Engineering with Hastings rings—were balanced and installed to race-car standards, and the rebuilt cylinder head received a 284-degree Ireland Engineering billet camshaft and a three-angle valve grind. New bronze guides hold stainless steel Ireland Engineering valves, which maintain standard dimensions at 46 and 38mm. Heavy-duty valve springs, chrome-moly retainers and heavy duty rocker arms should permit bursts past 7,000 rpm.

In place of the stock single Solex 49 PDSI carb, the engine inhales through a pair of Weber 45 DCOE carburetors, which were already on the car when Klewiada bought it and were rebuilt along with the engine. Activated by a Redline linkage, they’re mated to an Ireland Engineering manifold and breathe through Ramflo filters.

Spent gases exit through a custom 2.5-inch stainless steel mandrel-bend exhaust system with a ceramic-coated long-tube “step” header from Ireland Engineering, a Magnaflow SS muffler and 2.5-inch glass pack resonator. The Howitzer-like notes, especially above 4,500 rpm, are orchestral in quality. (Speaking of sound, the 2002 received a Kenwood Excelon head unit and four Rockford Fosgate speakers. I have no clue how this pleases the ear since I never turned it on; I was seduced by the sweet humming of the motor and the brass section exhaust.)

A Pertronix ignition sends volts from the Bosch “Blue” coil to be allocated through an Original BMW mechanical distributor. All of the car’s wiring was upgraded and reworked, with amps provided by a high-output alternator. An Ireland Engineering aluminum radiator (with silicon hoses and an electric fan) performs cooling duties.

A CNC-lightened flywheel lets the motor rev quicker, and a Sachs 215mm clutch transmits torque through a Getrag 245 five-speed overdrive transmission to a 3.91 limited slip differential sourced from a 320i.

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My educated guess is that the engine makes 165 horsepower at the crank, up from 100 hp stock. Alpina would be impressed.

In retrospect, go rust-free

Klewiada restored the suspension himself, opting for an Ireland Engineering Stage II setup with Bilstein Sport shocks and struts, with Ireland’s 22mm front/19mm rear anti-roll bars. He replaced the stock rubber bushings and mounts with polyurethane items for greater precision. He also sourced a rare quick-ratio steering box and rebuilt it; driving this car at slow speeds makes going to the gym unnecessary.

Klewiada upgraded the brakes with 320i parts. The front discs now measure 255mm instead of 240mm, and the rear twin-shoe drums measure 250mm instead of 230mm; brake fluid flows through stainless steel lines. Outboard of the brakes, the car rolls on retro-looking and aesthetically perfect Rota RB wheels that measure 7.0 × 15 inches, wrapped in Falken Ziex 195/50-15 rubber at all four corners.

The interior has been kept stock and period-correct but for LED lighting and a set of VDO gauges, and it received a complete makeover with HushMat sound deadening insulation behind new black carpet and a headliner from World Upholstery. Klewiada found installing the new headliner frustratingly difficult, but his efforts to get it right paid off. He installed new Recaro front seats and matching rears from Aardvarc Racing and sourced a new steering wheel from an E21 320iS. Finally, Klewiada replace all body seals, from hood to trunk and in between, with new rubber, then relocated the battery to the trunk along with the fuel filler, having already eliminated the outside filler door.

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Klewiada says the most challenging aspect of the project was simply keeping the focus required to get it done. He also says it would have been much easier if he’d started with a better car.

“I would have searched high and low for a rust-free or near rust-free 2002,” he says. “Going into this project, I figured I could buy a new, low-end car that I would use for my in-town travels, or I could take that money and restore a 2002 to like-new condition. Then I would have a fun, pristine classic versus run-of-the-mill transportation. But I tend to underestimate costs, and I also tend to go to extremes with perfectionism, so needless to say this project cost more than expected, but since it took four years it was sort of like a lay-away plan!”

Klewiada says he spent about $44,000 restoring the 2002, which is plenty of money in absolute terms but mere pocket change by Pebble Beach standards.

“Additionally, I would have gone with coil-overs and converted the rear brakes to discs,” he says. “Not that either one is needed, but just to have some additional subtle aesthetics.”

No sensory deprivation here

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When the car is finished, I meet Karl at Midnight Motorsport in Seattle for its maiden journey to his home in Bellingham.

Almost immediately after leaving, we get stuck for hours in one of Seattle’s infamous Interstate 5 traffic jams. The BMW never hiccups; the instruments stay in the proper green zones even as Karl sweats in this non-air-conditioned ’02. The noise from the open windows makes one a bit hard of hearing after a few hours, but even with the glass rolled up, visibility is almost as good as on a motorcycle: panoramic and airy, all the better to enjoy that Pacific NW scenery.

When the traffic finally clears, we leave the dreaded interstate for sinuous back roads so that the ’02 can finally stretch its legs. This is a car that requires a committed driver: It wants your full attention and also forces you to exercise a good bit of muscle. You’ve got to do more than just flex your right foot and twirl the overboosted steering—driving this car takes work.

The clutch is easy to engage, but shifting through the short linkage requires concentration. The steering wheel loads up under cornering forces, the feel meaty and rich in detail. The firm ride is perfect for these smooth back roads, transmitting sufficient information as to grip and texture. Body roll is controlled and progressive, kept in check by the tight damping from the Bilsteins. This car wriggles with feedback.

The cam comes alive with an extra surge at 4,500 rpm, and the induction sounds from the twin Webers on full throttle are vintage vinyl. Drivers of the current crop of turbocharged, throttle-by-wire cars should experience the immediacy and detailed response of the Webers to minor adjustments of the gas pedal.

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There is a purity of focus to this car’s driving dynamics. To exploit it, the driver must bring the same. There are no electronic guardians, and a 2002 at the limit can quickly acquaint one with local flora.

The nose gets lighter as the 2002 exceeds the speed limit. The air pushes the boxy 2002 around, exploding in noisy bursts over the flat trunk, unadorned by wind-cheating devices. Given an open stretch of autobahn, I’m pretty sure this car would be stable to 120 mph or so, but we’re in Washington, not Germany, and fear of a ticket sends a restraining signal to my sneaker.

Besides, driving this 40-year-old car is about the sensory experience, particularly around corners. Insouciant big speed simply isn’t part of a 2002’s DNA.

Garage queen? Not this ’02!

As we’re cruising around and comparing our impressions, I ask Karl what he’s got planned for his next project.

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“Whew! I just finished the 2002, so I need to take a break from car projects for a bit, otherwise this would end up being a career!” he laughs. “But I am actually starting to look at a couple of 1976 R 90 S motorcycles as a possibility.”

In the meantime, he’ll continue to drive his new 2002, taking it up and down the coast and maybe even to track days. It won’t be a garage queen: Karl pledges to drive it often, even in the rain that is inevitable in this part of the world. He also promises to let the M10 rev past 6,000 rpm at least once per outing…even if it’s on its way to the concours lawn.

“I enjoy going to car shows, and I always appreciate looking at all cars and the time and energy that went into the cars, whether they are hot rods, rat rods, those crazy jumper cars, muscle cars, tuner cars, exotics, or whatever,” he says. “I also enjoy meeting, listening to and learning from the people who spend hours upon hours bringing these cars to restoration perfection.”

He’s become one of them himself with this 2002, and since it was photographed Klewiada has treated it to a five-panel wink mirror and a very cool black vinyl bordered license plate that sits flush with the surface of the car. He’s also made a date with Midnight Motorsport to install custom coilovers and camber plates.

The project continues. I accept the blame.

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