Rare racer, revived

A mysterious e-mail leads to a long-dormant BMW race car with a genuine 2.0-liter Schnitzer motor under the hood. Freshly restored by Mario Langsten, a racer gives up its secrets.

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January 19, 2017

It’s purely a coincidence that my last name is on the windshield, because this full-race BMW is definitely not my car. First, I can’t reach the pedals. The seat position is fixed, and the only way I can reach the controls is to stuff a life jacket (!) behind my back before buckling in. Second, I’m sitting so low in the cockpit that I could wear a stovepipe hat and still have room to spare, and I can barely see over the dash. Where’s that panoramic view I remember from my old 2002s?

As I’m trying to get comfortable, the car’s restorer and custodian, Mario Langsten of Vintage Sports and Restoration in Bow, New Hampshire, points to a red switch. I press it, and the sliding throttle injection squirts fuel into the 2.0-liter, 16-valve, twin-cam M10 four as the ignition sparks it raucously to life.

The pressure’s on: Can I master the finicky, on/off racing clutch well enough to launch this Schnitzer-powered 2002 without stalling? Can I turn a few respectable laps here at Club Motorsports in Tamworth, New Hampshire before bringing this rare beast safely back to the pits?

That old race car aroma

The car I’m driving has a long history as an active race car in Germany and the U.S. Before we get to that, however, we need to tell the story of how Langsten came to be involved with it, and how he discovered its secrets.

It started with an e-mail to Bimmer Tech Q&A, which editor Mike Miller says “arrived looking like any other BMW technical question” in the fall of 2012.

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“It wasn’t,” Miller recalls. “The owner of an ’02-bodied race car, [Lynford Bentley] had passed away, leaving the car to his girlfriend. Her name was Belinda Horne, and she somehow found my e-mail address. She needed to value the car in order to offer it for sale.”

Miller directed her to Vintage Sports and Restoration, telling her that Langsten is “one of the foremost experts on privateer vintage BMW race cars.” Miller also consulted a source at BMW AG about the car’s six-digit serial number, 090941, and was told it appeared to be that of a very early production 1600.

A few months later, Miller heard from Langsten, who’d found a buyer for the car and had made a deal with Horne to pick it up. In March 2013, Miller went with Langsten to an Atlanta, Georgia garage where the wide-body BMW appeared to have been stored straight after its last race.

“There was that old race car smell—a mixture of engine oil, high-octane gasoline and dried sweat, with underlying notes of actual 2002 aroma and a little mold. An old pair of driving gloves lay on the dash,” Miller recalls. “The door opened freely, and I lowered myself into the saggy driver’s seat. The door closed behind me in that lightweight, clangy way that race car doors do.”

Miller’s job was to steer the car while Langsten coaxed it up a steep, curving driveway with a tow chain and into the waiting trailer. Though the steering wheel “turned like cold steel in 35-degree molasses,” the brakes worked and the shifter moved through the gears, Miller says, and both he and Langsten figured the car would probably start right up given a fresh battery. Nonetheless, neither wanted to risk blowing up what they’d seen upon lifting the hood: a genuine Schnitzer twin-cam racing engine.

Two hours later, with help from an E30 M3 racer Langsten knew and a few of his buddies, the car was safely ensconced for transportation to New Hampshire.

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“Under the dim bulb inside the trailer, I had a final look at that interior and all the switches, gauges and racing paraphernalia,” Miller says. “It seemed like the former owner was glad we came for the fat-fendered little guy. The car was going to a better place.”

Tracing its origins

Once the car was in New Hampshire, Langsten started to research its history. He had gotten a lot of documentation about the car’s life in the U.S. from Horne, but nothing that related to the name “Kurt Mayer” painted on the door.

As it turns out, Mayer was a German racer whose entry in the RacingSportsCars database includes two photos of a distinctive widebody 2002—the very car Langsten and Miller picked up in Atlanta.

Unfortunately, “Kurt Mayer” is a pretty common name in Germany, and Langsten wasn’t having any luck tracking him down. He had a hunch, however, that the car itself might yield a few clues.

“Before we proceeded to have the car media blasted to strip the paint, I asked one of my body shop technicians to very slowly sand down the roof of the car,” Langsten says. “I had a feeling that there was in the past a logo or a name on the roof of the car. I needed to confirm this.”

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Six hours of careful sanding revealed both a logo and a name: Pfefferkorn Metallguss.

Langsten followed the lead, and eventually an e-mail came back from the very person whose name was on the car’s door: Kurt Mayer. He had indeed raced the 2002 that now sat in Langsten’s shop, but he’d changed his last name from Mayer to Pfefferkorn when he took over the foundry in Landsberg, Bavaria started by his great-grandfather Hans Pfefferkorn in 1887. The foundry had cast the cylinder heads for the M10 motor used in every 2002, and Pfefferkorn supplies cast aluminum pieces to BMW to this day.

That connection, in fact, is how Mayer/Pfefferkorn came to own the BMW in the first place. He’d gotten it as a raw chassis from BMW’s racing department in 1970, and although its VIN indicates that it was an early-production 1602 it had never been registered for the street after leaving the factory in 1966, painted Golf yellow.

Mayer/Pfefferkorn built the car into a racer himself, installing the twin-cam Schnitzer motor and other Schnitzer racing parts as well as a few Porsche and Alpina pieces. He also installed a bolt-in roll cage manufactured by Matter, a German company that would later kit out the E30 M3s raced by BMW Motorsport.

At some point, Mayer/Pfefferkorn also converted the car’s round taillights to larger post-’74 square taillights; this was done to modernize a car’s look, and a lot of racers made similar updates. The square taillights are far more visible than the roundies, too, which would have been helpful in the rain or in endurance races. Langsten says the rear of the car shows no signs of crash damage that would otherwise explain the work.

A solid club racing record

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Mayer/Pfefferkorn raced the car from 1971 through 1975. The RacingSportsCars database shows mostly DNA [Did Not Arrive], DNS [Did Not Start] or DNF (Did Not Finish] for Mayer in national-caliber Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft (DRM) events. In 1974, he did score a 6th-place finish in Division II at Mainz, and in 1975 he finished 12th in the Goodyear Cup at the Nürburgring before ending the season with an overall win at Mainz.

His national results may not have been that impressive, but Mayer finished respectably in a number of club-level races organized by the German (ADAC) and Austrian (ÖASC) auto clubs. In late summer and fall 1974, he raced the BMW to a string of podium finishes: 2nd in class at the Hauenstein hillclimb, 1st in class at Münster Mickhausen, 3rd in class at the Innsbruck airport race, 3rd in class at the Oberallgäu hillclimb, 2nd in class at the Hockenheim Rheintal Race.

It looked like Mayer was getting the hang of racing the BMW, but a source at BMW said he never found the car satisfactory. At the end of the 1975 season, he parked it in favor of a Porsche. After a long period of storage, Mayer/Pfefferkorn put it up for sale, and in 1985 he sold it to an American, John Patterson of Texas.

After shipping it to the U.S., Patterson didn’t keep it very long, selling it to Lynford Bentley of Atlanta the same year. Bentley never drove it or raced it, and in 1987 he sold it to Don Lund of Florida. Unlike the car’s two previous owners in the U.S., Lund put it to good use, vintage racing it in SVRA and HSR events throughout the Southeast. Lund raced it at Sebring, Daytona, Moroso, Road Atlanta and even the Bermuda Speed Weeks before selling it back to Bentley in 1995.

With the exception of a parade lap at Road Atlanta, Bentley simply let the car sit, unused, never racing it or even driving it before his death in 2009, at age 62. Three years later, his girlfriend Belinda Horne contacted Mike Miller, and Langsten brought it to New Hampshire for a vintage racing restoration on behalf of a client.

That explains poor handling!

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As Miller and Langsten had suspected when they first saw the car back in Atlanta, it didn’t take much to get the car’s engine running. “After having the injection pump serviced and the injectors cleaned at Pacific Fuel Injection, adding some fresh engine oil and a can of race gas, the Schnitzer came alive,” Langsten says.

Knowing he had a sound basis with which to work, Langsten proceeded with a complete disassembly.

“We removed the antique roll cage, if that’s what one wants to call it,” he says. “It was a bolted-in four point rear bar with some additional tubes added, certainly not what one would call safe by today’s standards! But hidden underneath the padding was a sticker from Matter—today we know this company as the one that built so many of BMW’s race chassis.”

In its place, Langsten installed a much more crash-worthy contemporary cage that would meet current vintage racing regulations. He also fitted a contemporary fuel cell in place of the massive 35-gallon aluminum cell that had filled the car’s trunk.

The body shell was media-blasted to remove layers of paint, and its body was rust-repaired and refinished. Its front air dam needed to be recreated, but otherwise the body remains as Langsten found it, retaining its original welds, lightening holes and other unique features.

During Kurt Mayer’s conversion of the chassis to an FIA-spec Group 2 car, it was fitted with 11-inch wide front wheels and 14-inch wide rears, which in turn required suspension modifications to stay within FIA specifications for maximum track width. Langsten found that the linkages were of the incorrect length, causing the suspension to bind during movement; this was corrected during the restoration.

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The original Bilstein shocks were rebuilt at the factory, and the car now rides on 13-inch wheels that measure 10.0 inches wide up front and 11.0 inches wide at the rear, mounted with Avon bias-ply slicks. Behind the wheels, momentum is arrested by ATE calipers sourced from a Porsche 911S that clamp Alpina rotors up front and mystery rotors at the rear.

The 2.0-liter Schnitzer engine was already up and running following the initial service, and records indicated that it had been rebuilt with a new Schnitzer head in the mid-1990s, following a major engine failure during Lund’s tenure. Even so, Langsten refreshed the dry-sump engine to make sure everything was in order.

“With an engine as valuable as this, a little bit of labor and some extra parts can give someone a lot of comfort,” he says.

While the Schnitzer engine’s original compression ratio was 11.5:1, Lund had it rebuilt to 11.0:1 for optimum reliability, and that’s where Langsten left it. This exotic powerplant features numerous magnesium parts—the carrier for the chain-driven hollow cams, the valve cover, the intakes for the roller-bearing slide throttles—all of which Langsten sent to a Porsche restoration shop in California for corrosion protection that gives these parts their distinctive dark gray color.

New headers were fabricated using the originals as a template. The crank-driven Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection was refreshed, again with no cold-start enrichment feature, and Langsten deleted the distributor in favor of a dual-coil ignition.

On the Superflow dynamometer, the engine delivered 233 hp at the flywheel, a little less than the 244 hp produced by factory-built Schnitzer engines thanks to its lower compression ratio.

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Captivating and challenging

Heading onto the track at Club Motorsport, I stall only once leaving the pits, a minor victory. The Schnitzer engine doesn’t do much but stutter and protest below 5,000 rpm, but get it to 6,000 rpm and it really comes alive, with power peaking at 8,300 rpm before it starts trailing off at 8,700. Langsten has revved it to 9,000, but I’d rather not risk it, especially given the demanding short shifter fitted to the dogleg Getrag 235 close-ratio transmission.

Getting the 2002 to turn in on barely warm tires takes serious effort thanks to the unboosted close-ratio steering box and wide tires. I miss a few apexes before nailing a few more, exercising prudence and resisting the temptation to try for pace before I’ve really gotten the hang of things.

The shriek from the motor is tolerable inside the car, but even so I know I’m shifting too early. Eventually, I start timing my shifts just right, and as I enter the long straight I’m determined to give the pit-side audience an aural treat. I let it rip: fourth gear to 7,500 rpm and snap into fifth. I am flying, and the sound is glorious.

The brakes are reassuringly progressive and powerful into the uphill first corner, but I blip the throttle imperfectly on the downshift and fail to match the road speed. The tires chirp and the car gets a bit sideways, requiring a heavy correction to the steering. I spend the rest of my laps taking it a bit easier, trying to be more precise and just enjoying the rush of sensation in this wonderful vintage race car.

Pulling into the pits, I press the red switch and the 16-valve Schnitzer engine rumbles to a halt, thanking me with a gurgle for staying within my abilities. It takes a little longer for my own heart rate to stabilize after driving this high-strung racer, and longer still for my knees to stop shaking.

This thoroughbred racer is unlike any track-prepped ’02 I’ve ever driven. It’s intimidating, demanding and challenging…and utterly captivating. My turn behind the wheel was all too brief, and I know I’ll be reliving those laps over and over again in my mind. This time, though, I’ll be shifting right at redline…and nailing the apexes perfectly every time!

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