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BMW 2002

BMW 2002 Published: 25th Aug 2016 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

BMW 2002
BMW 2002
BMW 2002
BMW 2002
BMW 2002
BMW 2002
BMW 2002
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Andrew Roberts charts the half century history of the car that well and truly put BMW on the map by creating the ever expanding compact executive market

It is sometimes forgotten that BMWs were not especially common sights on British roads until the early 1980s. Before then, a 1602 conveyed a seemingly effortless blend of sheer quality and low-key panache. Those motorists who believed that fitting Ro-Style wheels and extra exhaust subs was the key to a ‘performance car’ never did quite understand the 02’s philosophy but that was of little concern to their owners. Not when they owned one of the finest cars of its generation.

The origins of the 02 date back to 1961, when the Neue Klasse 1500 saloon literally transformed the image of a near bankrupt company that had previously been on the verge of being taken over by Daimler-Benz. The Giovanni Michelottidesigned body was a major contrast to the swooping lines of the big 502 ‘Baroque Angel’ saloon, beloved of German police forces, and the 1.5-litre OHC engine was designed by the racing driver and head of the engine development Alexander von Falkenhausen. BMW’s Sales Director Paul Hahnemann said that it was futile to sell the 1500 as a direct Ford/Opel competitor and instead it should be aimed at affluent young professionals; the sort of motorists who might have previously considered the Borgward Isabella.

By 1963 the 1500 had proven such a success that BMW paid its shareholders dividends for the first time in two decades.

Bubble burst

Meanwhile, the first half of the 1960s saw the phasing out of older models; the Isetta bubble car in 1962, the Baroque Angel in 1963 and the 3200CS in 1965. However, there still remained a vast gulf between the 1500 and the 700, BMW’s rather stylish rear engine economy car. When it was introduced in 1959 it was the company’s first monocoque design but although it gained a following amongst motorsport enthusiasts it was too highly priced to directly compete with the likes of NSU.

By 1963 there was a sense in the marketing department that the 700 was losing ground to its cheaper rivals and BMW’s first idea of a replacement was a small saloon with a choice of 1.2-litre or 1.5-litre plants that would cost no more than 6,500 DM. This eventually evolved into Project 114, a light-medium two-door saloon based on the 1500’s platform as Hahnemann believed that “Thirty per cent of upgraders are anticipated from our own stock of BMW 700 owners”.

As a mark of how seriously 114 was taken, BMW allocated some 43 million DM – or 50 per cent of the company’s entire 1965 budget – to the new car. The design director William Hofmeister assigned Georg Berta and Manfred Rennen the task of creating 114’s styling and their coachwork followed the design tropes established by the Neue Klasse back in 1961, including the distinctive ‘Hofmeister kink’ in the rear side window and reverse angle nose, but it weighed around 500lbs less than its fourdoor stablemate.

The 114 was also nine inches shorter, with a reduction in wheelbase from 100.4 inches to 98.4 inches and a roof lowered by 1.5 inches for a more sporting appearance; Berta and Rennen also lengthened the front doors to allow for ease of access.

BMW’s eventual choice of engine was the 1,573cc unit from the four-door 1600 which was a popular German taxi cab of that period. The independent suspension and transmission were from the Neue Klasse but the 114 was only to be available with two doors. This was in order to both save on funds – an internal memo dating from 1964 issued dire predictions about the extra tooling costs for a four door version – and to establish it as a model in its own right that would not clash with the larger 1500/1800.

The 1600-2, as it was unofficially known, was first shown to the public on the 9th March 1966. The German asking price of 8560 marks equated to the annual wage of an average worker and meant that the BMW cost as much as a large six-cylinder family car, but then its performance figures were on a par with the much more expensive Porsche 912. It was not an especially luxurious form of transport by the standards of the day – the interior was business-like in the extreme and there was the surprising absence of face level fresh air ventilation – but the 1600-2’s road manners were regarded by many as the best in its class.

In mainland Europe the BMW 1600-2 competed directly against the Lancia Flavia, Alfa Romeo Giulia, Fiat 124ac and the Peugeot 404 Coupé. For the German businessman who wanted more prestige than a Ford Taunus or Opel Kadett could hope to offer, the BMW’s principal rival was the Auto Union Audi 80, which débuted in the same year. By 1966, the four-ringed badge was becoming less associated with cheap two-stroke transport and more with refined medium-sized family saloons although the Audi’s steering column gear change and understated appearance hinted at a soberer nature than the 1600-2.

Early brochures promised that ‘For the motorist who has not previously been able to fulfil his dream of owning a BMW here, at last, is the golden opportunity to join the select circle of BMW owners’ but UK import duties inflated the price to £1298, resulting in a 1600-2 remaining a remote prospect for many. An Autocar test of 26th October 1967 concluded that in the UK the BMW’s appeal lay with ‘the discerning motorist who can afford and appreciate the fine engineering and gain pleasure from it’. However, the article also highlighted a dearth of British cars in the 1600-2’s class – the 1967-1970 Cortina Lotus was a specialist vehicle, the Triumph Vitesse 2-Litre not nearly as sophisticated and even with the best will in the world it was hard to see the Victor-powered Viva HB GT or the Sunbeam Rapier as potential BMW rivals.

The autumn of ‘67 saw the introduction of the handsome and very rare Baur Cabriolet and the 105bhp twin carburettor 1600-2Ti but it was in the following year that the range gained its most famous version. By that time von Faulkenhausen and the planning director Helmut Werner had already installed two-litre engines into their own 1600-2s and a further impetus for a production model came from Max Hoffman, who imported BMWs into the USA. Prior to the mid-1960s few examples of the marque were sold in the States but several examples of the compact BMW found homes in affluent US suburbia in the space of one year and it also proved to be favourite of the American motoring press. Car and Driver magazine called it the best small sedan that they had even driven and how it resembled an Alfa Romeo built by the Germans.

In response to such a reception, Hoffman requested a new version with even greater performance. The Ti did not meet US emissions standards but the power plant from the 1965 2000CS Coupé had been designed at least in part for the United States’ market and so the 2002 was formally launched in 1968. David E. Davis Jr of Car and Driver memorably described it as “one of modern civilization’s all-time best ways to get somewhere sitting down.” But the 2002 deserves its own feature and besides, it was the 1600-2 that created an entirely new form of BMW. The 1.6 model continued in production alongside its more flamboyant stable mate, gaining a facelift (and official ’02’ badging) in 1971. There was also a short lived Touring hatchback to rival the Scimitar GTE plus a final makeover in 1973 that included the terrific 170bhp Turbo with its reversed Turbo livery (so you driver in front could read it in the rear view mirror!) before almost the entire range was replaced by the E21 3-Series that saw the birth of the designer-label car.

The final incarnation of the 02 was the 1502, a special economy model which was powered by a low compression version of the 1573cc engine and lasted until 1977 as an entry level BMW. By that time the marque’s image had been established across the globe.

Few examples of the 1600-2 or the 1602 survive today – they were expensive machines that were very rust prone – but those that do are justly regarded as one of the marque’s key models. Half a century ago, they established that a medium sized sports saloon could have the quality and integrity of a coach built car. And then the marketing men took over and Beemers became as common as Cortinas!


Remember when…

When all was right with the world after we won the World Cup – but you couldn’t afford BMWs back then…

BMWs were the preserve of the very wealthy; most folk on a normal wage of around £20 could just afford a 1963 Cortina at £450 or a 1964 BMC 1100 at £495. The more well off might contemplate a Hillman Super Imp (£565) or a Ford Anglia (£552). Or a 1959 XK150 for less than £400!

The opening of Parliament was televised for the first time. Later that summer, soaking up the feel-good factor of winning the World Cup, PM Harold Wilson calls a snap general election only two years into his tenure.

In sport, Everton beat Sheffield Wednesday in one of the best ever FA Cup finals, coming from a 2-0 deficit to win 3-2. Australian racing driver Jack Brabham wins his third F1 crown and also becomes the only person ever to win the title in his own built car. In golf, Jack Nicklaus becomes the first to win two consecutive Masters’ titles.

The space race was arguably at its peak as the US and USSR try to outdo each other. America’s Gemini two-man spacecraft carries out successive year long attempts to master docking procedures and endurance space walks while Russia sends Luna 10 around the moon that April. A year later, both countries would pay the price for rushing to get to the moon before the decade’s end…

That summer, Tony Benn puts through a bill which effectively outlaws pirate radio stations in 12 months’ time. The Beatles release their Revolver album and the Beach Boys its Pet Sounds. Other hits of 1966 include Summer in The City (Lovin’ Spoonful), Wild Thing (Troggs), Green Green Grass Of Home (Tom Jones), I’m A Believer (The Monkees), Heaven Must Have Sent You (Elgins) and This Old Heart Of Mine (Isley Brothers).


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