Words: Chris Ralph
In the 1960s, automobile manufacturers knew that, with unitary construction, the fastest way to a faster car was to ease a bigger engine into a model you already had. Over in Germany, the engineers and marketers of the Bayerische Motoren Werke arguably grasped that idea better than others, leading to the 2002.
To revive the sporting image they’d enjoyed in the 1930s, BMW started with a smaller, lighter and less well-appointed two-door version of their ‘Neu Klasse’ (New Class) sedan range that had debuted in 1962 and featured innovations – for the era – like fully independent suspension and disc front brakes.
With a 1.6 litre engine from the New Class range tuned to deliver 84hp (some sources say 96hp) and fitted into a lightweight, two-door body, the ‘1600-2’ immediately impressed upon its debut in early 1966, spawning what would be known as the ’02’ series.
Eighteen months later, a twin carby ‘ti’ version of the 1600-2 brought 105hp and more favourable reviews. So, for the next step…
What’s under your hood, Helmut?
Independent of each other, two BMW executives had secretly slipped a 2-litre four-cylinder engine from the 2000 Coupe into their personal cars. After a chance meeting in a workshop, they joined to take a formal build proposal to the BMW board, their chances helped by the USA’s eager acceptance of the little 1600-2.
New US emission laws had excluded the ti version, but the single, twin throat 2000 engine offered a simple solution - the board signed off smartly. The then futuristically named ‘2002’ became an instant late ’60s style hit, complete with a dazzling array of 24 bright “groovig” colours to choose from.
Instant motorsport success
With four-cylinder BMW engines dominating in Formula 2, the road cars were raced almost immediately and in 1968 won their categories in both the European Touring Car Championship and prestigious Hill Climb Championship.
All told, the first season for the 2002 netted BMW 101 outright victories, 152 category wins, 1,099 wins and 996 Gold Medals. Factory driver Dieter Quester ran in Group 5 of the ETCC and, after a slow start to the season, snapped up the ’68 title.
BMW v Porsche
The next year, ETCC rules changed and Porsche 911s were allowed into Group 5. BMW responded with a 280hp turbocharged 2002 with huge wheel arches and enormously fat wheels and tyres.
Those changes ensured BMW retained the title, but second in the ETCC in 1969 and ahead of the Porsches was the Alpina 2002 – naturally aspirated and fuel injected – while the Schnitzer team excelled in the Hill Climb Championships. It was a fantastic BMW free-for-all.
Birth of the M Division
Tuning houses like Alpina and Schnitzer had leapt on the 02 series cars, with Alpina’s Colorado Orange and Matte Black racing colours becoming almost synonymous with the marque.
While retaining a close relationship with Alpina that continues to this day, BMW decided to take ownership of their success, creating an in-house racing division in 1972.
Factory racers under the ‘M’ (Motorsport) Division launched the now famous blue, red and violet stripes.
At the same time that BMW M was born, the 2002’s star was fading, so for 1973, attention turned to the 3.0 CSL Coupe, creating the almost unbeatable ‘Batmobile’ cars; the first of a legion of winners over the next five decades.
Meanwhile in Australia
Under our historic touring rules, only cars with a proven Australian competition history can be eligible for the pre-72 Group Nc class. This excluded the wide-bodied, flared-guard Euro injected and turbo BMWs. While Paul Older raced a 2002 with flares in period, today’s Nc rules limit Under 2-Litre cars to a 7-inch wide rim – making the flares unnecessary and a potential aero loss.
When Group Nc started in 1995, interest centred on the BMW 2002 as a prime candidate for the Under 2-Litre class. Geelong’s Ernie Martinez, already a fearsome BMW 1800 Nb punter, was probably the first to build one, quickly followed by optometrist Bill Cutler, now racing both an E30 M3 and an M535.
Bill’s M-striped example became the benchmark for quick 02s, getting down to a 1.55 lap at Phillip Island in 2007 - a time that wouldn’t be equalled until more than a decade later by Gabriel Digenis.
02s from every state
Between 2000 and 2010, multiple BMs appeared at the Phillip Island Classic, including those of the late Peter Martin from Queensland, NSW’s Pete McNamara, Tasmania’s Spike Jones, SA’s Geoffrey Davis and WA’s Garry Edward, to name a few.
Eagerly inspecting the six cars in the 2007 paddock was your author, building an Alpina-liveried no-expense-spared version rumoured to be the ‘Devil Car’, so unlucky was it.
Not only smacked on the race track, a freak mini storm that struck the Phillip Island Classic marquees in 2009 saw the Devil Car shoved backwards in gear two metres and its rear opening bonnet folded over the windscreen.
The Devil Car’s life ended while attempting to murder its driver at Historic Winton in 2010, executing an 8.5 barrel roll that almost made the Guinness Book of Records.
Undeterred, your author rallied and briefly raced an immaculate silver 2002, which ended up in the enthusiastic hands of Rob van Stokrom, who has made it progressively quicker.
In the 2010s, Nick Cascone of Cascone Autosport ran the three-car team of Digenis, van Stokrom and your author’s eventual Gulf-liveried car, which was raced for five years before eventually being sold to WA.
For sheer BMW persistence, the prize must go to Ballarat chiropractor Justin Brown, who’s been tending to the original but enhanced Ernie Martinez car since 2001. A regular competitor at Bathurst, the heroic old car gets faster and faster, giving the family team much fun.
Modern interest in BMW’s 02 series cars, especially during this year’s M 50th Anniversary, has seen prices for parts equalling that asked of whole cars a decade ago. But, for those who enjoy a torquey, free revving SOHC four with great brakes and handling from its IRS, there are few better bases for an Under 2 Litre warrior in the JUST CARS Historic Touring Car family.
Intrigued? Start looking for your own bit of Bavarian brilliance!