Crucial Cars: BMW 2002

During the late 1960s, American performance cars that could seat four or five adults comfortably were big, heavy, and fast. We’re talking midsize coupes like the Pontiac GTO, Chevelle SS, Plymouth GTX, and Ford Torino GT. Sure, there were the smaller, so-called “compacts” like the Chevy Nova SS, Ford Falcon Sprint, and Dodge Dart GT, but like their bigger brothers, they were more about blasting up through the gears in a straight line than carving up a tightly curved mountain road.

1972 BMW 2002 NY

1972 BMW 2002 NY

More agility, less acceleration

Yet on the other hand—and on the other side of the Atlantic—you had a certain boxy and unassuming German two-door sedan that could seat four adults comfortably and whose idea of performance was quite different from that of the Americans. Introduced for 1968 and based on the BMW 1602 (which debuted a few years earlier), the 2002 combined its sibling’s compact but space-efficient body and agile handling with a bigger (2.0-liter versus 1.6-liter) four-cylinder engine.

There was just 100 horsepower on tap, so the Bimmer obviously lacked ripping acceleration. But a finely tuned, fully independent suspension system along with communicative steering and a curb weight of only around 2,100 pounds meant that a 2002 could quickly make tracks on a serpentine road. A blacktop scenario that would leave those American muscle cars falling all over themselves.

The two-door sport sedan

Yes, we called the BMW 2002 a sedan, which may seem odd given it has only two doors. While the American market typically defines a car with four doors as a sedan and one with two doors as a coupe, the Europeans define a sedan as a “three box-style” (hood, passenger compartment, trunk) automobile, saving the “coupe” designation for a two-door with sleeker body styling.

With the introduction of the BMW 2002, the sport sedan—a compact, boxy, practical car that could seat four or five adults while providing entertaining and athletic performance—was born. Indeed, the 2002 was a new type of car, one that could embarrass sports cars on a twisty road while also serving as a comfortable family and commuter car.

In a road test of the 1970 BMW 2002, Car and Driver stated: “Forget about the sedan body and pretend that it’s a sports car—a transformation that’s almost automatic in your mind anyway after you’ve driven it a mile or two. With the possible exception of the new Datsun 240Z (which is not yet available for testing), the BMW will run the wheels off any of the under-$4000 sports cars without half trying. It is more powerful and it handles better.”

1972 BMW 2002

1972 BMW 2002

Fuel injection makes a buffer Bimmer

Some U.S. market enthusiasts still wished for more power under the 2002’s hood. Although Europe got to enjoy the step-up “ti” model with its stronger engine, it didn’t make it to American shores. And neither did a turbocharged 2002 that was produced later on. But those drivers’ wishes came true for 1972, when BMW introduced a more powerful version of the 2002 called the 2002 tii that was available in the states.

With mechanical fuel injection (replacing carburetion), higher compression and other engine tweaks, the 2002 tii made 140 horsepower. With 40 percent more power than the base 2002, the tii was noticeably quicker, running the 0-to-60 dash in about 9.5 seconds versus about 11 seconds for the standard 2002. Other upgrades for the tii that boosted overall performance included a beefed-up suspension, bigger brakes and a less-restrictive exhaust. Inside the car, a leather-wrapped steering wheel greeted the lucky driver.

1975 BMW 2002

1975 BMW 2002

From Roundies to Squaries

From 1968 through 1973, the BMW 2002 continued essentially unchanged as far as body styling. These vehicles are known as “Roundies,” so-called because of their simple round taillights. Those years also featured smaller, more elegant bumpers. For 1974, the slim chrome bumpers were replaced by what looked like hydraulic shock-mounted aluminum battering rams that jutted out from the car on either end.

These unfortunate blemishes were an answer to the 5-mph impact standard that took place in the States the year prior, meaning a bumper had to absorb a 5 mph hit without damage. That year also saw the taillights updated to square (actually slightly rectangular) units that seemed to tie in better to the car’s body shape than the Roundies. Second generation “Squaries” continued through 1976, which would be the model’s last year.

1971 BMW 2002 interior

1971 BMW 2002 interior

The die has been cast

The 320i replaced the 2002 in 1977, and thus the iconic “3 Series” was born. Given its rare combination of a fun-to-drive personality and everyday practicality, the 2002 served the company, and legions of driving enthusiasts, very well.

Did you own a 2002 or just dream of driving one? Tell us what you love about the 2002 in the comments.

Top 10 Boxy Cars

Two major factors influence a car’s design: style and function. Depending on whether the goal is head-turning looks or maximum space for people and things determines the outcome. If the latter goal is the chief concern, then there’s no denying that a boxy design is the way to go. Start adding sexy curves and swooping rooflines and passenger and cargo space pay the price. In honor of those space efficient rectilinear designs, we have come up with our Top 10 Boxy Cars. Other than alphabetical, this list is in no special order and encompasses both old and new. Because some designs just don’t go out of style.

1972 BMW 2002

1972 BMW 2002

BMW 2002

Introduced back in 1968 and running through 1976, BMW’s 2002 basically invented the popular sport sedan segment. The boxy, unassuming compact Bimmer offered spirited performance and agile handling that could give sports cars of the day a run for their money on a twisty road. Perhaps most prized among these are the “tii” versions made from ’72 through ’74. Sporting fuel injection rather than the standard 2002’s carburetor, the 2002 tii had 125 horsepower to the standard 2002’s 100.

 

1971 Datsun 510 Sedan

1971 Datsun 510 Sedan

Datsun 510

This seemingly bland, compact car quickly became known as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Unlike most Japanese compacts of the time (late ’60s through early ’70s), the 510 wasn’t just a simple economy car. Equipped with a peppy four cylinder engine, front disc brakes and an independent rear suspension, the rear-drive 510 was something of a poor man’s BMW 2002 that responded well to basic modifications. As such, this boxy, rear-wheel-drive sedan was a well-balanced performer and a big hit as an SCCA road racer for enthusiasts on a budget.

 

2009 Ford Flex

2009 Ford Flex

Ford Flex

Amidst today’s crossover SUVs and minivans, Ford’s Flex, which debuted for 2009, is something of an anomaly — a modern take on the old-school station wagon. With its flat sides and squared-off roofline the Flex offers a surprising amount of space within. Indeed its third row seat can handle a pair of adults. Compared to a bulky minivan or large crossover, the Flex sits lower and offers a more carlike driving experience to go along with its unique looks.

 

2010 Kia Soul

2010 Kia Soul

Kia Soul

Seemingly picking up where the first-generation Scion xB (see below) left off, the Soul is another compact cubist car that manages to make a cool styling statement with its simple lines. A peppy, fun to drive demeanor, good build quality and a low price add to this Korean’s many charms.

 

1991 Mini Cooper

1991 Mini Cooper

Mini 

The original Mini debuted for 1959, offering Europeans a tiny car that could still seat four and zip in and out of city traffic. A small four cylinder engine driving the front wheels contributed to the Mini’s amazing space efficiency. The Mini’s light weight, low center of gravity and squat stance translated into a high fun to drive factor. The Cooper was initially a higher-performance version of the Mini. After being produced until 2000, the original Mini was finally retired. BMW bought the rights to the Mini and reintroduced a completely redesigned model for 2002.

 

Nissan Cube

Nissan Cube

Nissan Cube

With the aptly-named Cube, introduced for 2009, Nissan unabashedly embraced the Boxism school of automotive design. Trying to add a dash of style backfired, as some critics mercilessly described the Cube’s looks, especially from the rear, as a cross between a vending machine and a washing machine. Still, others think it looks cool and the basic tenets of big room in a small package hold true here, with the tallish Cube boasting comfy, thickly padded seats with plenty of space for a quartet of basketball players.

 

2006 Scion xB

2006 Scion xB

Scion xB

The first generation Scion xB (2004-2007) was a popular car among the younger folks. Proving that it can be hip to be square, this xB combined affordability with a sense of style along with a generous standard features list and rugged underpinnings courtesy of its Toyota parentage. Sadly, the second-gen xB, although still a good, practical car, got bigger and somehow lost the “cool” cache of its earlier brethren.

 

1965 Volkswagen Microbus

1965 Volkswagen Microbus

Volkswagen Microbus

Once the vehicle of choice for hippies and Grateful Dead devotees (who usually were one and the same), the earlier versions (1950s-1960s) of the VW Type 2, or “Bus, Microbus, Van” boasted seating for up to nine. Acceleration, for lack of a better word, was snail-like, courtesy of its air-cooled four cylinder engine that made anywhere from around 24 to 54 horsepower. Somehow these breadboxes have become genuine collectible vehicles, with the split windshield, multi-windowed versions going for the biggest bucks. Auction sales of the latter have seen them go for anywhere from $50,000 to over $100,000.

 

1977 Volkswagen Rabbit

1977 Volkswagen Rabbit

Volkswagen Rabbit and Golf

Also earning honors in the boxy car awards for Volkswagen are its Rabbit and Golf. Introduced in the mid-’70s, the Rabbit (called the Golf in Germany) had a space efficient transverse four/front-wheel-drive powertrain, that along with its square-rigged body allowed more passenger room inside than, according to the ads of the time, a Rolls-Royce Corniche. The Rabbit name later changed to Golf for 1985, then briefly back to Rabbit for 2006-2009 before again going back to Golf. Special mention goes to the GTI version of both, a hopped-up Rabbit/Golf that was a blast to drive yet easy to live with thanks to its inherent practicality.

 

1990 Volvo 240DL Wagon

1990 Volvo 240DL Wagon

Volvo…take your pick

The first boxy Volvo was the 140/240 series, which debuted for 1967 and ran, essentially with the same body shell, through 1993. We like the turbo version which debuted in the early-’80s, putting some serious spring in this shoebox’s step. One could also make the “looks like the box it came in” case for Volvo’s 740/760/940/960/850 models that were produced in the ’80s and ’90s and featured slim roof pillars, a low beltline and large glass area that made for excellent outward visibility.

 

Note: Whether your aesthetic is boxy or sleek, Advance Auto Parts has all the car parts and automotive accessories you need to keep your ride running smoothly. 

A Tribute to the BMW M3

BMW logo pictureYeah, we know what you’re thinking. Tributes typically come toward the end of a career, but the BMW M3’s still in its prime. After all, the brand-new 2015 M3 sedan (joined by its coupe/convertible siblings, now known as the M4) is out right now, code-named F80. It looks great, it’s got 425 horsepower, and the steering and suspension systems are purpose-built for people who love to drive. You could even argue that it’s a decent value at $62,950 including fees, especially when you consider that the M5 starts at $94,550.

So what’s this business about a “tribute”?

That’s simple. We’re here today to pay tribute to what the M3 used to be, what made it truly great. Because the new M3 is not a great car. It’s merely a great numbers car, the kind that’ll get armchair jockeys all excited about its 0-60 time, its cornering g-forces, that sort of thing. Look, at the end of the day, it’s got a turbocharged inline-6 under the hood, just like the lesser 335i/435i. If you test-drive one, it’s not going to feel like some wholly different beast; it’s just going to be a 335i/435i cranked to 11. Previous M3s, on the other hand, had race-inspired, naturally aspirated engines that were unlike anything else in BMW’s lineup, and that’s what made them so special.

They were undeniably a breed apart, and sadly, now they’re gone.

Let’s take a minute and give them their proper due.

E30 (1985-’91)

Photo credit: Rudolf Stricker

Photo credit: Rudolf Stricker

The M3 that got it all started was powered by a four-cylinder engine making a humble 194 horsepower, give or take, and it remains the only four-cylinder M3 ever built. But in terms of character, it’s an M3 through and through, unlike the current 425-hp turbocharged model. You had to cane the little 2.3-liter four to get much action out of it, but once the tach needle swept past about 5,500 rpm, a whole new personality emerged. The E30 M3 rewarded drivers who were adept enough with three pedals (no automatic was offered) to keep the engine on boil through the turns. Driving one was a skill to be mastered, and that’s what whetted everyone’s appetite for the genuinely fast M3s to follow. Kids these days might laugh at the goofy rear wing and some other “period-correct” details, but the E30 got the M3 dynasty off on the right foot.

E36 (1992-’99)

BMW E36 1992-99 picture

The E36 M3 was the first to get its power from an inline-6, which had long been BMW’s trademark engine type (the four-cylinder E30 was an outlier). For M duty, the engineers whipped up a doozy — a 3.0-liter mill that pumped out 282 hp. By the time the E36 M3 made it to American shores in 1995, however, BMW had elected to give us a tamer 3.0-liter straight six that dipped to 240 hp, but it still got the M3 to 60 mph in under 6 seconds, an impressive feat for the day. BMW rubbed a little salt in our wounds for ’96, when the displacement of both motors increased to 3.2 liters, yet the US-spec version held firm at 240 hp while the Euro version improved to a formidable 316. Nonetheless, even the defanged American E36 M3 was a sublime car, with a slightly feral roar at full throttle that would turn into a full-on yowl in the E46.

E46 (2000-’06)

BMW E46 M3

Ah, the E46 M3. Some say it’s the greatest all-around car ever built, and we wouldn’t disagree. It had luxury, style, space for four adults (though it wasn’t offered as a sedan) — and most importantly, it had the same engine around the globe, a 3.2-liter inline-6 cranking out 333 hp. That’s a number that enthusiasts will always remember, and for those lucky enough to have driven this M3, the distinctive velvet-chainsaw wail near its 8,000-rpm redline is equally unforgettable. It’s not that this engine lacked torque down low; on the contrary, it was a tiger at all operating speeds. But taking it to redline unlocked something extra, and once you experienced it, there was no turning back. You just had to keep doing it again and again.

E9X (2008-’13)

BMW E9X 2008-13 picture

The “X” signifies that the fourth-generation M3’s three available body styles (the sedan returned from its E46-era exile) had individual codes: E90 for the sedan, E92 for the coupe and E93 for the new folding-hardtop convertible. Another departure from tradition was the 4.0-liter, 414-hp V8 under the hood. There was actually some grumbling at the time that this M3 wasn’t a suitable heir to the throne. Too heavy, too insulated, too much technology — the naysayers were initially out in droves. But as with its predecessors, the engine made the difference, and it would not be denied. Running the V8 through the gears, shifting at its 8,400-rpm redline, you could be forgiven for thinking BMW must have borrowed the engine from Ferrari. The E9X was faster than its forebears, yes, but that wasn’t really the point. What mattered was that it had the spirit of those previous models, that insistent growl from under the hood constantly egging you on. Where would BMW go from here? Would we see a V10 M3? A return to a naturally aspirated inline-6? Whatever the answer, it seemed that the M division could be trusted to do the iconic M3 brand justice.

Epilogue

But then fuel-economy regulations got tighter, and automakers started realizing that they could achieve alluring economies of scale by tweaking existing engines for use in high-performance machines, and the F80 M3 happened. Turbocharging both dulls the new car’s throttle response and strangles its exhaust note, which is why BMW has seen fit to pipe fake engine noises through the speakers during acceleration. A turbo inline-6 plays perfectly well in the 335i with its civilized sportiness, but the M3 had always been about authentic performance-car spirit, an exercise in joy rather than jadedness. The joy, alas, is gone.

Ah, but what a car it used to be.

Editor’s note: Count on Advance Auto Parts to keep your ride running right and looking smooth all year long. Buy online, pick up in-store in 30 minutes.