Classic Drive: BMW 2002 tii

Find the full feature in the February issue of CAR Magazine. An icon in BMW heritage, our classic drive in the February issue of CAR Magazine was this pristine 2002 tii in the Cape Winelands. Read our experience with the fastidiously maintained model here. The post Classic Drive: BMW 2002 tii appeared first on CAR Magazine.

Classic Drive: BMW 2002 tii

Heading out to the Cape Winelands, we drive the 2002 tii, which changed BMW’s fortunes – both on and off the race track.

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BMW 2002 tii fast facts: 

  • Engine: 1 991 cm3, four-cylinder, petrol
  • Transmission: 4-speed manual, RWD
  • Power: 97 kW @ 5 800 r/min
  • Torque: 178 N.m @ 4 500 r/min
  • Top speed: 193 km/h
  • 0-100 km/h: 9.4 seconds
  • Fuel capacity: 46 litres
  • Weight: 1 026 kg

The owner opens the boot and shows me his immaculately BMW 2002 tii’s folder. Rarely does one get to lay eyes on such a comprehensive and fastidiously kept record of every single element of a car’s history. But such is his approach to car ownership – especially when it’s an icon like the 2002tii. 

The BMW’s tiny footprint is dwarfed under the large trees that border Stellenbosch. The light Sahara Beige paint makes the otherwise dainty-appearing silhouette stand out and suits it perfectly. Its pristineness testifies to the considerable amount of money spent on the car even before the current owner bought it in the UK; and successively just as much since he has been enjoying it in sunny South Africa. 

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“It is a 1973 pre-August 2002tii. From August [of that year] onwards the rear lights became angular and the grille at the front changed. I bought the car in March 2003 in London from a family who owned it from new.” A two-owner, 47-year-old car is surely a rarity these days!


He saw the car advertised in the printed version of Autotrader. During his year of residing in London, he took the car to renowned BMW specialists Jaymic. “They did a few cosmetic updates for me such as chrome beading and repaired a small rust spot, but nothing serious. I searched for a long time and in 2004 finally found a set of correct Alpina rims in Berlin, Germany.”

Before entering the cockpit, I step back and admire the car’s profile, drinking in its lines. The tall windows provide perfect visibility. The three-box design is visual balance perfection, achieved by BMW staff designers Georg Bertram and Manfred Rennen, under the guidance of then-design director Wilhelm Hofmeister. 

The 1600-2 (denoting two doors) that preceded the 2002 debuted at the 1966 Geneva Motor Show. 

Stepping in, I again realise how smaller and lighter cars like these become a part of you on an intimate level, a sensation that’s been long lost in contemporary cars. This specific car’s cabin has received a lot of attention during the past year, in particular the artfully upholstered leather seats and light-brown Coco Mats protecting the front footwells. The original German Loop pile carpets are still fitted throughout the cabin.

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This E21-generation BMW’s Recaro seats were often fitted to 2002s at the time, and it is clear to see why they resonated with enthusiasts nearly 50 years as they still do today. They really suit the classic, yet sporty nature of the car. The owner details his choice of their fitment: “The only sport seats you were able to get in the 2002 came with the 2002 Turbo, and those seats are simply impossible to find.” 

As for the rest, it’s all original. “This is a Petri 3.0-litre CSL steering wheel. It was an option back in the day on the 2002tii and the first owner specified the car with this steering wheel.” The latter has over time developed an intriguing patina with lots of little cracks. I squeeze it, finding it still pleasingly soft; the trio of drilled holes in each of the three spokes a reminder of this BMW’s lurking athletic personality. 

A couple of personal touches have also been added. There are double Swiss-made Stadion stopwatches mounted on the dashboard in front of the passenger, or should that be the navigator? These serve as a homage to the owner’s late father who used such mechanical devices to record lap times of F1 cars at the old Kyalami circuit in the 1970s when South Africa still featured on the international racing calendar. 

The Alpina-badged gear knob falls perfectly to hand left of my knee and is a joy to use, sliding effortlessly between the gates. Apart from the Turbo, this was the sportiest 2002, meaning a shortened first gear, a beefier clutch and a marginally longer axle ratio, to offer an increase in top speed. 


Once you’ve turned the thin key – complete with its teardrop end and classic BMW-badged key ring – the engine ignites with a matching rort from the exhaust. As expected, it is not deep, but it sounds more purposeful than one’d expect of a two-litre. The engine has been tweaked and, fitted with its Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system, provides 97 kW at 5 800 r/min and 178 N.m at 4 500 r/min.

On mountain passes as well as through twistier pieces of tarmac, the BMW really comes alive. There is enough torque to keep the revs pottering around 2 500 r/min to 3 000 r/min, but the engine only starts to truly sing beyond that. From 4 000 r/min onwards, performance is prime – with still more than 2 000 r/min left on the rev counter. Combine the relatively powerful engine with a one-tonne weight, and the tii feels light, and nimble, with extremely predictable but fun handling.

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The steering wheel fizzes with feedback, partly because there is no power steering, enveloping its driver into the experience at all speeds. Although I never have to use the brakes in anger, they work well and eagerly scrub off speed when the middle pedal is pressed. The car effortlessly inspires confidence, and with some more time behind the wheel, it’s easy to imagine testing the limits of adhesion on your favourite piece of twisting tarmac. 


“It was always my late father’s dream car. I saw one on a truck driving through Kroonstad in the Free State in 1986 when I was in Grade 9. In 1988 I got my first car, a standard 2002, and my dad also got himself one. Both of us drove our cars until he passed on in 1994. Then our cars were sold. But, from when I arrived in London in 1999 until I bought the car in 2003, I actively searched for a good example.”

Nostalgia remains a key and ever-stronger growing influence on our love of cars, as is clearly the example with this 2002tii. It is surely set to last forever.


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