2002 and R75/6 Are Six Wheels Of Vintage BMW Bliss
Photography by Courtney Cutchen
The classic car community is one which continues to amaze me with the opportunities it provides. It is through this lifestyle that I have met some of my dearest friends—people who I would have never known existed if it weren’t for aged metal atop a frame and four wheels. It’s with this in mind that I would like to introduce automotive visionary Michael Le. I first encountered Mike and his BMW 2002 over a year ago at a small, and honestly rather boring car show. He was pulling in as I was leaving, and his character was immediately evident. Although I missed out on chatting in person that day, I managed to contact him later via Instagram, and that’s how our friendship began (as stereotypically millennial as that is). After getting to know him, I was eager to share his creative build(s): the aforementioned 1975 BMW 2002, and a matching 1975 BMW R75/6 cafe racer.
As a fellow BMW lover, appreciator of food, and delightfully stylish human, Mike spends much of his time pondering, “What’s next?” After spending time with him over the last year, it’s easy to see that his mind is constantly elsewhere, planning and building, yet he somehow manages to remain present simultaneously. He asks questions about things he doesn’t know. He is genuinely interested in what you say to him. With the coveted and insatiable curiosity of a child, he has a true hunger for knowledge and growth. He is one of the rare people who I believe has absolutely zero negative intent.
With all of that said, in this instant we are focusing on his past and present, rather than what’s next. Let’s begin.
Courtney Cutchen: Tell us briefly how long you’ve been involved with building and modifying cars and bikes.
Michael Le: Cars for about 16 years, a Vespa about six years ago, but the BMWs came about two years ago.
CC: This is a question that ate at me immediately, so I know others must want to know, too: What gave you the idea to build a matching duo of car and bike? Have you had other pairs like this one in the past?
ML: I feel like I have a respectable sense of taste. If you know me long enough, you’ll come to realize that I have a thing for coordination—ever since I was a wee lad. In elementary school, I remember my favorite outfit (specifically on Fridays) was a highlighter blue Bugle Boy T-shirt with matching shorts and checkered Vans slip ons… [The outfit reminiscence continued in glorious detail.]
Tangent aside, this sense of coordination translated to my vehicles. In my early 20s, I built a matching 2005 Vespa GT200 and a 2003 Mini Cooper S; both jet black and modern recreations of timeless, European classics. I even considered getting a “family car” option in the form of a black Range Rover Sport! It was from there that I was bitten by the European bug and looked to BMW for inspiration.
CC: Most people are content with having just the car or just the bike—why did you want to build both at the same time?
ML: Piloting the Mini and Vespa satiated my need for reliable, modern vehicles with charming allure. Of course, if your vehicles are black, they’re automatically “cool” and “badass.” That’s where I was so, so wrong. Never had I received so many comments of “Your car is so cute,” or “That scooter is adorable.” I love it though!
Once those were completed and sold, I wanted to do another duo, but with actual classics. Something head turning, unique, and tasteful. Long story short, I have an enormous hunger for self expression with vehicles as my canvas. Paired with no sense of patience, I wanted them both as soon as possible.
CC: I can understand the “I want it now *grabby hands*” mentality. I think we all struggle with that from time to time. But why BMW? What drew you to the brand specifically? Was it happenstance that you picked out an 02 and R75/6, or did you plan that from the early stages?
ML: The car came first, the bike came second. I knew the car had to be manufactured in 1975 or earlier, with the bike following suit. As for BMW: vintage BMW owners are a tight-knit group that is always happy to help. I’m sure a lot of communities are the same way, but my prior BMW experiences pulled me back into the mix.
I considered an MG Midget with a Triumph, or an Alfa Romeo GTV with a Moto Guzzi, or a Datsun Fairly Roadster or 510 coupe paired with a Yamaha or Honda… the list goes on. I wanted a “tasteful two,” and before venturing off in any of those directions, I decided to go with what I knew. Having owned BMWs ranging from E30s, E24s, and 2002s, it was an easy choice.
CC: I’m sure any of those combinations would have turned out equally cool, but can you tell us a bit about what’s done to the two builds in front of us?
ML: Of course. The 02’s “meat on the bone” mods consist of an M42 motor swap, Dbilas ITBs with a 91 octane chip tune, a straight pipes all the way back to the Scorpion muffler, an LSD, an E21 five-speed transmission, and a short shifter from the Z3. Suspension-wise, there’s Tii front hubs, E21 250mm rear drums, Ground Control coilovers, Ireland Engineering front and rear sway bars, 15×9 ET10 BBS E76 magnesium wheels, and 12mm spacers up front and 15mm in rear. Cosmetically, the car is outfitted with a Jaymic 2002 Turbo-style front air dam, 2002Garagewerks Turbo-style fender flares, an Ireland Engineering rear spoiler, rear chrome “shorty” bumpers, antenna removed, flat Euro turn signals, and some subtle M stripes from Vinylstyles.
The interior has Recaro front buckets paired with E24 rear seats in matching fabric and stitch pattern, black pillars and headliner, Ireland Engineering Turbo-style gauge pods, a wooden Nardi Personal steering wheel, and a custom EG Honda Civic arm rest (yeah, I know, but it works and looks like it belongs there!).
CC: It all suits the car very well. So how about the bike?
ML: Right, the R75/6. Here’s where Fernando, my ever talented fabricator, bike builder, and good friend comes in. Suspension wise, it has stock front springs, a ToasterTan triple tree top clamp, Redwing rear struts, Boxer Metal rear sets, a lightweight battery, Boxer Cafe starter cover, and 19” front and 18” rear Akront aluminum rims with vintage gold spokes, wrapped in Michelin rubber.
Cosmetically, it has a de-tabbed and shaved Ural headlight bucket, Motogadget dummy lights, Autometer digital gauge, custom extended bucket ears, a shortened rear subframe, a de-tabbed frame and body, a custom seat with matching fabric and stitch pattern as in the ‘02, wood-style grips, and a chrome bar and end mirrors. Also, I ride in a color-matched Biltwell Gringo helmet with bubble shield and a black leather Members Only jacket with custom-sewn armor pockets.
CC: There’s so much more detail to go into, but let’s leave some mystery to be discussed for those who end up seeing the builds in person. Going back to the more general side of things, did you draw inspiration from anywhere in particular when you were brainstorming these two builds?
ML: Having owned an M10-powered 2002 before, I was already well-versed and had leftover parts from that project by the time this car came around. This time, the car was a square tail, and I decided to go Turbo tribute for the body styling in keeping with that. Having owned an E30 318is and loving that car, I knew I needed another M42 motor. Having relatively modern four cylinder, fuel injected power with five gears in a classic car was my focus.
I’ve never owned a motorcycle before this one, but the aesthetics and aerodynamics of the cafe racer (AKA trendy—yeah, I know) appealed to me immediately. While I was researching bikes, I came across Bill Costello’s R100 and was sold. His bike was everything I envisioned but didn’t know how to execute—yet. I even asked him some questions, to which he immediately and informatively helped me out.
Since this was my first bike, I brainstormed a lot with my friend Fernando whom I’d mentioned earlier. My lack of patience helps describe me as a “cut twice, measure once” kind of person, while Fernando is the “measure twice, cut once” type. We balance each other incredibly well. We shot off ideas back and forth and were finally able to finish what you see today.
CC: So roughly how long has it taken to build the car and bike to their current state?
ML: I had been planning both vehicles in my head for months. After acquiring them both in late 2014, I lacked the time, tools, and talent, but had more than enough tenacity. My goal was to make a rough debut for the annual Brisbane / Bay Area 02 Show and Swap Meet in 2015. That gave us a total of five months to do it. Was it possible? I hoped so. With my prior connections, the ’02 was in the shop getting the work done, but that still left the bike.
Being our first moto build together—Fernando and I—and an entirely new platform, we encountered a lot of small obstacles along the way. Neither of us knew of any local resources, so the Internet was our best friend. As the months passed, we agreed that the bike wouldn’t be ready in time, so I eased up on it and focused on getting the car ready. We took the rest of the year to build both vehicles in their entirety, and they were able to debut together at the 2016 meet. We like to modestly think that once they were together on that marina lawn, they made for a pretty eye-catching sight.
As for the trailer you see in these photos, that was going to be stage three. I took a break from the two vehicles to focus on my ’84 Euro-spec 635CSi. I lost track of time and before I knew it, the 2017 Brisbane meet was right around the corner! I scurried along and was able to meet Lucian Hood, a fine gentleman experienced in ‘02s and motorcycles, and in the ‘80s he’d came up with blueprints for a tow hook for the 02. So, I took a trip down to LA to meet him and have the hook installed. (In case you’re wondering, no one I know of would dare work on a custom tow hook, so it was a huge challenge. Lucian really saved the day.)
Long story short, I sourced a trailer from Craigslist, and a pair of 16×8.5 Mahle wheels from eBay. I also had wheel adapters made by Adaptec Speedware to fit the trailer’s bolt pattern to that of the wheels’ (which were made to go on a BMW). We were able to finish this first version of the trailer in time for the show.
CC: It’s obvious that loads of love, thought, and planning have gone into these vehicles. Are you able to say that you enjoy one more than the other, or is it more that they each serve equal but separate purposes for you?
ML: They’re both fun, tasteful, and enjoyable in their own rights. Since I work a lot, I drive during the late night shifts and ride during the morning shifts. Traffic here has nearly doubled over the past year, but the lane splitting ability on the R75/6 makes my commute a breeze. At the end of the day though, I like having variety between the two BMWs.
CC: To follow up and add on to that last question, what would you say is your favorite aspect of each vehicle?
ML: The (s)miles per gallon. A major purpose of both the bike and the car is that they’re thoughtfully built, reliable (while being 40-year-old works-in-progress), daily driving machines for me. I hope they’re inspiring to motorists driving alongside or past me. They both receive equal positive attention on a regular basis. It feels great when an older lady comes up to me and says, “I had one of those when I was younger!” or a younger kid who stops to take a photo of the bike, and says, “Man, I wish I had one of these. What is it?”
They’re also good platforms for my friends to show off their fabricating skills (Fernando), photography skills (you, Courtney), and confidently recommending shops that helped me throughout the journey. It’s an appreciation. It’s a passion. It’s a community.
CC: Do you have more plans for these two vehicles, or are they “done?”
ML: Both vehicles are done but their purpose isn’t completed, if that makes sense. To harken back to a previous statement: the goal is to make them reliable daily drivers. They both live in the garage, but I drive them often. They get rock chips. They get abused by bugs on the freeway. Sometimes they smell of unburnt fuel. They’re not only for shows, they’re very much for going anywhere. Neither of them will break any land speed records, but that’s okay. They’re both fun and I love them.
CC: Mike, thank you so much for sharing with us. Are there any closing words or thanks you’d like to give?
ML: To my girlfriend Cynthia: Day one. Almost nine years ago. She has an extreme patience for someone like me—someone who doesn’t say much otherwise but obsesses and fantasizes and talks about cars and bikes all day. Luckily she’s artistic and passionate as well, so she understands. Honey, we’ll go on vacation soon, I swear!
To Courtney: Who would’ve thought a chance encounter would allow me to cross paths with such a passionate and talented photographer, and even cooler person? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: she makes photography look easy. Plus, I got to meet her soon-to-be husband Dustin, a gifted man behind an assortment of tools, who can literally dismantle an entire E28 in one day, and fix/restore a wide variety of cars and motorcycles. Good things come to good people and I foresee wonderful things for them.
To Fernando: He has the skills of a young Kobe Bryant and the patience of a saint to deal with me, and this makes him a force to be reckoned with. He and I played it safe with the cafe racer, but believe me: he’s got some tricks up his sleeve with his own airhead he’s building for himself, and some more collabs in the near future. It’s just the beginning for Morales Custom Cycles, or what it will evolve into.
To Petrolicious: I’ve known of this website for years and I love the content. Each article is guaranteed to be heartfelt, and they push the narrative that classic and vintage vehicle enthusiasts rejoice over. Great cars, personable videos, and a simple mantra: Drive Tastefully.
CC: Thank you for the kind words, and for sharing your story with us!
ML: My pleasure!