A Hot-Rodded BMW 2002 Touring Illustrates The Peculiar Ways In Which Old Cars Find Their Ways Home
Story by Dave Murray
Photography by Daniel Piker
When you ask them where and when “it started,” a lot of car enthusiasts will cite memories like going to the race track with their dad, working in the garage with their grandpa, or else some other version of a family member passing down the passion as the reason for their interest in cars, or, as is the case in this story, a particular line of BMWs.
It was a pleasant but otherwise standard night spent at the local drive-in grill for some hamburgers with my parents, and though I’d already developed a healthy appreciation for cars in my twelve-or-so years of existence at that point, this would be the beginning of my decades-long and ongoing interest in BMW 2002s.
As we were sitting there enjoying our meal and each other’s company, a bright yellow 2002 on Panasport wheels pulled in, driven by a high school kid. It caught my eye immediately, and as I tracked it through the parking lot my dad mentioned that he had had a similar 2002 as his first car, and that came to him as a hand-me-down car from his dad. My reaction to hearing that he used to have what I was currently enamored by led me to ask the obvious question: what happened? It turns out, nothing out of the ordinary; keeping up with maintenance and repairs while attending college turned out to be untenable after a time, so rather than nurse it along on a tiny budget as it fell into disrepair, he sold it. We’ll come back to this car later though.
So between seeing that yellow example in the drive-in—which, this being a small world and so on, is owned by a friend of mine today, and is still in the Seattle area—and hearing about our quote unquote family history with 2002s, I became just a little bit fixated.
Which is to say that I drew 2002s by the dozen when I should have been doing my homework, I researched them almost ad nauseam, and poring over the classified ads in The Seattle Times for 2002s and the occasional 1800 that I thought I could reasonably convince my dad to go check out—it turned out that I thought just about all of them were worth looking at!
At that time, a good deal of these cars were listed for $2002, which is cute I suppose, but also telling in regards to just how much the markets for these BMWs have changed in 20 years. Because of my persuasive abilities (which, granted, were largely rooted in the fact that I was his son), my dad would usually call the number listed in the ad. He entertained my interest, but it would be the same story: he’d tell me he thought the car was probably too rusty for us, and then the cycle would repeat in a month or two.
He realized this wasn’t a fleeting interest typical to teenagers, and eventually we found a car in San Diego that looked promising—I remember it was listed on an old site simply called “bimmers.com.” It was an earlier round taillight car, it was listed as rust free (but then again, so are a lot of rusty cars), and it also had a sunroof, which were all pluses for us.
Still, we decided that for $4,000, that car was probably too expensive to pursue… Shortly afterwards however, we found this Touring on the same website, albeit listed for sale in the Netherlands. For whatever cocktail of reasons, we decided this was “the one.” I remember waking up at 5:30 in the morning with my dad to talk with the owner and negotiate the sale, set up wire transfers, and then later trusting that the car would be shipped as described. Needless to say, this was before the Nigerian Princes had discovered the internet, so I like to think we got a bit lucky with our sight-unseen purchase from halfway around the world. Instead of a lesson in being cautious when sending large sums to people you’ve never met, we got the car.
It showed up in Washington at the port of Tacoma “somewhat” as described. It had a stiff aftermarket suspension, utterly crappy brakes, and a tired motor, but on the plus side it came with Weber sidedraft carburetors, a 2002 Turbo gauge cluster, and a nice Momo Prototipo steering wheel. The 2002 fanboy in me was thrilled. It wasn’t the perfect specimen, but it was the perfect project.
Fast forward a few years and I had built a new engine for the car, with most of the “hot rod parts” that were popular and available at the time, and also installed a five-speed transmission, a limited-slip differential from an E21 320is, brakes from an E24 635csi, and custom coilovers built by a friend of mine. After which has left me with a car that compels going for drives and handily rewards an enthusiastic approach to the next corner.
My wife refers to the 2002 as my therapist, because no matter how rough of a day I may have had, just 30 minutes in that car is enough to melt the stress. From “accidentally” sliding it through the side streets of the city, to driving through the innumerable mountain roads available to us in Washington, to full-on track days, I have had my more than my share of fun with this car. My wife and I left our wedding in it, which was a nice way to celebrate to be sure, and also a convenient way to make sure it always has a place in our garage.
With all that good stuff said, there have been some sub-bliss moments as well. I’ve lost an axle on the I-90 bridge for instance, and have broken down in terrible parts of town to break down in. It’s been on a flatbed at least twice, because I have either broken rocker arms or blown head gaskets, both due to driving the car too hard. In other words then, this car has also taught me how to be patient, and how to take care of things that are meaningful to you without getting fed up with yourself or said things. In practical terms, it has taught me the importance of having some cash set aside, and the luck of having an incredibly talented mechanic as a close friend.
That’s referring to Patrick O’Neil, who runs Midnight Motorsport in Seattle. It’s a place that I would describe as an old-school speed shop, not your standard modern place that seems to specialize in downloading tunes for new performance cars. Patrick’s place does anything and everything BMW 2002.
He has helped me with countless projects on my Touring, and has always welcomed the car with open arms whenever it needed somewhere for the aforementioned flatbeds to drop it off. As you can imagine, someone like this has a lot of friends and contacts in general in the enthusiast scene, and back in the summer of 2017, Patrick got an email inquiring about a “red Touring” that was sold to somebody in Seattle. Patrick instantly knew it was my car being referring to, and told the interested party that the car wasn’t for sale, but asked if I wanted to be put in touch with them all the same. I figured why not, the car has been responsible for connecting me with great people like Patrick in the past, so let’s see where this goes.
The story now shifts over to Don Dethlefson and the Werkshop in Chicago, where Don and his team are well-known for their BMW restoration work. It was Don who’d reached out to Patrick about my Touring, as he had a client—the younger brother of the guy my dad and I purchased the car from—who was interested in getting in back in the family. After some back and forth pleasantries, I said it was great speaking with him, but ultimately the car wasn’t for sale.
A couple of years later, after routinely fantasizing about what I would replace the car with, Don reached out again and made an offer for me to consider, which included right of first refusal if the car was ever sold again. Between knowing that the car would be restored by one of the country’s foremost BMW experts, knowing that the client purchasing the car would love it as much as I had, the fact that the car could potentially come back to me at some future date in better shape, and add to all this the fact that this brother of the person we had purchased the car from, wanted to present it back to his brother as a surprise 60th birthday present, I began feeling that it could the right time and reason to let the car go out on its next adventure, back in the Netherlands.
Part of what will make all of this a bit easier is that last year my dad was able to purchase the very same 2002 that he had owned in college. It had been converted into a beautiful race car for vintage events, and we felt that same “this is the one” excitement all over again when we found out its history. As it happened, I noticed the Momo Cavalino steering wheel in the car in the paddock, which features the prancing horse of Ferrari on the central spoke—this wheel was the same one my dad had put on the car when he drove it during high school. I beckoned him over to the window to lean in with me, saying “Hey, I bet this is your old car.” We introduced ourselves to the owner when he came over, and he proceeded to pull out a photo album to share the car’s history.
Tucked into the front page of that album was the original warranty card, filled out in my grandfather’s handwriting. My dad looked like he had seen a ghost, as we found the car just a few months after my grandfather had passed. I remember at the time of us discovering the car, my dad immediately telling the owner he was eager to buy the car as soon as the owner was done racing it. We quickly became close friends, and soon enough the time came for the car to come back into our family. It is undergoing a restoration currently, to be brought back to street spec, while the Touring pictured here is being prepped for its journey back home to the Netherlands. We have a tendency to get wistful for the cars we’ve loved and sold, and while the memories we keep are all well and good, the real thing can be so much sweeter.