Four Days In A Four Speed BMW 2002 At 4,000 RPM
In October 1996, I did a solo road trip from Cincinnati, Ohio to Seattle, Washington in a 1976 BMW 2002. The trip took four days and covered about 2,400 miles. Earlier in the year, we (my wife, baby, and I) had moved to Seattle while the BMW was left behind. In October, we all flew back to Ohio for a wedding—allowing me to drive the BMW back to Seattle.
I had owned a stock ’76 2002 previously, but this one—”warmed over” by a previous owner and taken to a Drivers School at Mid-Ohio—was a whole different animal. The car was set up more for the track than for the highway, making it a borderline daily driver and an exhausting (but fun) roadtrip car. Mods included dual Weber sidedrafts, hot cam, sport suspension, 3-series bottlecap wheels, black leather Flofit seats, and a thick sport steering wheel. Handling was tight and cornering was flat, but the rear suspension was chopped (instead of a proper adjustable setup). In addition to the usual 2002 absences of air, cruise, power anything, etc., there was no radio or center console.
Once on the road, the driving experience was very mechanical; just man and machine with no distractions. Constant driving focus was needed because the front negative camber pulled the car around on highway ruts. Noise was excessive at speed because of high revs in fourth gear; more than once I thought, “Oh, for a five speed!” (There are worse things to hear all day than a “Von Falkenhausen Symphony.”) With wind noise added from the always-open sunroof and windows, it was just as well that I was alone because conversation would’ve been difficult.
The route included many new-to-me states and the general thrill of driving wide-open Western roads. The new views and vistas never got old. Stops included Badlands National Park in South Dakota, Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming, and Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument in Montana. A bonus for seeing these sites was leaving the interstate for backroads, where the car’s handling really shined. To do this car justice, I should’ve spent ten days on the trip, wandering backroads the whole way.
At the end of each day I would call home where my progress was being charted. I had with me a few tools, a Haynes manual, and a list of BMW garages in the event of a breakdown. Thankfully, none of those items were needed and I arrived in Seattle trouble-free.
Some of the highlights include hours on end of beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery, and an open sunroof (which in ‘02s are big and far forward). The Flofit seats were fantastic; very supportive, and the only comfort-oriented thing in the car. Fortunately, the roads were wide-open, which was important because the car ran hot in congested traffic. But I did have to deal with the constant “cabin aroma” of gasoline and exhaust fumes, which never did get sorted.
Being a new dad and enjoying a “solo getaway” (while not having to worry about my wife and baby, who were home with the in-laws) was a relief and it also allowed me to stop at every new rest area because I love maps (and still have maps from this trip). At some point in in South Dakota, I think, I entered a small town where a group of teenagers gaped at my strange small car. Later on, I had an exciting stretch in remote Wyoming where the fuel tank’s range was tested; the fuel efficiency was really bad. And approaching home I drove through a big cloud of bugs (in Moses Lake, Washington), which overwhelmed the wipers and washer system.
I sold the car a few years later and, of course, now regret it. Hopefully the new owner addressed the car’s issues and is enjoying similar road trips.
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