Featured: In a League of its Own: Japan’s BMW 2002 Owner’s Club

In a League of its Own: Japan’s BMW 2002 Owner’s Club

By Mark Riccioni
April 9, 2024

When it comes to celebrating car culture, Japan often feels like it operates in a league of its own. Not only does it boast an eclectic mix of cars spanning every era, genre, and value imaginable, but you’ll find the same attitude and passion is shared between owners whether they’re driving a tiny Kei car or a million-dollar supercar.

Cars are more than just transport here. They represent freedom and self-expression; an alter-ego for the worker who finishes at 7:00pm and wants to adopt an entirely different persona for the evening. It’s addictive, too. Surround yourself with enough likeminded individuals and soon this passion becomes an all-encompassing part of life.

Perhaps the most fascinating part of car culture in Japan is just how vast and impressive its automotive niches spread. From lowriders in Nagoya to micro cars in Osaka, it’s never isolated to a single area. In other parts of the world, seeing rare or unusual cars is often saved for dedicated events or cars and coffee type meets. But in Japan? It’s like a constant moving Motorshow the moment you walk down any street.

This fact couldn’t have felt more appropriate while meeting up with Toshio Shizu, the proud owner of a 1973 BMW 2002 Turbo nestled in the centre of Tokyo. While arranging to meet up with Shizu-san, he expressed an interest in bringing a friend along – something entirely reasonable and expected. But this is Japan after all; and the term ‘friend’ should always be seen as plural…

Perfectly aligned in a row of parking bays at the Daikanyama T-site building wasn’t just Shizu-san’s 2002 Turbo, but a further six BMWs owned by various friends consisting of three 2002 Turbos, a 2002 ti and even a 1600i all immaculately presented and individually customised to their owners’ tastes. Some opted for simple dress-up parts from the likes of Watanabe and Alpina; others decided to focus more on the performance aspect boosting the 4-cylinder M10 engine all the way beyond 200bhp.

Talking to Shizu-san quickly shed light on exactly why this impromptu 2002 meet was taking place on a cold Thursday morning. In his spare time, Shizu-san just happens to be the president of Japan’s BMW 2002 club – which should be quite niche and limited – but in fact now boasts nearly 50 active members predominantly across Tokyo and Yokohama.

‘Our club isn’t just for the 2002 Turbo BMW however; we like to welcome other 2002 models and other classic BMWs to join’ Shizu-san explains. ‘At first it was only my friend and I – who both own the 2002 Turbo BMW – driving together on weekends for fun. But as the years went by, we made more friends through these cars and going on drives. Now we enjoy hanging out several times a year with a much larger group.

But why the 2002 Turbo of all cars? Aside from looking achingly cool even by today’s standards, the 2002 Turbo was a literal game changer back in the early 70s. Born amidst an oil crisis which saw Germany impose a driving ban on Sundays as well as limiting autobahn speeds to just 100km/h, the introduction of a 170bhp sports saloon should’ve been a catastrophic failure. But with a top speed of 211km/h – as well as being the first European car to utilise the ‘new’ turbo technology – it quickly gained notoriety as a bit of a weapon and remains a cult classic over fifty years later.

‘For most of us, it is the style of the BMW 2002 which appealed initially’ Shizu-san adds. ‘The standard 2002 is very elegant and smooth to drive. But the Turbo edition added more performance, an aggressive appearance and sharp handling. Not to mention the iconic Turbo stickers too! Even though the cars are now over 50-years-old, none of our members feel old when we are driving them. The driving sensation makes you feel connected to the car. And even when we are increasing in age, driving the 2002 Turbo allows us to feel young once again – something I will continue to enjoy into the future.’

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Saurabh Chandrakar
Saurabh Chandrakar
1 month ago

Saurabh Chandrakar
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1 month ago

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