This Mint Green 1975 BMW 2002 Is Characterized By Tasteful Modifications
Photography by Matt Brown
Regardless of what it says on the badges on the back, your first car tends to make a lasting impression, especially if you start driving it as a teenager. The freedom to explore the world one mile at a time is an incredible novelty to the newly-licensed, and that little document transforms the once unexplored world into a playground. For Art Cervantes, the owner of this Mint Green 1975 BMW 2002, his first car was a gateway into an obsession with them. It is also no coincidence his first car happened to be an ’02.
In the years that followed, the impression left by that first Bimmer never faded, and Cervantes has owned four different 2002s in total, including this fine Mint Green square-tail example. He isn’t just into BMWs though, having owned more than 50 cars in only 18 years with a driver’s license. Clearly the 2002 bug keeps coming back though, and he can relive that ephemeral first-car experience over and over again. Or at least recall the memories. Each time he’s purchased another 2002 he tries to find the best example he can of course, an increasingly difficult and expensive endeavor the more these cars age and succumb to time.
Luckily for Cervantes and for us, this super tight 1975 car was hiding out in Southern California, one of the few places where rust isn’t something to lose sleep over. The previous owner had recently installed a fresh high-compression motor with a 288 cam, a ported and polished head, and a custom mechanical advance billet distributor built by Terry Tinney. Also in the little green engine bay sits an oversized radiator from a 320i, an MSD ignition, and a factory tii exhaust manifold. Needless to say the previous owner loved this 2002 and spent some serious time and money on it, but when Cervantes picked it up it was not running as right as it should. After making the trek down from the Bay Area to collect it, the drive home in his new-old high school adventure-mobile would be an especially slow slog, as the car was seriously down on power and clearly the carb setup was not tuned properly.
Buying this 2002 has been an exercise in getting the details right, but before the little pieces could be picked at, Cervantes started with getting it running properly. Being a carbureted car, he took the car to a few so-called 2002 “experts” to tune them, but none were able to get the single side-draft 45 running smoothly. As a result, the car ended up at Steve Dinan’s new shop. Dinan is a well known BMW tuner and, and he recently left the company bearing his name to start a new business. In his hands the single-carb setup was ditched in favor of a pair of Weber 45s.
Now that the Mint Green ’02 was finally making proper power, the next step for Cervantes was to address the styling. The ’74-’76 cars are known for their less-desirable square rear tail lights as opposed to the “roundies.” That, and the massive US-spec bumpers make these later cars not as aesthetically pleasing as the early models. This is one of the main reasons these later cars don’t command the same premiums in the market. But none of this is to say they don’t have plenty of potential. Even before the car arrived home for the first time, Cervantes had already bought a European-spec rear bumper for it, and I think we can all agree it’s a welcome upgrade over the impact version. It makes the rear of the square tail 2002 look beautiful and elegant as it should.
At the front of the 2002, the US bumper was also taken off, but Cervantes has chosen not to add anything in its place—instead he has chosen a custom aluminum front air dam from Kooglewerks and a set of Cibié Oscar Plus replica rally lights mounted on Kooglewerks brackets using the stock bumper mounts. This aggressive front end evokes the presence of period 2002 race cars, and the rest of exterior styling is similarly prepped in a period-correct style. In the wheel arches for instance sit a set of BBS MAHLE wheels in measuring 13”x6” wrapped in the lovely vintage-styled Pirelli CN36s. Cervantes resisted the urge to install 14” or 15” wheels—which would have made the tire choices much easier—in order to keep to the classic styling and the proportions the car lends itself to naturally. The suspension was mostly fresh when he received the car, but a set of Ireland Engineering stage one springs, fixed camber plates, and Bilstein HD shocks were added to sharpen things up in this nimble German. Also included was a set of upgraded sway bars installed to minimize body roll in the hard cornering situations—situations this car was made to be put in.
The interior of this 2002 matches the sporting attitude of its exterior, with the most apparent items being a set of refinished 320is Recaro seats with the perfect amount of bolster to let you know what kind of driving this car begs for. The visceral point of connection between car and driver, the steering wheel, is a split-three-spoke Momo item, offering a nice contrast to the mostly black cabin. The clean and uncluttered interior gives you everything you need for driving, and not much else, as it should be; this is the perfect place to focus on the drive and unwind from the day.
Now that this 2002 is sorted and complete, it’s ready to tackle the backroads of northern California, where it really comes into its own. Having owned and driven several examples over the years, Cervantes says that this 2002 is the tightest he’s ever experienced. Beyond the mechanical charms of this little Bimmer though, it just looks so perfect amongst the traffic of 2018. The unique mint green stands out in a sea of silver featureless sedans on the Bay Area roadways, and its simple upright dimensions are a refreshing sight in contrast to the bloated modern machinery towering over this bright green spot of joy. It’s a car that just seems to spread happiness, for it’s constantly on the receiving end of smiles, thumbs up, and waves everywhere it goes. For Cervantes though it is a time-machine that sends him back to his first 2002, with all the memories, experiences, and firsts that it gave to him so many years ago.