I recently took a trip to Providence, Rhode Island, and caught up with my friend, artist and musician Albert DeMuth to check out his 1973 BMW 2002 tii, which he calls “the greatest car from the 1970s.” Although the BMW 2002 began production in 1966, it wasn’t until 1971 that the tii was made due to a vast improvement in engineering: The introduction of fuel injection.
BMW’s Neue Klasse (New Class) vehicles debuted in 1962 with the BMW 1500. This complete redesign of the sedan introduced a design language in BMW’s cars that is still seen today. Notably, the rounded edges and defined belt line were borrowed from Chevrolet’s Corvair, as well as a curvature in the C-pillar and rear glass introduced by BMW designer Wilhelm Hofmeister that is now fondly referred to as the “Hofmeister kink” (much better than the “Bangle butt”).
DeMuth bought his 2002 tii on eBay 12 years ago. After going on a surfing trip to Mexico in a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit Cabriolet and returning home to his 1990 Honda Accord, he decided he’d had enough Honda, flipped a coin and bid on the 2002. It was his first eBay car purchase, which was then followed by a second purchase, a Subaru BRAT that didn’t work out. After buying the BMW, he used it as his daily driver for his commute from Providence to Boston. For the past five years, however, it was stored in a barn. Having recently acquired a garage space in Providence, his 2002 tii is now back on the road and sees use twice a week.
Surprisingly, the five year slumber had little effect on the BMW. DeMuth needed to change the alternator belt, and that’s about it. While his car is not in showroom condition and a light patina graces the front end and trunk, the engine was rebuilt prior to his purchase and is painted in a BMW livery — and it’s also in good tune. An aftermarket torsion bar stabilizes the chassis — and when I drove the car, I was surprised by how nicely it held the road. It’s no surprise these were popular race cars and remain so today among vintage racing enthusiasts. On a side note, the “Jagermeister” is my absolute favorite racing livery for 2002 race cars.
Acquainting myself with the controls from the deepest bucket seats I’ve ever planted my behind in, I discovered that this 2002 was equipped with an aftermarket sport steering wheel, displacing the horn to a tiny button on the dashboard to the right of the wheel — something I would struggle to find in a pinch.
Most 2002s were equipped with a 4-speed manual, and this one was no different. Rarer A/T models are differentiated by a large “Automatic” badge on the trunk. Until this point in time, I had driven 3-, 5- and 6-speed manual transmissions, and this was the first with a 4-speed. DeMuth dispelled my fears of accidentially confusing first gear and reverse, reminding me that first is far off to the left. The transmission shifted nicely, but I noticed that I was going from first to second too soon, not getting the revs high enough for enough power in second gear. At speed, the 2002 felt solid and direct thanks to its rack and pinion steering. At low speeds, however, I had to use extra effort to turn the steering wheel, making parallel parking a strenuous upper-body workout.
For what DeMuth calls “the greatest car from the 1970s,” there are some touches of that era that should be forgotten, and that lies in the interior. Thick beige carpeting covers the inside of the tii, and there is an ashtray for every occupant, including two in the back row where the windows do not roll down but merely vent.
His future plans are to stabilize and remedy the surface rust on the bonnet, but little else is needed, as we expect to see his BMW 2002 tii on the road for the years to come. This BMW 2002 tii is an iconic classic in good working order, and as with many aging classics, it’s the little things that make the difference.
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