Back when I was a mere 19 year old with a regular influx of free cash (student loan) I didn’t really fancy, like a lot of students, spending this money on accommodation —accommodation I wouldn’t want to spend longer than 8 seconds in with people I’d rather server my own testes off than speak to — then spend the rest of it on drinks that would turn my tongue, and probably my testes had they stayed attached, blue. The alternative was to stay at home and spend my loan on a classic car. This was the right decision as I have all my testes, a degree, no diseases (venereal or otherwise) and a classic car to be proud of.
I had two stipulations when looking for a classic car, it had to be rear wheel drive and I had to be able to fit twin choke side draft carbs to it (if they didn’t already come as standard). Price obviously played a major part too. So Minis, Fiat 128s and Fulvias were out for being wrong wheel drive. MGBs and Spitfires we’re never considered as I am not really a ‘sports car’ sort of guy and because they are inherently awful. Escorts, Cortinas, Alfa GTs and Guilias we’re all out of my price range. This left me with only one logical solution a BMW 02.
Subtle Munich understated-ness
I ended up buying a 1975 1602, which was yet again the right decision. It may have been the lower spec 1.6 model rather than the 2002 or 2002tii but by comparison to my alternatives it was remarkably good. It may not have had the rally pedigree of the Escort but it’s racing history isn’t to be sniffed at. Also, a 1.6 2 door Escort would be significantly money than a 1602, even regardless of condition. Alfas of a similar vintage might be pretty and boast sophistications like a characterful all-alloy twincam and front and rear disc brakes but, relatively rare for that period, independent rear suspension and modern robust engine of the BMW does more than match it when it comes to technology.
Twin Side Draft Carbs, naturally
Although I bought a car that was road worthy and in relatively good fettle I had no intention of keeping it the way it was. For starters it had one single choke carb, which would not do. Knowing that a 2 litre version of the engine already in the car was readily available and would ‘slot right in’ meant that the 1.6 would not do either. Without hesitation I sourced a very rusty 2002 Touring to source a few bits from, namely the engine and anti-roll bars. I rebuilt the 2 litre from the Touring with a few modifications, I stretched my budget as far as it would go but once I had invested in some suspension parts (stiffer and lower springs, sportier dampers, some camber adjustment plates, a new rear sub-frame, some Minilites etc.) the only engine improvements that I could embark on were some high compression pistons, an exhaust system from a 2002 Turbo and the all important twin carbs.
The 1602 gets an engine and internal makeover
Easing character and purpose
After a couple of years, which included a second engine rebuild (didn’t have the head skimmed the first time, rookie mistake) and the first of many 3000 mile European trips, the body, which was not perfect when I bought it, was beginning to become a problem. Some holes in the sills would have made it an MOT failure for sure. So, yet again I involuntarily took it off the road for the winter. Instead of paying a skilled bodyshop a fortune to perform the work and instead of turning my car into a dogs diner with a grinder and welding torch myself, I got lucky. That winter a red shell for an earlyish 2002, with the nice round rear lights and more delicate front grill appeared on eBay. It wasn’t perfect, the owner was severely lacking any attention to detail, but it was a completely rust free, already painted, partially stripped shell that came with a plethora of parts including a 5 speed gearbox from an early 3 series. What was most appealing was that it was a third of the price of having my existing shell welded up by a pro. So I bought it. In the intervening time between buying it and collecting it the buffoon that was now the previous owner ripped a hole in the roof lining and bent some of the more expensive and hard to replace aluminum trim.
The buckets keeping to the period
The result of the headlining needing to be replaced meant the whole car was stripped down to its absolute minimum. The only thing left attached to the shell that could have been removed was the bonnet wings, glass, everything was taken off. Then the rebuild started. Everything from my old car was put onto the new shell but now with the addition of the 5 speed and a rather brilliant Gripper LSD.
Cibies showing rallying potential
Since then, very little has changed. I have fitted some vented disks at the front after I got some fairly serious brake fade coming down the west side of the Stelvio Pass. I have plans to build a 160 (ish) BHP engine fairly soon but that is dependant on my finances because, as much as I might protest otherwise, it’s not really a necessity. Stiffening up the chassis with a cage and some strut braces will probably have to follow fairly shortly after the extra power, so will try to get some more negative camber on the front. Predominantly though I intend to enjoy driving it, as I have up to now. And driving it I have done. Whether it is through rain, ice and snow. Up to Scotland and down into mid Italy. To and from work everyday and around the Nurburgring. This is my everyday car, admittedly my commute isn’t large so I don’t do a huge amount of miles but it does mean that no matter how small my journey, or how mundane the tasks or roads might try to make it, doing it in my 02 makes it ludicrously fun.
Minimalist interior makes it easy to live with
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