Performance BMW Issue 156
PBMW magazine – American 1974 2002 – Alex Chester
Title: SIMPLE ‘N SINFUL
Words: Iain Curry
Photos: Max Earey
On a budget and got an eye for a BMW classic? Look no further than Alex Chester’s devilish ’74 2002 and its blend of performance and presence.
Is it just me or have the last few years seen an upsurge in BMW enthusiasts turning to genuine old school classics? I don’t mean E30s which have always had a huge following, or the original 3 Series – the E21 – which seems to still be overlooked by all but a very few modifiers. I’m talking the Neue Klasse heroes of the late Sixties and early Seventies – the 2002 and the 1602 – the cars that really made the world sit up and take notice of BMW as a quality popular car builder.
The 2002 model, especially in desirably sporty tii guise, has always been a hit in America. Modifiers there have the advantage of sourcing ’02s from states like California and Arizona which have largely avoided the dreaded rust cancer, making these little pocket rockets true survivors. Here in the UK and Europe, with harsher winters and the dreaded salted roads, these 40-odd year-olds are a bit thinner on the ground. Nevertheless, they’re still great value classics to get hold of, and you don’t need to spend tens of thousands (unless you want to) giving a nut and bolt restoration or creating a Schnitzer Group 5 race replica.
Instead, you could take inspiration from Alex Chester’s 1974 ’02 from Atlanta in the USA; a kind of Rat Style lightweight funster which has been put together with budget and everyday enjoyment foremost in mind. “The car is light which makes it fun at any speed,” Alex says. “It’s a little car, and to be honest, until I drove one I thought they looked silly. But even stock ones are a blast to drive, and you can do a lot of basic upgrades and have a great handling car. The thrill is the size and simplicity. Going 60mph in an ’02 feels like 160mph in my 850Ci.”
Said 850Ci is Alex’s heavily modified V12 example we featured in PBMW 06/12, and it was unsurprising to find another BMW toy lurking at his Carma Motorsports BMW specialist garage on our visit. And as we’re suckers for simply yet very strikingly modified classics like his 38-year-old 2002, we turned the camera on its beautifully smoothed body dressed up in its matte black paint with candy red topping. Life’s too short to be subtle.
This ’02 has come a long way since Alex took it as a trade for his 2001 Ducati 748 bike. By all accounts it was in great shape: very 1970s light tan in colour, suspension coils cut for a lower stance and even some basic engine tuning. “I was going to leave it alone as it had all the great things expected of a simple car,” he said. “It was reliable and my wife liked it.”
But maybe, dare we suggest, it was a bit boring? The direction quickly changed when the ’02’s seller offered to put a hotted up 2.0-litre M10 four-cylinder in the engine bay. This beautifully balanced lump featured piano top high compression pistons (standard in 2002 tii’s), a shaved head and a larger 301 camshaft, so in it went. A few tweaks here and there, then a Stahl exhaust manifold and dual Weber 40 carburettors joined the party. Alex fitted a 2.5″ stainless steel exhaust system leading to an Ansa silencer (that pokes out from the middle of the car’s rear), with the sum total of these parts meaning around 150bhp in its current state of tune. No bad thing for a little coupe weighing under a ton.
“It’s a great little motor that loves having its neck wrung,” Alex says. “It has a five-speed conversion from an E21 320 and a fairly tall rear end so it has plenty of get up and go for a naturally aspirated M10. I have driven some highly modded M10s and this was no slouch compared to them.”
With the engine work finished and the little classic quick enough for now, Alex was concerned that his ’02 still looked a lot like all the others. As it was his daily driver and he lived in downtown Atlanta there was little sense getting a show standard body and paint finish, so instead took the striking smooth look on. So off came the door mirrors, BMW badges and side trim, while the door handles were removed, smoothed over and given remote operation. Body smoothing is a true old school technique, and it really does wonders for this little ’02.
Most notable however is its colour. Matte black and classic cars makes for an appealing mix, and the bad boy colour gives a devilish charm to the cute little coupe. “It was sporting a temporary rattle can (spray can) paint job which was very faded after a year of driving the snot out of her,” Alex says. “My body guy Cliff from Full EFX stripped it down, and using some left over paint from my wife’s converted 1992 GMC van, it was brought to life with the matte black with strips of burgundy and red candy.”
It’s a very effective paint job, giving the Rat Style feel to the car, and that’s just what Alex wanted. “A simple left over paint job that brings out the great body shape and contours of the 2002,” he explains. The black coating covers the bumpers, grille and front spoiler, and the look is toughened further with smoked lights and the addition of racy Hella fog lights.
There was no chance the wheels were going to escape the dark treatment too. These 15-inch five-spokes came with the ’02 when he bought it, and Alex believes they are simple Japanese imports fitted by the previous owner. He says he’s no idea who makes them, just that they look good under the slightly lipped arches and with the body dropped nicely on cut springs. “The cut stockies work fair on the street,” Alex explains, “but it’s way too soft. Just ask my banged up exhaust. The rear camber needs to be addressed, and I’ll swap the springs and shocks when I get the drivetrain out.”
A common upgrade for these old 2002s is modernising the brakes somewhat. If you get the chance to test drive a standard example, you’ll know a fair amount of stamping on is required to shake off speed, meaning you often stay away from the fun limit for reasons of self preservation. Alex has done what many ’02 owners have and installed E21 hubs, E21 vented brake discs and some Girling four-piston callipers from a mid-1980s Volvo 240 that uses vented discs. With some stainless steel brake lines thrown in, happy days, you’ve got decent anchors.
A quick peek into the cabin and it’s been kept reasonably standard, but again modernised by a decade or so with E21 320 Recaro sport seats. A touch screen head-unit with Alumapro 10-inch sub is more modern still, while there’s a short shift kit leading up to a good fun hand grenade shift knob. But even this is out-funned by a three-trumpet train horn under the bonnet. “It’s not really for fun though,” Alex says. “The horn is a tool, to be used on tools. If you visit Atlanta we have ‘special’ drivers. These drivers need special attention, and my horn is there to help with that.” Brilliant.
When not scaring the hell out of incompetent road users, Alex’s ’02 is used as you’d expect: “Beating on, groceries, taking my kids out, parts truck, doughnut maker and stress reliever,” he says. For now though, the car’s in pieces once more as a planned Honda S2000 swap is in full swing, meaning life for the ’02 will get more serious.
But hardcore or basic modifying, it seems a classic 2002 is no bad choice in Alex’s eyes. “One of the great things about them is all the parts, including new stuff, is still out there. If you can log on to the internet you can find anything, including performance pieces.” And an old tin of matte black paint can work wonders too.
ENGINE: Transplanted 2.0-litre four-cylinder M10 with milled head and deck block, larger 301 camshaft, lightened and polished rockers, 2002tii piano-top high compression pistons, twin Weber 40 carburettors, Stahl equal tube exhaust manifold, full 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust system, Ansa silencer with central pipe exit, electronic ignition conversion with MSD blaster coil, braided lines
TRANSMISSION: Transplanted E21 320 five-speed gearbox, 4.11 differential with welded gears
CHASSIS: Unknown 15″ Japanese import five-spoke wheels painted black and shod in 195/50 Kumho tyres, original springs custom cut, Bilstein shocks, BMW E21 vented brake discs, BMW E21 hubs, Girling four-piston callipers from a vented brake disc 1980s Volvo 240, rear strut brace
EXTERIOR: Shaved door handles with remote control opening, shaved BMW emblems, deleted trim, deleted side mirrors, Hella front fog lights with Laminex covers, smoked rear lights, smoked front indicators, blacked-out front grille, matte black bumpers, tinted windows, Full EFX matte black and candy red re-spray
INTERIOR: BMW E21 320 Recaro sport seats, short shifter conversion, hand grenade gear shift knob, custom centre console to accept screen, air compressor with 9.5-litre tank and three-trumpet train horn under bonnet, rear battery conversion
ICE: JLB 7″ touch-screen Double-DIN head-unit, Alumapro 10″ sub in sealed custom box
THANKS: Wife Jessica, kids Lex and Shilo, the team at CARMA and my body people Cliff and Lorrie from Full EFX