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2002: A Vintage Odyssey Pt. 1 - DrivingScene

Categorized | Reviews

2002: A Vintage Odyssey Pt. 1

Posted on 03 September 2012 by Adam Kaslikowski

Seat belt. Choke. Clutch. Key. An age-old ritual that marks the beginning of a vintage automotive journey. And in old cars it is often this ritual, and the journey itself, that is the goal. Clutch. Key. Rumble. Gas. RUMBLE. The starting sequence filled with the fumes of old leather and new oil. In vintage cars driving is a full sensory experience. When you are lucky enough to have access to that kind of machine, whether for an hour or everyday, you must take it seriously. These cars demand your full attention, your full participation in the driving. This is the kind of machine that inevitably leads you to driving nirvana. A BMW 2002 is just such a machine.

This very cherry 1970 example with a racing motor was recently mine for a weekend, and I intended to wring the hell out of it in pursuit of automotive ecstasy. Did I find it, or was I left on the side of the road with a broken heap? Keep reading to find out…


The BMW 2002’s soundtrack: The Rolling Stones –  Sympathy for the Devil

This 2002 is everything I want in a car and nothing I don’t. Aggressive stance, side-draft Weber carbs, 5 speed manual transmission, and a racing engine with an vicious cam. Traction control and airbags are for rookies, or at least people with a better grasp on self-preservation. To further prove this point, I’m going to take this machine that’s older than I am on a spirited canyon drive to get to know it. No warm up, no getting to know you session, I’ll have none of it. This car and I are going to bond through a trial by fire. That is my plan anyway.

I merge on to the Pacific Coast Highway and I’m onward to my destination. While parts of the PCH are supposed to be great drives, this section isn’t one of them. Constantly gridlocked from Santa Monica north to Malibu, it at least affords me plenty of time to take in the scenery. On my right side is a scraggly cliff abutting what can only be a beginner’s attempt at a sidewalk. Mad cyclist forgo that failed strip of concrete and ride amongst and through the aggro soccer-mom tanks. To my left are dilapidated brightly painted 2 story condos with Bentley Continentals, Ferrari Scagliettis, and a plethora of Passats, and beyond is the restless Pacific Ocean. Despite being in stop and go traffic in the middle of summer, the bimmers temperature gauge is vibrating just below the mid-point. Even 1970’s German engineering was rock solid. Several miles of this traffic and great ocean vistas, and past some very promising looking canyons, I leave the PCH and roar up Topanga Canyon.

With the ocean rapidly disappearing behind me I’m in 2nd gear and approaching the redline within moments. So far this car loves to go. It’s happy above 3000 rpm and ecstatic above 5000. Acceleration is a sudden jolt backed up by a surging torrent of thrust until you’re on to the next gear to repeat the cycle. Best to vent my frustrations now while the shoulders are still wide and the rising canyon walls prevent me from getting into too much trouble. The route I’m taking is a loop formed by two canyon roads (see our description and review of the route), with plenty of mixed curved and straights along its 15 mile length.

The first time I drive the loop is a sighting lap and a chance to get the pictures your eyeballs are hopefully enjoying It’s an easy-going lap to familiarize myself with the raspy engine. I take it slow through the last vestiges of a neighborhood and work the 2002’s inset accelerator and its definately-from-the-past brakes. The owner told me that the brakes are new, but factory. He must have meant a cardboard factory because the only thing these brakes are stopping is my heart. the first 3-4 inches of travel do nothing to the velocity of the car, then the pedal moves into what feels like wet concrete and SOME speed is shed off my forward momentum. Fine, no brakes. I can drive with no brakes…

The sighting lap is done and the requisite pretty pictures have been taken. I’ve gone up one canyon and down another to the intersection where they first collided. Once more unto the breach, and this time at 10/10ths. Slowly at first, past the pair of posing cougars in their bright yellow Ferrari 360 Spider, past the cocktail party with its own private valet, until I’m finally past the old creaky mountain homes and am alone with this sonic masterpiece and it’s engine which I can only assume contains nothing but angry bees. God these roads are narrow, but then so is the 2002. The speed of my silver rocket builds up and I begin to lose all confidence that I will see another day. The curves have begun coming at me faster now, more tightly packed together; I press on.

I’m finding this car’s rhythm, although I’m not even close to being able to stay with it. As we get to know each other, it’s all full throttle to full brake and no finesse. That would be my fault, however, not the cars. For being from the Nixon administration, the little 2002 is remarkably capable within its limits. But those limits are not for the faint of heart to find. This car drives on a knife’s edge, and if you are lacking in either skill or luck you are going to wind up in trouble if you overextend yourself.

Throwing the BMW into corners and standing on the accelerator while the tires search fruitlessly for grip, I catch up to a modern BMW 1 series ambling peacefully up this now-violated mountain. I think it, and moments later I can tell they think it too – these cars are related, kindred spirits if you will. The other driver has seen the way I’ve rocketed up behind them, felt me egging them on by alternately riding their bumper or dropping back so I can feel that unstoppable acceleration once more. They see I want some action, and by god they give it to me. He or she confidently pulls away from me and I know (I hope) it’s on. I drop into 2nd, punish the accelerator and give chase. Through four corners and the straights connecting them I’m right with them. It is indeed on. Of course they are losing me. Of course they are. They have modern brakes, power steering, and the confidence that nothing integral will fall off at this precise moment. I have ancient bucket seats and side draft carbs. But damn the torpedoes, because I’m not letting that 1 series get away. I won’t ride their bumper now, or even allow myself in too close – I don’t know my machine well enough yet for that – but that doesn’t mean I’m letting this white 135 out of my sights.

Cliffhanger? You know it! Look for part 2 of this review coming soon!

– Adam Kaslikowski

UPDATE: This car is now for sale and a full description is available here.