Looking Back

Forty Years of the BMW 02 Series



OF 2005

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1966 BMW 1600
Presenataion of the then new BMW 1600 in Munich
on the occasion of BMWs 50th anniversary in 1966.

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16th April, 2006

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the BMW 02 Series.

From 1966 the series packaged the BMW mantra of dynamic driving in compact form, spawning a generation of high performance cars and engines that were present in motorsport several decades later. The engine from the 2002 formed the foundation for the first BMW Formula 1 engine that took Nelson Piquet to victory in 1983.

Forty years on, the 02 Series is enjoying renewed popularity, proving that good BMW cars never die, they just improve with maturity.

A new era of automobile class: The 02.

Originally, it was only an internal designation, but these digits were to become the stuff of legends: 2, later 02. In 1966, they were applied for the first time to the type designation of the new 1600 and were simply meant to identify it as the new two-door from BMW – by contrast to the standard BMW 1600 with four doors. Of course, this designation was only necessary on paper, because the two models were actually quite distinct, even down to the family profile.

The new type was smaller and even more agile than the saloons in the New Class. The fact that the total length of the 1600-2 had been reduced by 27 centimetres to 4.23 metres played a role in defining its sporty profile, while the wheelbase of 2,500 millimetres was only shortened by 5 centimetres. The width of 1,330 millimetres for the front-axle track remained unchanged to match the short overhangs. The roof was 4 centimetres lower which combined with the flat front windscreen, the round headlamps and circular taillights to emphasise dynamic appearance and sportiness.

Successful birthday surprise: The 1600-2.
The new model had its first official outing on a very special occasion: On 7th May 1966, BMW AG celebrated its 50th birthday. And this was the day on which the Chairman of the Board of Management Gerhard Wilcke presented the BMW 1600-2 to the assembled guests at the Bavarian State Opera House. Three days later, the two-door model was launched in the public arena at the Geneva Motor Show. This was to be the start of one of the most successful birthday surprises that BMW had ever given to its customers.

Three years of development time.
Engineers worked on the secret project identified by the development number 114 for three years. When they started out, the Board of Management and Supervisory Board were still considering development of the BMW LS in parallel, based on the BMW 700. However, the minutes of a Supervisory Board meeting on 21st November 1963 stated that “concerns related to timing, marketing and price tended to favour rejection of this concept”. Instead, the board members put forward arguments for a two-door saloon with a dry weight of around 775 kilogrammes to be launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1965. They recommended a water-cooled horizontal four-cylinder and capacity between 1.2 and 1.5 litres. The car was to have cost around 6,500 marks.

Board resolution: Two doors it is.
Not everything remained the same. In fact nothing did. Only the two doors. And even that wasn’t certain from the start. Six months after the Supervisory Board meeting referred to, the minutes for the Board of Management meeting on 9th April 1964 state: “The issue of whether to build the BMW 114 with four doors was again discussed. Following extensive debate, the Board of Management reiterated its decision, only to manufacture the BMW 114 in a two-door version. The following considerations were deciding factors:

  • If the BMW 114 is only planned with four doors right from the start, the sales price will increase by DM 325.
  • If there is only a four-door version of the BMW 114, additional investment of DM 2 million is required.
  • If the car is planned in a four-door and in a two-door version, additional investment of DM 5.9 million is incurred.

If a decision is taken to have a four-door version instead of a two-door version, the plan to have the car ready for volume production in September 1965 is not realistic.”

Growth market: 1,300 cc becomes 1,600 cc.
Even the capacity class originally envisaged quickly became unattractive. The desire for more power grew. Registrations of cars with 1.5 litre engines had increased by around 80 percent within a period of three years. Necessity therefore became the mother of invention as far as the Board of Management were concerned, and the new model was given the 1.6 litre engine of the four-door car.

This meant that the engineering under the bonnet of the new car was only marginally different from the previous 1600 model with four doors, which was coming to the end of its production run at that very time. The four-cylinder engine with a capacity of 1,573 cc was installed under the bonnet, inclined at 30 degrees as in all BMW automobiles at the time.

The chassis with front suspension struts on wishbones and rear axle with semi-trailing links came from the New Class. The complex independent front and rear suspension was an additional factor that made the 1600-2 distinctly superior even to much more expensive cars in the 1960s. The braking system was also extremely advanced and powerful. Drum brakes were adequate for the rear wheels, but disc brakes were fitted to the front. At the time, these were rather unusual and generally reserved for expensive cars or sports cars.

Sportiness in figures: 940 kilos.
The 1600-2 was not cheap. The showroom price of 8,650 marks – “includes heating” Motor Revue noted dryly in the summer of 1966 – was roughly equivalent to the average earnings a worker took home every year. But there again, purchasers were buying a very modern car that accelerated to a speed of 100 in around 13 seconds, and with a top speed of 166 km/h was one of the fastest cars on the road.

The concept had a much bigger future than many critics credited the car with in the early stages, and than many advocates dared to dream of. A number of despairing dealers in Munich asked “who on earth is going to buy the thing”, but they were soon put straight by their customers. During the first year, BMW produced 13,244 units, and in 1967 the two-door with its volume of 38,572 units had almost equalled production of the four-door model with its volume of 39,930 units.

“The car that lots of fans have been waiting to drive for a long time.”
No wonder – for the new two-door model appealed to the critics right from the start. A leading German automobile magazine wrote that “the BMW is one of the most enjoyable cars to drive”. Commentators raved about the “driving position, ease and directness of steering, good vision, neutral cornering, good road holding for the wheels, light response of the engine to movements of the accelerator”, and declared the 1600-2 to be a “more agile, more compact and more closely tailored to the driver than the four-door saloon”. A colleague of the test driver captured the general mood: “The BMW 1600-2 is precisely the sort of car that lots of sporty driving fans have been waiting for.”

For decades, the 1600-2 demonstrated unimagined potential especially in the classic BMW domain of power unit engineering. In 1966, BMW power unit engineer Ludwig Apfelbeck conjured up an engine for Formula 2 packing more than 200 bhp. The trade press heralded this achievement with the accolade “This miracle has four valves”. Incidentally, even in 1980 this engine was still serving as the basis for the turbo engine delivering up to 1,300 bhp with which Nelson Piquet took the Formula 1 World Championship title driving the Brabham BMW in 1983.

BMW bucked sluggish sales.
At the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1967, the latest success was placed on a sounder footing. The 1600-2 was joined by the 1600 TI with twin carburettor and higher compression. The suffix -2 was left off and instead the letters ti adorned the rear end, standing for “Turismo Internazionale”. The 1600-2 Convertible was also new. This was to be the last completely open BMW for some time to come. The success of the two-door saloons notched up sales growth of 27 percent and 22 percent respectively for BMW during the financial years 1966 and 1967, despite the fact that the world economy was going through a recession which resulted in a 19 percent loss of revenues for the sector.

The 1968 revolution: The BMW 2002.
And the story continued in the same vein. Automobile enthusiasts in all age groups were experiencing a furore around a new “small” BMW: the 2002, which for many years was an icon. At the beginning of 1967, engineers had fitted two BMW 1600 two-door saloons with the two-litre engine from the New Class on a test basis. The “Test Drivers” at the time were no less than the engine designer and racing driver Alexander von Falkenhausen and Planning Director Helmut Werner Bönsch, who had a great time driving the test models around as everyday vehicles. The BMW Board of Management initially took rather a reserved approach, but finally Sales Director Paul Hahnemann once again succeeded in convincing his executive colleagues on the Board of Management that a car like this had to be a success – and he was to be proved right.

Germany and Europe weren’t the only markets interested in a fast compact car like this. Business in the USA was just getting going, and this model would undoubtedly allow much stronger expansion of business there.

Power pack for DM 9,240.
Announced as a “Power Pack”, the BMW 2002 met the high expectations in every respect, and the price of the new model was a genuine sensation. Since all the components already had a track record and were available, it was possible to market the 2002 at a price of DM 9,240 in the home market of Germany. At that time, this was just one thousand marks more than the price for a standard mid-range car. But instead of needing 16 seconds to hit 100 km/h, the sporty BMW customer could now purchase a four-door automobile with a big boot that was able to match this achievement in only 10.7 seconds. You needed a genuine sports car to pull ahead of a new BMW 2002.

The superior power meant that it wasn’t even necessary to have a macho profile. BMW even refrained from having a model badge on the radiator grille – this was only mounted at the rear. This model gave the term “understatement” a new meaning in German automobile construction. The 2002 often bore the typical colours of the 1970s – like “Golf” yellow or “Inka” orange – and it was unique in combining the typical BMW virtues of practicality and dynamic driving style. This car was a family vehicle and sports car at the same time.

Production volume of a bestseller: 330,212 BMW 2002.
In the first year of production alone, BMW sold almost 29,000 cars of the Type 2002. By 1972, this figure was to increase steadily to a level approaching 60,000 units a year. Around 20 percent of the cars were exported to the USA. This sales success was unparalleled. An incredible 330,212 cars had rolled off the assembly line by the time production came to an end in 1975, and this represented the lion’s share of the 02 Series. This car was followed in 1968 by the 2002 ti delivering a top speed of 185 km/h. And that was at a time when the average output of cars registered in Germany languished at 51 bhp.

BMW 2002 ti
BMW 2002 ti

“Now we’ll turn it into a turbo.”
Right from the start, BMW also entered the 2002 in circuit races. And it wasn’t long before the first successes came in the European Touring Car Championship. Dieter Quester won ahead of the competition from Porsche and Alfa Romeo with the additional fillip of a lap record in the second race. This was followed by a brilliant season of wins crowned by the European Championship title. Right from the start, a number of private racing outfits opted for the fast-moving two-litre car. At Christmas 1968, racing director Alex von Falkenhausen took a far-reaching decision. In order to meet the increasingly tough competition head on, he decided “now we’ll turn it into a turbo”. Using an exhaust turbine catapulted the output of the 2002 tiK from 205 bhp generated by the naturally aspirated engine to a turbocharged output of 280 bhp. But there was a risk involved here – racing engines frequently exploded, and not just on the test rig. Paul Rosche – the father of the engine that was to become the Formula 1 World Championship engine – commented: “We actually considered during initial trials on the test rig whether this engine couldn’t be appropriated for Formula 1. After all, the potential for power seemed to be limitless. And we subsequently continued to breathe life into this dream.” After taming the explosive power, the mission was to launch the power of the engine on the roads. The tyres previously used for the 2002 ti were hopelessly overstretched in the lower gears, and they had to be replaced by an impressive set of Formula 2 tyres with up to 260 millimetres of road contact. The wider wheel arches needed to accommodate the new tyres were to become the hallmark of the powerful automobile built in Munich. This was to be the car driven by Dieter Quester when he defended his title in 1969.

BMW 2002 tii
BMW 2002 tii

Variations on the theme of success: convertible and touring.
The era of the 02 inaugurated its most successful year in 1971 with four new models. The 1802 now inserted itself between the basic model now designated the 1602 and the two-litre model, while the 2002 tii (the second i stood for injection) with a 130 bhp injection engine replaced the 2002 ti.

Two new bodywork designs were also added: the 2002 Convertible with a fixed roll-over bar and the 2000 touring. Both cars incorporated solutions that were not only exciting but unique. The open 2002 had a removable roof element running along the entire length of the door, a C-pillar raked forwards, and a fabric roof behind which incorporated a rear windscreen. This meant that the car could either be driven with a type of extended sliding roof, or as a landaulet open at the back, or open at both front and back.

The touring model was the first estate car in Germany to be designed with a split rear seat. This model was designed by Paul Bracq. It had the front end of the 02 Series and a rear end that had undergone significant changes. The conventional notchback was replaced in this four-seater by a slanting tailgate, and it was 12 centimetres shorter than the saloons. The four-seater touring car was years in advance of the subsequent trend for hatchback saloons and even later sports estate cars. It was supplied with all engine versions.

The flyer: 2002 turbo.
With one exception: The 2002 turbo generating 170 bhp. This was only available as a saloon, and it provided a sensation on its debut at the 1973 Frankfurt Motor Show. This car was the crowning glory of the 02 series with a top speed of 210 km/h. For ten months, it was only available in white and silver. A stroke of fate and the oil crisis were the decisive factors determining the brief production time for the fastest and most powerful 02. The western world reacted to the threats of the oil-exporting countries with measures verging on panic. Speed limits and driving bans were introduced. The price of petrol rocketed from 70 to 90 pfennigs, and sophisticated feats of advanced engineering like the 2002 turbo fell victim to the spirit of the times. The turbocharged BMW was once again a pioneering model. It was the first European volume-produced car with an exhaust turbocharger.

Of course, BMW wasn’t only making waves in 1973 with the turbo. When it came to passive safety, the 02 was also right out in front: headrestraints and safety belts (both of these features were compulsory from 1972 in all cars in Australia .. editor) in the front formed part of the standard equipment, as was a crash-optimised four-spoke steering wheel. Production of the 02 Series continued with the distinctive rectangular taillights.

Rally as with Formula 2 engine.
BMW also made its sporting mark on the rally scene with the 2002 during those years, in line with the company’s racing heritage. The 2002 had a capacity of precisely 1,990 cc designed for rough road surfaces, and it had the Formula 2 engine under the bonnet, with a four-valve cylinder head and petrol injection. The four-cylinder was designed with a bore of 89 millimetres and a stroke of 80 millimetres. This meant it had a very short stroke, with a high compression of 11 : 1. This combination enabled the four-cylinder crankshaft to generate high speeds of rotation. The engine delivered rated power of 240 bhp at 9,000 rpm, corresponding to volumetric efficiency of 120.6 bhp/litre. A kerb weight of 950 kilograms gave the Rally 2002 outstanding performance, as was proven impressively by racing drivers Jean Todt and Achim Warmbold. The BMW Team competed with this 2002 in six races for the Rally World Championship and European Championship.

The 02 was also an ideal vehicle for amateur motor sport enthusiasts. Private drivers sponsored by BMW drove 02 automobiles in innumerable races with a diverse range of power levels. One brochure published by BMW Motorsport GmbH reported: “Sport for leisure is one of the most important initiatives in the BMW motor sport programme. By attracting as many drivers as possible for leisure sport, BMW is fulfilling a didactic role. The yearning for sporty driving and the pleasure involved are on the increase. The current conditions on the roads, with the number of cars continuously rising, make it virtually impossible to have a sporty driving style on normal highways. The idea in Munich is that leisure sport will relieve the pressure on roads caused by ‘sporty driving’ while providing an arena for sporty drivers to exercise their passion on clearly defined roads and circuits where ordinary traffic has in some cases been excluded.”

End of an era: The first 3 Series arrives.
The 02 Series powered by batteries was a notable feature of the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. The first 5 Series automobile was launched immediately after the Games, and this car introduced a new era in the visual profile of BMW. This series also heralded replacement of the small class, though the appearance of the new series by no means consigned the 02 to the history books. In 1974, one year before the 02 Series was replaced by the 3 Series, 02 production reached its pinnacle at 111,239 units. On this basis, BMW achieved an extremely self-assured change of models. The first 3 Series was launched and at the same time the 1502 was introduced as the new, last and then in fact only model in the 02 Series. The car was powered by a 1602 engine with low compression and together with the 518 was the first BMW to run on regular petrol. The model was a big success: 71,564 units costing DM 11,900 rolled off the Munich assembly lines up to 1977. Board Chairman Eberhard von Kuenheim enthused in an interview held in 1976: “80 percent of the purchasers of the 1502 owned a car manufactured by another carmaker before they bought the 1502.”

In 1977, the 02 proved that it was still in a position to compete on the race track. Klaus Ludwig claimed a commanding victory at the German Racing Championship driving a 2002 turbo from the Schnitzer Team. This was the last big win for the 2002 in its active period. Today, it continues to seek fame and glory – in races for historic vehicles.

“Sporty saloons with long life spans.”
Today, the 02 success remains a special phenomenon in the history of the automobile. Even many years after production came to an end, the “zero two” has retained its fascination for the friends of zappy automobiles. Used cars also proved their worth as “sporty automobiles with a long life” in a major used-car special edition for the year 1978: “The small BMW models of the 02 Series were renowned as the epitome of the compact sporty saloon throughout their production life. The fact that production has now come to an end hasn’t done anything to change that reputation. The two-door BMW is based on an outstanding reputation – not simply because of its rewarding driving performance, but also because of exceptional reliability in everyday use.”

BMW 2002 turbo
BMW 2002 turbo

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