For me it started with the wooden steering wheel. Something about that lacquer, smooth and grippy at the same time. It dug up old memories of a pool cue, from this time I was just out adolescence, hanging with my friends at a grown-up bar, trying to get some girl’s attention. That’s what it does. It feels like the best part of a bygone era, like pure nostalgia and positivity.
This 1974 BMW 2002 was parked outside my Culver City bunker panting like a puppy, and I couldn’t wait to play with it. I even wore my grease-stained Carhartts for the occasion.
All my experience with cars from this era involves oil leaks and quirks; the last 2002 I drove had to be started with a cheese knife instead of a key. This particular car was unmistakably old, but restored far past its best day even the year it was built.
As the door pivoted open on perfectly-greased hinges I realized that the seats, beautifully recovered in a lemon-sorbet light cream, were no place for my pre-soiled garage pants. After changing into something laundered, I started to get in touch with the car’s personality.
As I eased off the curb, all my favorite memories of the 1970s sporty shitheaps I grew up with—my dad’s a big vintage roadster fan with a small budget—started rushing back.
Moving the massive steering wheel was like opening a bank vault. Working clutch pedal and shift-throw felt like being in a workout video.
But this isn’t an enthusiast’s car because of gut-sucking performance (though it’s not slow) or razor-sharp handling (though it’s plenty responsive).
This 2002 is fun because of a complete absence of mundanity.
We rode through Beverly Hills dodging double-parked supercars and pedestrians in ridiculous shoes, neither of which us distracting enough to pull the driver’s attention from controlling this car.
It isn’t hard to drive. It simply must be driven. Even slowly I discovered, as the nuances of its steering weight and the clutch’s long friction zone became familiar between 1 and 10 MPH.
By the time we emerged from that Hunger Games horror show the Bimmer and I were on great terms. So when the road opened up, we took our relationship to the next level.
Dropping a gear and plunged snout-first up Coldwater Canyon was as refreshing as the road’s name sounds, even though it’s just another pothole’d strip of tar through SoCal suburbia. But it is curvy and the stakes of these streets are even higher on tiny wheels with tight suspension; those potholes become slalom poles.
Finally, the engine sang. Not with the violent fire-breath of a Ferrari, the grumble of an American V8 or amplified whimper of a poorly tuned Civic, just a declaration of presence on top of a deeply satisfying experience surging through one bend after another and... hey look at that, we’re not even breaking the speed limit.
We’ve all heard “never meet your heroes,” right? Hard not to think about that the first time you drive something like a BMW 2002.
It’s an archetypal cool car because it makes a statement of superiority without being in your face about it. Universally appreciable. Attainable, yet aspirational.
“2002” stands for “two thousand cubic centimeters of displacement, two door body” but the back seat is big enough for this car to be considered one of the industry’s elemental modern sport sedans.
“How could it possibly keep up with so many generations of hype?” I wondered, foolishly.
And that’s exactly why Clarion picked this car as base for their first project in its “Builds” series.
Clarion is a car audio company that does most of their business selling unbranded bits to OEMs. For example, the stock stereo on your new F-150 might be made by them. Now the company is trying to revive consumer interest in its aftermarket offerings, and reviving a bunch of classic cars to auction off for charity and publicity. This 1974 BMW 2002 kicked off the series, with a 1991 Acura NSX in the pipeline to be completed next.