BMW became master of the sporting saloon with the 2002, says CHRIS RANDALL. We’ve pictured a Touring model here for illustration
BMW 2002 in Old Days
BMW has long been fond of dubbing its cars as ‘the ultimate driving machines’, and while that might be going a bit far with the 2002, it is undoubtedly a fine saloon. The front engine/rear-wheel drive layout delivers a good blend of ride and handling, even if the rear suspension demands a degree of respect in slippery conditions. You enjoy all this from a superb cabin – the driving position is spot-on and there’s no arguing with the quality of the materials. Even 40 years ago, BMW had clearly mastered the art of solid construction and efficient interiors. There isn’t huge performance on offer in standard 2.0-litre form – the turbo delivers plenty of excitement for those after more pace – but the smooth power delivery makes for an effective mile-eater. As a relaxing long-distance tourer, the 2002 is well-nigh unbeatable.
Top speed 107mph
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
Despite BMW’s reputation for quality maufacturing, corrosion is an issue with the 2002. Rust can nibble away at the door bottoms and the edges of both bonnet and boot, and you need to pay close attention to the sills. Blocked drain holes cause many of the problems, so take a good look at the point where the A-posts meet the sills and where the sills meet the rear wheelarches. The front wheelarches and inner wings are rot-spots, too, as is the area around the bulkhead. There are also several box sections around the radiator and headlamps that can harbour rust.
The front chassis rails and jacking points can disintegrate, as can the floorpan of the cabin and boot. The spare wheel well corrodes and you will need to pay close attention to the chassis box section above the driveshafts. The potential for water leaks means Baur cabriolet models should come in for particular scrutiny. While many panels and repair sections are available, the cost of a major restoration can mount alarmingly.
Regular fluid and filter changes will enable most engines to cover big mileages before major attention is needed. However, there are a few issues to watch for, including oil leaks and coolant seeping from a failed water pump. Head gaskets can give up and a noisy valve-gear means a top-end overhaul is on the cards, while a smoky exhaust or rough-running is often down to either worn carburettor spindles or worn distributor bearings that put the ignition timing out. You need to be a bit more wary if you’re looking at an injected or turbocharged car – the Kugelfischer fuel-injection system is basically reliable, but it needs to be set up properly and the price of a set of injectors from BMW is nudging £2000, while replacing the KKK turbocharger is a similarly costly exercise. If you are in any doubt, it’s best to get a specialist to inspect the car.
The top-model 300SE and 300SEL had air suspension, which was high-tech stuff for the early 1960s. The ride it gives is quite remarkable, but problems can be very expensive indeed to fix, and parts are not plentiful. Buy an air-sprung Fintail with your eyes wide open, and have the phone numbers of a specialist and your bank manager close at hand.
Both manual and automatic gearboxes are reliable if treated to regular fluid changes, and a good test drive should reveal any untoward noises. Some owners have upgraded to the manual ’box from the E21 3-Series – a popular mod and not likely to cause any problems if done properly. Driveline vibrations can be caused by worn differential mountings or a propshaft centre bearing on its way out, but neither is especially tricky to sort.
As for the rest of the running gear, lack of use often results in seized or binding brakes, so ensure that everything feels healthy on the road. Replacement front calipers aren’t cheap, so budget accordingly if you think an overhaul is due. UK models were fitted with twin brake servos which should be replaced as a pair – you’re looking at £400 for refurbished units. Any play in the steering box can be adjusted out, but watch for cars where an owner has overdone it – ‘tight spots’ as you turn between locks means an overhaul or replacement is needed.
Apart from corrosion around mounting points, the suspension is unlikely to give trouble other than the usual wear and tear. As with the brakes, aftermarket upgrades are popular, so make sure you’re happy with the standard of the work.
Interior trim was good quality and hard-wearing when new, but age will have taken its toll. Seats were trimmed in vinyl or cloth depending on model, and it’s a case of assessing the overall condition. While some parts are getting scarce, many are available through the owners’ club or from BMW, so if the rest of the car is sound, revitalising a tired cabin is a realistic proposition – just don’t underestimate the cost of doing it properly. It’s worth checking the electrics are in order – poor earth connections are responsible for most issues.
Spend any time with a 2002 and you’ll realise it’s an excellent sports saloon, but it’s not without foibles. Restoring a bad one won’t be cheap, so buy the best you can afford.