What’s this? A three-box tintop in SUPERCAR CLASSICS? Surely a 2.0litre saloon that’s tame to the point of timidity throughout much of its engine's rev range has no place here. Why, we were overtaken by a Sierra 1600 which caught us languishing off boost, the engine lagging lethargically as the turbo gathered momentum. This, a supercar?
Visually, it shapes up no better, this modest Bavarian brick. It is blocky, and so symmetrical, rear window mirroring the screen in size and rake, that you could mistake the front for the back. Sleek it is not As it is, the lofty slab-like snout, its height exacerbated by a deep airdam which threatens to gouge cats’ eyes, makes the tail look unnaturally low.
There’s no mistaking Europe's first production turbo for the lesser BMW 2002Tii that sired it. Early cars had reversed ‘2002 Turbo’ lettering scripted on the bumperless front, acting, ambulance-style, as a ‘move-over’ command in other people’s mirrors. BMW was pasted for this provocative gimmick and quickly erased it. Even so, plastic addenda draw rather more attention to the car than to its modern M3 counterpart, especially when it’s highlighted by BMW Motorsport’s red, blue and purple transfers.
There’s nothing subtle about the way the blown 2002 shouts its performance pretensions. Apart from the bitumen-brushing plastic bib, there's a ducktail spoiler on the boot lid and haunch-fattening screw-on wheel-arch extensions that make the standard 185/70 Michelins look a bit puny. Despite the humdrum shape and the low-end languor, it’s raw, neck-jerking speed that qualifies this rare tearaway for the junior ranks of the supercar league Properly wound up, BMW’s blown lightweight has a scorching performance that impresses even now. In its day, back in the early 1970s, it was truly amazing.
Flash decoration singles the car out as boy racer, which makes its easy humiliation all the more galling. The throttle was a down in third, the tacho needle sweeps through the threes, when the Sierra pulled out and overtook. We were neither racing nor baiting, of course, but the incident served to underline the dynamic shortcomings of a car that is dazzlingly quick if you put real effort into driving it. No other performance 2.0litre would have succumbed under similar circumstances. Its sohc injected engine, forerunner of the modern BMW mill, pulls sweetly, cleanly, smoothly in the bottom half of its rev range, but without vigour. Off boost, it feels more like a fairly tame unblown 1500. Ambling in traffic, the engine is not only pleasantly quiet and docile but free of any high- performance temperament, making it as suitable for urban commuting as any reps' runabout. More readily than most dual personality cars it calls to mind RL Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Strange indeed.
Even as the turbine accelerates, its distinctive high-pitched hiss rising as the tacho needle climbs, there is nothing to suggest that a violent storm is about to terminate the lull. Although the blower sings stridently at two-five, three, three-five, four, there’s no cause for excitement, nothing to indicate imminent wallop. It's not until the revs hit the four-two mark that the cylinders start inhaling enough invigorating oxygen to give real energy. Over the next 600rpm, up to around four-eight, the doughty engine erupts into a raging powerhouse. Decorous pick-up burgeons into frenzied acceleration. It is violent enough to bring astonished expletives from the lips of passengers. It feels more like 250bhp than 170. No modern GTi or GTE could live with an on-song Tii Turbo once the boost needle has edged from the gauge’s long white sector into the green band. Fifteen years have elapsed since the car’s manufacture in 1973, but the production version of BMW's group 5 racer is still formidably quick, even by late '80s benchmarks. What has dramatically changed since the archetypal all-or- nothing Turbo hit the road is (among other things) the use of electronic management systems to spread the power more evenly from a lower base. The turbocharger would never have caught on if delivery had remained as top-ended or lag so frustratingly assertive as this BMW's.
The problem with the Tii Turbo is that its frenzy is not casually tapped. You have to work hard to keep the turbo spinning effectively, which means early downshifting and urgent revving that can become quite wearing unless you’re keyed up for seriously quick motoring. Relax, let the revs tail away, and the power fades. On the sort of give- and-take high-hedged Sussex rurals we were negotiating at the time, I frequently gave in to the engine’s demanding delivery and settled for an easier, more relaxing gait. You need space and open roads properly to give this car its head. Then it really flies.
Four widely spaced gear ratios, tallish in third and fourth, exacerbate the throttle lag problem. Owner Tim Hignett, who has put together a fine collection of BMWs in the 19years he’s been selling them from L and C Auto Services Ltd of Royal Tunbridge Wells, is on the lookout for a five-speed Getrag gearbox that BMW offered as an option on the 2002 Tii and Turbo. Four speeds, which give intermediate maxima at 6400rpm of 34, 62 and 98mph, are not really enough for a car which has such a narrow effective power band, at its fierce best between 4300 and 6400rpm. Spin the engine in first to the maximum recommended continuous speed of 6000rpm, and the revs drop to 3300 in second - well below effective boost. First gear in the five-speeder, which has maxima of 37, 60, 80 and 102mph (top gives the same 130mph) is taller and much closer to second, allowing you to keep the engine spinning in the meaty part of the power band.
The 1602 was launched in '66 as a classy, 85bhp 1600 lightweight. More powerful variants quickly followed, beginning with a 1.8, then a 2.0 (the 2002), and 1969’s 130bhp 2002Tii, using Kugelfischer fuel injection and uprated sports suspension. The subsequent Turbo, announced at the Frankfurt show in September 73, was not the world's first turbocharged production car: Chevrolet and Oldsmobile introduced the Corvair and Jetfire before BMW.
The 2002 Turbo was not really a homologation special. The blown racer, which had around 280bhp, arrived earlier, winning its - and a turbo saloon's - first race in '69. More victories and the European touring car championship followed that year (against Porsche 911 opposition) before the factory withdrew from racing. When it resumed competition activities in 73, the 3.0CSL coupe, spear-headed the attack.
Hignett refutes the suggestion that poor reliability killed the Turbo, axed after a production run of just 10 months. His own car, acquired as a trade-in and subsequently restored to a very high standard in his own L and C workshops, has had no major engine work after 56,000miles. The 74 fuel crisis killed the Turbo.
In the period spanning the late ’60s, and early 70s, BMW’s small saloons consolidated the company’s product-led recovery that the 1500 middleweight (later the 1600, 1800 and 2000) had started at the beginning of the swinging decade The 2002 is a neat two-door car which has an unusually light and airy cabin served by big, slim-pillared windows and a capacious boot. If there’s another tin-top offering better panoramic visibility than this, i can’t think what it is. No modern counterpart gets close.
GM's high-performance GTE 16V - in real money, half the price of 1973’s blown BMW - makes an interesting comparison. One-and-a-half decades on, the 134mph GTE, its unblown 16-valve engine yielding 156bhp, will only just outpace the 2002 Turbo by dint of superior streamlining. The 170bhp eight-valve force-fed BM has better all-out acceleration, its 0-60mph time of 6.8sec giving it a one-second advantage in the yardstick dash, but the Astra's vivid low- rev torque and sharp throttle response make its potency much easier to tap and exploit.
The BMW's bolstered Rentrop buckets are deeper and more embracing than the wide-backed seats of lesser models in this BMW series. Unusually long runners make the odd but comfortable high-wheel driving position particularly suitable for tall, long- limbed people: a seven-foot beanpole could stretch out in comfort here. Interior width is not so generous in the narrow, simply trimmed cabin, which is bereft of cosmetic decoration. It was the absence of any ducted ventilation (this, years after Ford had pioneered the swiveling eyeball) that made us uncomfortable, as the glasshouse cabin gets very hot and stuffy without open windows.
Seats apart, the Turbo is distinguished inside by its red-backed instrument cluster, special steering wheel and angled boost gauge which is paired centrally with the clock. All the Turbos - 1672 of them - had left-hand drive and floor-hinged pedals (they were pendant-pivotted in right-handed 2002s) which are not ideal for fancy heel- and-toe footwork. If not perfectly placed, the controls of Hignett's car were crisp and responsive, indicating first-class preparation.
Suspension is firm to the point of being harsh and knobbly, especially around town. The trade-off from that is reassuring, low-roll handling that wouldn't disgrace a modern car. Steering is light, if not particularly sharp or precise, least of all when deviating from the straight: worm and roller is no substitute for rack and pinion. Even so, the Turbo feels taut, chuckable, nicely balanced. It reminded me of the marvelously forgiving opposite-lock behaviour of the 2002Tii I once raced. Hignett had warned that the Turbo steps sideways very abruptly in the wet if the power comes in halfway through a bend. On dry roads, the transition from slow to go, easily tamed by feathering the throttle, was never an embarrassment and called for no special care. A limited-slip diff, having 40percent lock-up, helps get the power down.
Fifteen years ago, the £4221 Turbo was very expensive for a performance lightweight of humdrum origins. In today's money, that's roughly the same as the £32,550 M3 costs now. Just to get things into perspective, you could buy a V12 E-type for 2002 Turbo money in 1973. Now, allowing for inflation, the Jaguar is worth about the same in real terms, the BMW less than half as much. Hignett reckons £10,000 would be the top whack for a car as good as his.
SIDEBAR ------- DESIGN. ENGINEERING
The production blower was the least powerful of the three 2002-based turbos that BMW made In the late 1960s and early 1970s. The first - the group 5 racer - was hurriedly developed in the winter of ’68 by engineering chief Alex von Falkenhausen. It lifted output of the normally aspirated competition 2002 Til from 210bhp to around the 280bhp mark. Having neither Intercooler nor sophisticated management system, the detonation-prone engine was initially troublesome and unreliable, though BMW did eventually hone it into a winner on the track.
The second was the two-off ESV concept car which BMW used for some effective flag-waving at the ’72 Munich Olympics. Here the engine, detuned to 200bhp, was mounted transversely amidships In a sleek Paul Bracq- designed plastic-bodied two-seater that inspired the later M1.
The production 2002 Turbo, launched the following year, had the same over-square (89 x 80mm) 1990cc dimensions as BMW's previous blowers, but, after further detuning, its low compression slant-four sohc engine yielded 170bhp at5800rpm on mechanical Kugelfischer fuel injection. Torque peaked at 4000 rpm. By modern standards, it was a very basic turbo installation: compressed air from the exhaust-driven KKK blower was delivered straight to the inlet manifold via a pressure control valve (we didn’t have the snappy word waste¬gate in those days).
The suspension - MacPherson struts up front, semi-trailing arms behind, with anti-roll bars at both ends and Bilstein damper control - was stiffened ail round. Wider wheels carried larger 185- section tyres (the lesser Tii wore 165s) and the front disc brakes had competition-style four-pot calipers.