1974 BMW 2002 – Welcoming a Classic to The Stable, and Beginning a Wrenching Journey


Today I’m introducing a newcomer to my spread of cars, this very pretty 1974 BMW 2002. I bought the car sight-unseen, like a crazy person, from a consignment dealership in southern California. All I had to go on was about 25 photos and the dealer’s word.

The 2002 market has a pretty good variety of cars, from push-it-off-a-cliff to showroom new. You can spend $5,000 USD on a rough one that runs, all the way to the mid-50s for a basically perfect outlier. Mine was $20k, which is rather high for a 2002 but not altogether out of the ordinary. From the dealer I learned that the car had been restored in 2012, and it was sporting an all-new interior, new paint, good engine, the all-important manual transmission, and was completely rust free. The previous owner apparently wanted a factory original car and so it was when it showed up, at first glance anyway.

The 2002 is from an era when you could still work on your car, a time when you could open the hood after a problem and look for actual things to fix. Today you look at a giant plastic engine cover that conceals everything.

I’m by no means a mechanic. I understand engine and automotive basics, like where to put in the gas and that the engine has pistons buried deep inside that provide the magical go-juice. Really, I’m a complete car novice but I’m eager to learn all that I can. The BMW 2002 provides me with an opportunity to not only learn about cars, but get my hands dirty on my own car. I made a resolution to not use my mechanic as a crutch, to instead do all the work myself. Clearly I’m in over my head.


To give myself things to do, I came up with a list of items I’d like to customize on the car. All of these changes are reversible should I want to return to stock. From the get go the plan was to do a very, very light restomod on the BMW. Here’s the list:

  1. Lower the suspension about 1″. This isn’t an aggressive change, just one that will mildly alter the stance and make the car more attractive. It’ll look normal to anyone not intimately familiar with the 2002 cars.
  2. Change the muffler. I didn’t want something loud, just something that would make the car a bit rowdier, just a little more fun.
  3. Get new wheels and tires. The factory-ish wheels already on the car are 13″ and there are almost no decent tires left in that size. 14″ helps out a lot, but 15″ is when you get into decent rubber. To my eyes, 15″ is a little big on a 2002 (this car is truly tiny) but the wheels should fit.


But — and isn’t there always a but? — I started to go through the car and check everything out for real. It was and still is a slow process since I know next to nothing about cars, but some glaring problems have became readily apparent since the car arrived on Friday. Turns out the car isn’t quite as flawless as I had wanted. The previous owner did spend $27k to restore the car in 2012 — I have the receipt — but it’s not perfect.

The spider webs covering every exterior surface was the first sign of trouble. Clearly the car has received a loving repaint but afterward it probably sat outside for a long time. That has made the paint hazy. I’m going to learn to polish automotive paint and fix that problem myself. After I’m done the paint should really pop.

More concerning is the misfiring engine. It’s a subtle misfire but it’s there and it’s very annoying. Carburetor jetting? Maybe. Trouble with the ignition coil or Pertronix distributor? Possible. Blocked fuel line? Also possible. There are a lot of possibilities. Yesterday the misfire decided to hit a real high note and shut down the engine complete. In an intersection. On a scorching day. Obviously I was not pleased and I must find a solution. I replaced the spark plugs and that seemed to help, but I checked the plugs today and cylinder #2 was showing a wet black plug. Shit. I could have a problem with the rings, which means engine rebuild. That, by extension, means that I might have to learn the nitty-gritty about engines way, way sooner than I had expected. I seriously hope I didn’t buy someone else’s problem.

The interior has indeed been redone recently but it’s not quite what I expected. The seats have been re-upholstered but they’re not leather, they’re vinyl, a cheap, soft and easily damaged vinyl. The dashboard isn’t showing any cracks or damage, but that’s because it’s hiding behind a cheap plastic cover, which conceals the almost  certainly horrific original dashboard below. Now I want to completely restore the original dashboard and reupholster the seats with proper leather. The steering wheel is probably original, but it’s cracked and I’d like to replace it with something much nicer. Thankfully, the air conditioner works, but I’ve never used it.

Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on my mood, the 2002 is starting to look less and less like a fun original canvas to start from and is instead beginning to take the form of a project car, or more accurately, a restoration, which isn’t at all what I had in mind. But the car is mine now and I intend to create a properly sorted machine come hell or high water. Along the way I’ll learn a lot and document everything I do. I’ll go from a wide-eyed beginner to something not quite so wide-eyed. In the end I’ll have a beautiful and well-running 2002.

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