1974 BMW 2002 Handling Improvements: New Springs, Wheels, Tires

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I’ve manned my wrenches and gotten my hands (and the rest of me) very dirty and made some much needed changes to the new-to-me 1974 BMW 2002. Note to self, if you wear clothes while working on a car, any clothes at all, they will be destroyed. Completely. They’re doomed to be shop clothes forever. I have to go shopping.

The 2002 as delivered to me had handling that was, in a word, shit. Utter garbage. Much of the blame must go to the skinny and old 13″ tires, which were badly cracked, and which were manufactured by some off brand company that I can’t find even with an internet search. These tires howled in protest at every possible opportunity, even in the least demanding of turns. The traction was almost laughably bad, but the humor was turned to terror by the ancient OEM springs, which made the car wallow sickeningly when on the edge. Control was essentially nonexistent. It was all so bad that I actually had a sinking feeling that everyone was wrong about the 2002, that these were actually terrible cars and that I had made a huge mistake.

No to be let down by any car, I decided to begin fixing things right away. First up, new wheels and tires. Those horrifying rubber bastards just had to go. Second, tighten things up with stiffer and lower springs, which would reduce the ugly body roll and control issues and significantly lower the center of gravity. (Stiffer sway bars will perfect the transformation, stay tuned.)

For this build I don’t want the car to look too modified, and certainly not “slammed,” especially from the outside. It needs to appear largely OEM to casual observers. So I went with a set of Eibach springs which are designed for a sporty look without being an aggressive suspension drop. My car came down about 1.5″. Doesn’t sound like much, but for a car’s suspension, it’s significant. Installation is reported online to be a breeze, somewhere around 45 minutes per wheel. It took me four days. So there’s that. It was a massive pain in the ass. The car already had newish Bilstein HD shocks that still looked pretty good, so I replaced only the springs.

For wheels and tires, I ordered an absolutely gorgeous refinished set of vintage BBS RS wheels in 15″. They’ve got polished, almost chrome-looking aluminum lips and a classic silver basketweave center. Not cheap, but oh so worth it. Since I’ll be covering and storing the 2002 during the winter months, there was little danger in fitting the car with aggressive summer rubber. I went with Dunlop Direzza tires in 195/50-15 size.

So, results. After driving the car for a few days, today I finally decided to legitimately lean on the new setup through some twists, at a speed that previously would have sent the car straight into the bushes, and I was extremely pleased with the results. The only way to easily describe the transformation is to call it Miata-like. Gone are the fear-inducing handling demons, and in their place is a very well sorted sporting automobile. The Dunlops hang on with authority, in fact there’s a lot of traction still to be explored.

While body roll is reduced and more controllable, it’s now the most glaring shortcoming with the handling. In short, there’s just way too much lean. To get things under control I’ve ordered a set of Ireland Engineering sway bars, both front and rear, along with new ball joints and new bushings all around. When that work is completed, handling should be spot-on and ready for autocross, not that it’s the point of this build but it’ll be fun to try.