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Sunday, 24 February 2013


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If ever a car was given a stellar reputation through mere advertising it was the BMW.

Well, there is a little irony that I have never bought a BMW.
Since my initials are bmw

"In high school I read... review of the BMW 2002"

Mike, were you a part of the "Back to the Future" team? ;-)))

Buy a brand new or almost new Morgan 4/4 or Plus4, you get everything thats great about old cars, no power steering for great handling and road feel, very little electronics, great handling as well as amazing resale value. Can be fixed at any Ford/Bmw dealership (most engines in later day Morgans are from Ford or BMW), everything is nuts/bolts (and not clips) so you can do most things yourself. Much of the body is aluminium and wood with little maintenance and rust issues.

Very economical to drive, with great mileage for being a sportscar. Now all you need is a suitcase on the back to have a space for groceries...

I totally agree. Very sad. And Jaguar is not much behind. They look more like Buicks than the Jaguars of old.

You've got my nostalgia glands working.... the 2002tii - a wolf in sheep's clothing when set alongside the 2002. In the same mould as the original Lotus Cortina and Fiat Abarth etc etc

Oh yes! You struck a chord here Mike. I remember back in the 70s, being driven by a friend I hadn't seen in years, around the Yorkshire Dales, with many a hairpin bend, in one of those original BMW 2002s. I hadn't long passed my driving test, and it was a fantastically exciting drive, in the dark, through some very taxing countryside, and I loved every minute of it. He was, shall we say, an enthusiastic driver, and I had no idea that driving could actually be like this, and be so much fun.

Fast forward to about sixteen years ago (sorry, odd sentence) and my photography business was failing quite badly due to one of the various recessions; my wife and I had to hurriedly divest ourselves of a Golf GTI because we could no longer afford the payments on it, and we part exchanged it for an older black BMW 320. It was totally unassuming, no 'go faster' bits; it looked like a completely average, if stylish, saloon, but it turned out to be one of the nicest cars we ever had. Under that seemingly ordinary exterior lurked a sports car; it went like hell when asked to, and it was often asked to... it was comfy, quiet, and a joy to drive, with a light clutch, a great gearbox and a smooth six cylinder engine. I'd love to have it now, but an early diagnosis of a failing gearbox (expensive!) made us get rid of it much earlier than I'd have chosen. Thanks for reminding me of those times!

Good memories. I learned to drive on a white 2002tii, stick shift... at the age of 13!
We lived in a new development, with most of streets paved nicely, with hardly any homes built. Perfect place for a 13 year old in love with his BMW. Well, his Mom's BMW ;-)

The tii was also my dream car and has also shaped my car buying since. A nearby banker had a 3.0 CSI coupe. I still think they're gorgeous. It was the first BMW I remember seeing. And then I read about the tii. I considered it the perfect car and wanted one SO bad. But even in the late 70s, used, they were still expensive. So I settled for a 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega. What an interesting car that was.

I agree with you on the direction BMW has taken and wouldn't buy a 3 series even if I could afford it. The 1 series looks good, though. Can't afford that either.

Mike, if you think that BMW car design has lost its way you should look at what they have done to their motorcycles. I thank heaven I bought mine at the zenith and kept it. Here it is

I traded my first car--a '60 VW convertible--in on a used '68 BMW 1600, the 2002's predecessor. I later owned a couple of 2002's. Needless to say, I loved these machines. But they did have their flaws: crappy radiators that eventually caused overheating, fragile 2nd-gear synchros, rust-prone bodies, and so forth. When Nissan was so bold as to run an ad comparing their '91 Sentra SE-R to the 2002, I was intrigued enough to buy one, and you know what? Except for some throttle oversteer, pretty much inevitable for the front-wheel-drive platform, my recollection is that the Sentra was a clearly superior car. Cars evolve, just like cameras. I think that even if you found a perfect 2002 now, you'd probably be disappointed. But boy, they were pretty cool in the day, before they became yuppiemobiles.

Can't agree more with your assessment of the BMW "evolution".

My 1980 320i was a dynamite drive in dry weather. The rear tires had a tendency to break traction even upon starting out in traffic on a rainy day. The quick rear-end swerve which resulted was so commonplace that Road & Track referred to it as "the BMW twitch".

Now that's an extraordinary job of turning a deficit into a desirable trait.

I'd probably agree with you on the GX1 as well if I had $300+ to toss toward B&H. But hold it! That's two months' lease payments on the Miata.

Priorities. Discipline. Exhale.

I remember the '80's "Yuppie" era quite well.
I worked in Cleveland, Ohio and was exposed to a lot of those business folks, who in addition to a BMW, would have a cappuccino maker. My point to this is that I would have my fair share of "Yuppie" piloted "Bimmers" blow by me during my commute. I always thought that most of them didn't have the driving skills to match the potential of those "Ultimate Driving Machines".

Mike, sure you mean "2002" when you mention the year Chris Bangle started working for BMW. That's the year he penned the controversial 7-series that brought a new term to the automobilistic jargon - "Bangle-butt".
In fact, in 1992 he was at Fiat, where he drew the equally controversial 1995 Fiat Coupé (which I actually love):

[Manuel, According to his own CV he became Director of Design BMW Group on Oct. 1 1992. Earlier in 1992 he was at Fiat. --Mike]

I share your pain.

I learned a stick on my father's Opel GT, the car he brought back from a European trip after he had promised to bring back a small Mercedes.

My love for the 2002 started at about the same time as the Davis review, but I only had $1600 to spend (actually $800; dad gifted the rest), so I bought a 2 year old blue and white 1968 Camaro convertible). When I bought my second car in 1974, the 2002 was selling for $6300 and my budget was just under $5000. So I ended up settling on a 'fastback' Toyota Celica GT for $4700.

In 1982 I finally got my BMW, a 320i, stick shift of course. It was a wonderful boxy little guy that I just loved to drive. Around that time, I found the girl of my dreams, an owner of a mint little orange/rust 2002. I loved her car, and she loved my b/w darkroom, but unfortunately she was already married.

Around 2001 I had a lot more cash at my disposal and bought a 540i six speed manual, one of the last 5 series before it got Bangled. It was a great machine, but I ended up selling it after a couple of years since I needed a more utilitarian vehicle at the time. After that, I haven't lusted for another Bimmer. Bummer.

I always thought it meant break my window.

I would say much the same regarding the sad demise of the original Mini and its bloated 'that's not a...' counterpart. Wait a moment - who is it that now owns the name and makes the as-big-as-an-original-Range-Rover new version? That'd be your favourite Germans...

The 2002tii in the photo has square tail lights, introduced the same year as that color (Colorado, they called it.) "Real BMWs have round tail lights," like my 1971 (in agave). Of sainted memory and indeed long gone after being badly modified and run into the ground ... but I still have my Pentax Spotmatic!

"on the map": you probably mean on the US map, I hear there are other countries.


Couldn't agree with you more. I had two BMW 2002s, a 1973 (last year of the round tail lights) and a 1974 tii. Great cars to toss around, and extremely roomy for their size. Trunk space far better than anything of similar size today. Great visibility. For me their performance and spartan nature was the attraction. I also had an E30 318i and was not so enamored with it. Preferred a GTI of the same era. However, I still lust after a 1991 325is (with the tucked in bumpers) but as you noted no decent low mileage examples seem to exist. The E36s are not bad in hindsight, but later bimmers don't appeal to me. Just give me pure, good, functional design.

In 1987, I was married, two almost grown-up children and the managing director of a medium-sized computer centre, where I had been for 14 years.

I made two decisions: to leave my wife (for a wonderful woman; 25 years and counting), and to change my job. I went to a small software sales company and got my first ever company car.

You guessed: a 325i, red.

What a joy! On a three-quarter turn onto an autobahn in second gear, steering on the throttle, with a slight tail-out just a twitch of the pedal away - perfect!

In May 88, we drove to my native Scotland and the combination of empty Highland roads, wonderful scenery and the 325i remains in my mind as one of the best driving experiences I have ever had.

Certainly in the category, "cars to drive before you die" ...

I've run into the religion of the 2002 before, and never understood it. In 1970, not long out of the Army, I scraped together the money to buy a 1966 Pontiac LeMans, which was closely related to the GTO. (It was the GTO without the hood scoops.) Compared to the LeMans, the 2002 looked like a lump of dirt. Yes! dirt!

Further (yes, there's more) I think Bangles rescued BMW. You know what the pre-Bangles BMWs looked like? (And you have to admit this is true) -- they looked like Nissans (Datsuns.) I think the Japanese did it deliberately, copying the BMW design, hoping to get tighter with the yuppies - which they did -- but before Bangles started work, you'd see a car in a parking lot, from the side, and you'd say, "Hmm, is that a Corolla or an Accord? Oh, no, it's a BMW..."

We're talking style, here, not function. The worst aspect of the Bangles era was the growth of the computer stalk or mouse or controller or whatever you call it, but that had nothing to do with the look of the Bangle BMWs. Further...take a look at the new Lexuses...or the Porsche Panamera...they're starting to look like Bangle cars.

You, my friend, are stuck in the mud of nostalgia.

Mike, I'm 55 and have been a gearhead all my life. The last BMW that I really wanted was the tii. But that's - can it be? - on the order of 40 years ago. Not that I've hated BMWs since then but, by the 1990s, I didn't really notice them any longer.

Then finally, a few years go, BMWs entered the realm of "I'll never buy one; I don't care how good they are in any given area." And it wasn't the Chris Bangle styling, which devolved BMW from classic to merely trendy. It was the removal of the oil dipstick from BMW's newest six-cylinder powerplant.

BMW owners were now obligated to trust a sensor (never a modern German strong point) linked to a gauge or warning light. And if one suspected that the reading was incorrect? One's local BMW dealer would, after scheduling a service appointment, be happy to drain the oil from the crankcase of the vehicle in question and measure the amount of oil contained therein.

It was at this point that I knew BMW wasn't building cars for me - or people like me - regardless of how much money I had or didn't have.

I currently own a Subaru Impreza Outback Sport with manual transmission. It's a fun and reliable car. But Mazda seems to be the marque that is drawing my interest these days. Interesting cars with interesting technology (I can't wait for the diesel in the 6 and CX5) that are getting lighter with each redesign.

I'd also take a look at a lower-level Alfa Romeo if Sergio Marchionne actually beings the brand back to the States as he keeps threatening to do.

[Steve, as a longtime Mazda guy, I can only offer one warning: "Mazdas are underpowered." They just are...even the exceptions prove the rule. (Example: they just "solved" the problem of their very nice but radically underpowered new CX-5 SUV by promising a bigger engine...drum roll...a half-liter bigger 4-cylinder. They really do make me chuckle, at least--that's such a quintessential Mazda move it just makes me smile.) If you can deal with that, though, there's a lot to like. --Mike]

Your analysis is correct and why I drive A4s. Though truth be told Audi has gone down the same path.

I agree. Thank goodness for Mazda, the last remaining accessible brand that emphasizes driving dynamics in all of its vehicles--some more than others, of course, but still . . . .

Thanks Mazda!

"Fatter and fancier..." isn't that the parallel evolution of the bodies of the consumer? "Light and nimble" is hard to come by in North America, no matter the object.

Enjoy the auto show! Went to the Toronto one yesterday, and aside from laughing out loud at the Lexus concept cars (droopy vacuum-cleaners), there was very little inspirational *exterior* automotive design to be found, even at the "auto exotica" stand. On the contrary, it seems the design of the *interiors* have gotten all the attention in the past few years...

I, too, learned to drive a stick in a BMW, a 1970 1600, bought brand new for me as a college graduation gift. A classmate went with me to the dealer to pick it up and gave me lessons on the way back to campus. In a few days I had the hang of it. Sold the car in 1980.

It was indeed a great car. The 1600 was identical to the 2002 except for the smaller engine and the different grill.

As I recall, we paid full list price for the car. $2995 or something like that.

A lot of cars have grown like crazy over the years - Accords and Camrys chief among them. An 80's Accord seems to be smaller than a current Civic. Just since the late 90's, the Accord has grown by 6 inches in length, 2 inches in height, and 2 inches in width (and a few hundred pounds and 50 or more HP too - but with about the same gas mileage).

Seems to be a natural progression for some reason. Perhaps it's because consumers who like an car will always be able to be marketed too with "It's just like your old car, but bigger and more powerful."

For some reason, light and nimble don't seem to sell as well.

I know two different people who poured money and love into their 2002s until they were more rust than steel, and then mourned their passing.

That was back when a cell phone was not part of "driving".

The early 3 series BMWs from the late 1970s to 1980s vintage were long-lasting cars, if you did not fall victim to their tendency to oversteer due to the particular design of the independent rear suspension. They could be treacherous to drive in snow, with the rear suspension having a tendency to self-steer in low-traction driving environments. In Sweden, which keeps detailed statistics on accidents, they had a high accident rate relative to other car models. I have suspected that unstable poor weather handling was the primary reason for this. In those days, both Swedish car manufacturers, Saab and Volvo, did not use independent rear suspensions, in part for more stable handling in the snow.
My first exposure to BMW was a used 1600, which earned the respect of the mechanics who usually worked on British cars at the dealership where I had a part-time job. The 2002 was an improvement on that model, and my personal favorite compared to the tidy but stodgy (sorry, Mike) design of the 320.

There has never been a beautiful BMW. Nor even a handsome one. It was the engine, transmission and chassis that made them lustworthy.

The M1 maybe, but it was barely a production car. Just 456 built according to Wikipedia.

But if I was in the market for an expensive and large and high performance sedan the seven series would be on my shopping list. Carbon black metallic, please.

I clearly remember seeing my first 2002 ti in 1973. It was a a pale slightly fluorescent yellow. I didn't see it in a showroom and it was only a fleeting glimpse. A friend and I were travelling back from holidays driving his mum's car through a hilly and winding stretch of forested road on the east coast of Australia. Peter first spotted it in the rear vision mirror and I saw it as it overtook us and try as we might we couldn't keep up: the bends were designed for the Bimmer not for the lumbering green "designed for Australian conditions" Holden Kingswood.

I just don’t see DPreview, Imaging Resource, e.t.c. featuring an article on older BMW’s. That’s why I read The Online Photographer first.

We'll agree to differ on this one Mike. I rather like my F11 Tourer (523i Estate if you will) especially with the clever switch to firm up the suspension and remap the 8 speed gearbox. It's no sports car but it is quite a bit of fun to drive when you want it and just plain comfortable when you don't. I was won over by the sheer quality of the thing - and I usually prefer simple/basic. I'd rather have had an Ferrari F40 than the Porsche 959. I did have a TVR Chimaera, basically an x-frame chassis with a four litre v8 and not much else - no ABS, no airbags, no sat nab, no air con but with a soundtrack to die for. So the 523 is a bit of a departure but it will do all I want and do it with 5 people and lots of luggage on board.
Oh, and I have no idea what a Pontiac looks like, we don't see many of them in the UK. When did they start copying BMW?

Always wanted a 2002, still cannot afford a BMW. Maybe after I hit the lottery. The new ones look terrible though...

I wonder if any of those '80s vintage ones are still in decent enough shape though. Maybe a Mini instead?

You have a "classic" Miata. Why would you want a BMW?

I take issue Mike. The E 30 you show is a two door sedan. That's a dying breed. I had an E30 325i and your right, it did represent a pinnacle of simple yet refined style. God, I loved that car. I made the huge mistake of leasing it and when the lease ran out it had to go. I was far from ready to that to happen.

I think everyone has their own BMW. Mine was an E36, a model later than your limit. But it was one of those 2.5 litre straight-sixes you mention - a 323SE. I was an IT contractor at the time, working away from home and staying near the contract location during the week, then driving home to my family on Friday evenings and back again on Sunday evening or early Monday. When I started the first contract I had a 1.2 Renault Clio (look it up), which was not the vehicle to be getting into for a long drive home ( several hundred miles) late on a Friday afternoon. The 323 made all the difference: it was effortless (even with a manual gear change), and it had air-con - still a rarity in the late 90s. Essentially it gave me my weekends back because I wasn't too exhausted when I got home.

And the 1-series is pretty good, in fact, the current ones especially so. My wife is on her third, the first of which was passed on to me. There are compromises, mainly because it's rear-wheel drive - space in the back is limited. But, because it's rear-wheel drive, it drives excellently. There are still vestiges of what the 2002 had: it's well-balanced, and the steering is accurate and responsive. But there are maybe three times as many vehicles on the UK's roads as there were in the 2002's days, so the kind of driving that might have been possible then simply isn't possible now.

I always understood BMW to mean "Be Mended Wednesday"....

(there are other meanings, none of which are particularly savoury or politically correct)

All this writing and no word of Claus Luthe, chief designer of BMW starting in 1976. How can the good work be remembered if only the controversial people are mentioned?

As for BMW, they make some nice cars, but I feel they are overpriced and the general trend of making bigger cars is clearly strong in BMW. Reading your post, I really get the feel that you dislike the current trend in cars in general, as BMW is not a brand doing poorly, more to the point it's driving the wave of bigger, rounder cars with tons of electronics in them.

In anycase, I enjoyed reading this, particularly since I visited the BMW museum in Munich last summer. I now have photo of a 2002 shiny as new that they exhibited, although I really liked the Italian styling of the M1. A place worth visiting, they even had an exhibit of straight sixes throughout their history, with the newest being a modern design in the 6-series. There should really be a modern, lightweight sports coupe, not a luxury coupe, in the lineup. Disclaimer: I've never owned a car.

My Boss had a '74 2002, i got to drive it a bit, it was a noticeable upgrade from my '71 Saab 99 (for one thing it spent more time on the road than in the shop!)
I have to say that the 2002 was the most fun car I have driven. (boring family car life where kids were the priority)
My boss replaced the 2002 with an XJ6 much cooler on the highway but no where near as much fun on back roads.

I know exactly what you mean. I bought a 1976 Volvo 244 with ac, Bilstein shocks, IPD anti-sways, alloy wheels instead of the BMW 2002 because of the price difference. I still respect Mazda for keeping to a simple ethic for the MX5/Miata, although why it needed power steering was always a mystery to me. I never bought the Mazda, I couldn't rest my arm on the window sill, but I'm still tempted.

Back in the mid 70's when I started college I had a '70 Beetle. A returning Vietnam vet had a brand new orange BMW 2002. We had become friends and he let me drive his 2002 occasionally. From that time on I had to have one, but could really never justify the BMW price tag. Finally I drove a 2006 E91, loved driving it and bought it. E90s are the last of the hydraulic steering. The new electric steering has taken out the last vestige of BMW feel.

On another note, regarding the sizing up as the models move along. I saw a new 2013 3 series parked in downtown San Francisco last week and thought for a moment is was my favorite 5 series model E39. So it seems the 3 series is now the old 5 series in size. But that electric steering...they can keep it.

My first ever new car was a 1968 BMW 1600, 2 door. (No it was not a 1602, as some references would have it.)

The then new 2002 had a months long waiting list - and cost was a consideration. A wonderful car that never failed to get me where I was going. Things did go wrong over the years, but never so bad that I couldn't get home, then to the shop.

I could go out on the Coast Highway and eat up the modest sports cars of the time, MGBs, Datsuns, etc. When I got a 911, the little red BMW went to an apparently good home, but was totaled only a few months later.

But if I could have a new one today, would I want it? No. The cars of the time were so primitive in so many respects. I wouldn't want the '55 Chevy coupe with speced engine and close ratio 4-speed that preceded it either, except to sell.

It's easy to remember the good parts of things in the past, and forget the less good.

Try driving those little, rear wheel drive 2 doors with that rear suspension on snow and ice. Wheeeeeeeee ...

Just driving up the grade out of Tahoe on I-80 when it started to snow, not all that hard. The car chose to do a graceful 360, ending up parked heading forward on the shoulder. Nothing to do but act to the other three people like I meant to do that, get out and start putting on the chains.

Yep, even with four people and with their luggage in the trunk - squirrely. Best handling car I ever had, wet, dry, snow, was an Audi 5000CS Turbo Quattro. FAR better car in almost every way than the BMW.


I happen to be a proud and happy owner of a 1989 E30 320i convertible (one of the last cars made with chrome bumpers). I bought it two years ago with about 150k km (~100k miles) on the clock and no rust from a very caring owner. It doesn't have the 2,5lt engine but a lower displacement variant of the same 6 cylinder block. Has less power than the 325i but that's not always a bad thing, it just gives me more opportunity to rev the great butter-smooth 'Reihensechszylinder'.

Same thing happened with camera bodies. 15 years of big black plastic blobs. Maybe Fuji and the micro 4/3 designers will change that; here's hoping!

Sorry forgot to link it in my previous comment but here is my beauty: http://distilleryimage6.s3.amazonaws.com/d7f2afb4924211e180c9123138016265_7.jpg

Some time this year I will take possession of my mom's 1991 BMW 318i, since mom wants a car with an automatic transmission.

The 318 has spent its life sleeping in a garage, in a city that does not salt its roads, and has been maintained by a superb and highly experienced BMW shop. The odometer has not yet rolled over to 60,000 miles.


[I hate you... --Mike]

My late uncle who owned a BMW said, BMW is an abbreviation of (using not exactly correct German language) Bring Mich Werkstatt!

Now my wife has a BMW, and I must say, my uncle was right.

Roughly translated, in the English speaking world BMW should be called TMG: Take Me Garage!

You may not like most of Bill Mitchell of GM's work but the BMW 1600 and 2002 and all the BMWs until they got ugly were pretty blatant copies of the first generation Corvair in 1959. For what it's worth, I think Pontiac copied BMW's fron't end design not the other way around. The hideous cladding on the sided they got from Mercedes Benz.

BMW Colorado Orange might be a copy of Porsche Signal Orange.

Homage to both:
picture of BMW 2002tii shot with a Pentax Spotmatic



[Awesome. Thanks for that. --Mike]

Firstly, being not quite your age, i concur completely on the 2002, E30, and your taste on handling, power plants (particularly the in-line six), and vehicle mass generally. You did not mention rear wheel drive, but it surely is a huge part of the equation too. The current rough equivalents -- and are in the same power/weight and suspension performance class as the E30 -- are the "pocket rockets". Mini Coops, GTIs, Civic Si's, and MazdaSpeed3s are all affordable and with comparable performance, actually. Yes, they are all front-drivers . . . still, they turn the tracks just as quickly as the E30 did, and are a darn-site cheaper to insure and keep on the road for a decade. Blah styling at no extra charge. Sigh. Sic transit gloria mondi.

Well, there is, in fact, one car company that has kept the ethos alive: Volkswagen. Well, at least they've done a better job of it than BMW.

The best car I've ever test driven was a 2010 VW GTi...oh my...for what is an essentially a little econobox, it's amazing the transformation that happens when VW gives the Golf the GTi treatment. It literally took my breath away.

The second best care I've ever test driven was the original American edition of VW GTi back in the 80's. That car was a blast. The reason I gave it a test drive was due to the very favorable comments of one David E. Davis, who I think actually owned a GTi himself.

Sadly, I had to settle for a used Toyota for my first car, not the amazing little GTi.

But now I have a VW Tiguan, which I like even better than the GTi for a variety of reasons. Has the same GTi engine, and incredible handling and performance for what is essentially a mini SUV. Why do I like the Tiguan better? It's more utilitarian.

I never thought much about it before, but it's probably for the exact same reasons that you enjoy your GX1 so much, is why I've grown very fond of my Olympus E-P2. Simple, direct, no frills. Can't wait to see what the E-P5 is going to be like.

My goodness that was one effusive review(I refer to Davis). It was almost uncomfortable, like seeing another man's tumescence. I agree with the idea "they don't make them like they used to", though. I've yet to see a Mercedes that gets me like my dad's Mercedes 230CE. There's plenty to be said for simple, elegant lines.

You learned stick shift on a BMW? I really learned it properly on my first car, a 1932 Austin Seven (cost £10 in 1965) with an 'in or out' clutch (effective travel of only an inch or so), and NO synchromesh of any kind on any gear. Double-declutching? Easy peasy. But I'm sure I knocked off a few gear teeth in the learning process.

(I'm not sure I totally agree with you about Bangle - I quite liked his original 7-series - it looked quite impressive in a brutal sort of way. His sports cars looked awful though. All that funny panel work looked like a post-accident situation.)

The 325is you love so much are still around. Go to a BMWCCA club race and you will find out where they all end up! I used to instruct at the club's track days and half my fellow instructors owned and raced them.

I agree with the Pontiac comparison. BMWs were once the epitome of simple purposefulness, but I've not seen one in years that inspired me. Inside and out, they are a combination of busy and boring. But their sales figures show most buyers don't agree with me.

My favorite car in almost 50 years of driving was a 1959 MG Midget. It had every one of the Lucas electrical "features," and a 948 cc toy motor, but it handled beautifully, and was just fun to drive, especially on very twisty country roads. To turn the heater on (yes, it had the optional heater) you raised the hood and opened a valve that let hot water flow into the heater radiator. The turn signal switch was a three-position toggle-switch in the middle of the dash that you moved left, right, or center for the corresponding turn direction or to cancel the signal. It eventually died when the crankshaft broke. The 948 cc engine had only three main bearings instead of five, and that let the crank flex just a little too much for longevity. I think I paid $600 for it, and got maybe ten times that much out in pure driving enjoyment.

I had a heavily tweaked 1988 325is (Dinan stroker motor and Stage IV suspension, etc) for many happy years. Drove into the ground, ended up donating it to cancer research. Totally awesome car.

Still, my near-stock 1998 M3 Sedan is better in almost every way; it's also the prettiest car they've ever built. So I'd have to expand your window of BMW Greatness to about 2001, when the last 7 that didn't look like a squashed whale ass was sold.

I could give a similarly plaintive review of the VW Golf GTI. I owned three.

The first, a rather second hand Mk1 GTI 1.6, was light and nimble enough to make the most of the little engine. It could be thrown around with almost carefree abandon and was very hard to keep up with on a country lane. It also looked pin-sharp and fresh.

The Mk2 was uglier, heavier and more refined. It was no faster in real terms (the 16 valve engine had no torque), handled well but without the razor responses of the light Mk1, and did I say ugly? It had none of the fresh, sharp-edged simplicity of the first and was a horrible amalgam of square and rounded edges that didn't work anywhere.

The Mk3 was a real pudding. I never owned one but several years on decided to lease a mk4 1.8 GTI turbo. It was indeed quick in a straight line, but looked as stylish as Grandma's slippers and was stodgy and horrible to drive. It was also frighteningly unreliable.

I gather the latter models are very nice, fast refined and wonderful to drive, but they also cost far more than some much more interesting cars and weigh twice as much as my first GTI. I have driven one, but like so many mid-range hatches I felt more like a pilot than a driver.

But I did have a drive the other day in a Suzuki Swift Sport (1.6 twin cam 16 valve) and for the first time in 25 years I felt like I was back in the Mk1 Golf. Not too much power, light, nimble chassis and cheeky looks. It is also 2/3 the price of a current Golf GTI.

(BTW I also owned an E30 and E36 BMW, and I think the styling rot set in with the E36. Later, when Bangle went over it with a sheet metal press and made it look worse, they were already middle aged and needed far more power for the same performance).

Ah, yes. I too share your longing for the zenith of Bavarian design, for I too learned to drive on a 2002, a '70 or '71. I was lucky, though; my dad had bought the car, and by the time I got to drive it, it had become the second family car and thence my high-school ride. At the same time, I was using Dad's Contaflex II as yearbook photographer. Curse him and his taste for fine things. It's been downhill ever since. ;-)

You can say similar things about other makers as well.

Look what happened to the VW transporter:

(not my photo)

In 1992, the Transporter lost the rear engine, the forward control layout, and its soul.

You can guess which one I am driving down to South America:

em, by the way, it's "das Vaterland", because the dominating part of this compositum is neutre ("das Land").
gender in german nouns is as notorious as chris bangle.

[Thanks! Fixed. --Mike]

Among car guys-- and I am very much one-- BMW's are not so secretly considered cars for, ahem, douches. Yes some like the M3 are very fast and even go to the track now and then, but for the very most part owning a BMW these days marks you as a mark, if you know what I mean.

The E30 BMW's you so much like were extremely capable cars with, as you note, just enough equipment to make them nimble and comfortable. The high-water mark of that era was probably the first generation M3, with the flared fenders and perfect weight distribution. I had the pleasure of owning one for a while and it is quite the car.

I'd even stretch the "good" BMW clan to the E36 chassis, which followed, as these too were light and lithe with the fantastic in0line six cylinders. After that, Bangle-rot set in, to where now if i read reports correctly (I wouldn't bother driving one) the new M5 has sound piped in through the car's stereo system to "add" that extra bit of excitement to the drive. All in all a car of wretched excess for guys with big year-end bonuses (women are far too smart to get one, not being sexist here).

Of course the way to go IMO is under the radar small. VW GTI, 4-door, fits the bill. Wonderful twin-clutch semi-auto (works like a real 6-speed because it is a real 6-speed, but no clutch), light, fast, and frugal with the gas. This is the modern-day 2002 except it's front-wheel drive. A suspension to live by, great seats, direct and perfectly-weighted steering, and good A/C. Three of them live in my family.

Of course you could sell that old Miata and buy the car you really want, the Lotus Elise (got one of those too). Perfection and quirkiness if you like small sports cars.Only available used now, since Lotus is in one of its periodic death throes, but oh how good it is. And it would probably help you lose the weight you want to get rid of, because anyone north of 6+ feet and 200 lbs just ain't gonna fit.

"There has never been a beautiful BMW. Nor even a handsome one. It was the engine, transmission and chassis that made them lustworthy." (Speed)
Did your forget the 507? Quite possibly the world's most beautiful production car?

I guess you're going to find this interesting:

Never having had the slightest attraction to or inclination to obtain *any* BMW, I'll simply add this. There may have been exceptions I didn't notice, but those operating BMWs are the most aggressive, impolite drivers I've encountered on the roads of southern California during my 3-1/2 decades here. And this is a place notable for its aggressive, impolite drivers.

"...wishing I could still shoot with a Contax RTS II..."

Why can't you? ;-)

I had that issue of Car & Driver when I was in high school (I well remember that Triumph one-off on the cover). And I remember reading the famous DED write-up of the 2002 and being, well, unmoved because the boxy styling didn't look like a sports car or sports sedan to me. Interestingly, my brother, who was a British car guy, read that review and developed an instant jones for BMW, but I had no desire to own one, at least at the time. I was an Italian car guy -- I dreamed of Ferraris and Maseratis, hoped I might actually own an Alfa one day, and eventually bought a used Fiat 124 Sport Coupe -- a car that was very much the Latin version of the 2002. I did later get an Alfa GTV (god, what a great car) and a second Fiat, the 2000 Spyder, which I drove for 14 years.

Decades later, I am now on my second 3-series BMW, a 2008, so I guess I've been assimilated in some ways. But to what? It is many ways a great car, but there's no question that BMWs have become softer and less enthusiast-friendly over the years. Do you know that my car has a warning light that comes on when the ambient temperature is 37 degrees, to warn me that the roads may be icy? Funny, because I was always under the impression that water freezes at 32 degrees. It has an utterly useless "MPG Indicator" that pegs the needle when I step on the gas and backs off whem I'm cruising at steady speeds. Gee, thanks for that important info.

It's also an automatic, because my wife needs to be able to drive it as well. Which is why I keep a Miata in the garage.

All cars, not just bimmers, seem to have grown bigger and wider over the past couple of decades... at about the same rate as the average American waistline. Coincidence?

The US is the biggest car market in the world, and besides, the average waistlines in many developed countries are not far behind ours.

In 1969 I bought my first car, a used, pumpkin orange BMW 2002ti, the European model with twin Solex sidedraft carburetors. How I lusted for that car! It was great fun to drive, but reliability and traction in winter weren't its strengths. By the way, its styling was derived from the Chevy Corvair. I've had many cars since then, but the 2002ti was my first and last BMW. My favorite car ever was my 1992 Subaru SVX LS-L, which was no sports car, but truly a grand tourer. My 1972 Datsun 240Z, totally Mulhollandized, was my second favorite car and clearly outshone the 2002ti. Both are long gone, sad to say.

As Albano just posted above, there's maybe hope. It's the new chief of design at BMW and look what he's driving!

The Scion / Subaru FRS/ BRZ is barking up the 2002 tree.

Thanks, Mike. I owned at 1600 and later a 2002, purchased on the basis of David E. Davis reviews.

I paid $3,300 for the 1600 new, drove it as long as I could afford to keep it running, then sadly sold it. Several years later I ran across my old car - fully rebuilt and with a For Sale sign. Asking price was $3,300.

By the way, my current camera of choice is a GX1. You may recall I wrote a while back comparing the GX1 to the G5. The G5, like today's BMWs, just didn't have the appeal for me of the leaner, more nimble models.

Interesting to hear that the Falange and Israeli's like the 2002.

In Germany in the 1970s the BMW was said to stand for "Baader Meinhof Wagen" given the claimed preference for the Baader-Meinhof Gang (Red Army Faction) to use BMW getaway cars in their bank robberies.

It's probably not correct (BM wasn't brand loyal -- what can you expect from revolutionary leftists) but it was a nice story.


Down to users of BMW 2002 having a rear window sticker that said "Ich gehöre nicht zur Baader-Meinhof Gruppe" (I do not belong to the Bader Meinhof Group).

For me, BMW's will always be 2002's, Bavarias, and the beyond lovely 3.0 CSL coupes from the 70's. These days, BMW is a lifestyle destination, and Mercedes-Benz . . . I just don't know what they're up to.

There will never be a better automotive writer than DED Jr, except for possibly Pete DeLorenzo, do NOT miss his AUTOEXTREMIST blog.

The current German brand that is what BMW always wanted to be: Audi. Watch Dr. Ulrich and crew at LeMans, any wonder?

I drive a BMW 5-series and love it.

So there.

I couldn't agree more about the E30. I suppose I'm biased as I learned to drive on one (stick, but it took me a lot longer than a test drive). To me, the BMW E30 is like the Nikon FM2 of the car world. Solid, unassuming yet stylish and including everything you need and nothing you don't. It's an approach and an aesthetic that sadly has fallen by the wayside.

Kent, you hit the nail in the head. After all the drama my E85 is an incredibly fun car to drive. I have never been so happy with a car.

About BMW design......


But good design these days seems to found in France and Italy, the Peugeot 407 and 408 coupé, the nimble 208, the Citroen DS3, Alfa Romeo Mito and Guilietta and even the Fiat Panda and 500 are all more pleasing to my eye, then anything Germany has to offer these days......maybe except the Audi A1 and the Mini....I don't need a car to compensate or impress, just to drive. So the next one will be a Panda twin air I guess.

Greets, Ed

[Ed, my family owned one of the very few Peugeot 604's ever officially imported into the U.S., and I still have soft spot for that car. It was lovely, and I remember the steering as having outstanding feel.

Unfortunately my brother destroyed the front end, and replacement parts were dispatched from the coast of Brittany in a rowboat. The car was in the shop for something like ten months. So, not very practical for North America, as it turned out. Of course the situation is very different in Europe. --Mike]

My dad used to test drive cool cars like the Javelin AMX and Volkswagen Karmann Ghia which set me a dreamin' about a hot date with head cheerleader Jennifer Foxx, but alas, he ended up buying clunkers like the Ford Maverick, Plymouth Volare, and Volkswagen Rabbit. I never did get that date with Jennifer.

I think you can draw a parallel between cars and cameras of that era: whilst I love shooting with my fully manual F2 Titan and Hasselblad 501C, I'll almost never use them for commercial jobs. A large part of me lusts after a 3.0 CSL (good luck finding one for sale at any reasonable sort of price), but I doubt I'd ever drive it daily even if I could ever own one. Cameras are a similar compromise: the D800E gets used for work, and I drive a 2009 E90 320d. Completely agree with the acronyms though: in Malaysia, BMW stands for 'Broke My Wallet' or 'Banyak Masuk Workshop', which translates to 'It's always in the garage...'

Just the tonic for Monday morning; after a weekend of wedding fairs. I've owned Alfa's and BMW's in my time - best car was the BMW 323i '91 - best fun car Alfasud Ti. Just as a matter of interest, gone back to Alfa's after test driving the latest 3 series (bit like a sofa :) ). The Alfa GT is great fun - pity they stopped production. Looking forward to the Alfa 4C !!! (Not practical for a wedding photographer though).
Still miss my blad and contax film camera's though :(

I'm no expert on BMW, but I saw this parked up the road a couple of months ago and thought it looked lovely. As you can tell from the photo, it was orange.


Nein, nein, nein. Your GX 1 is the Frog Eyed Sprite of photography. The BMW 2002 is my GXR-M mit der 15mm Voigtlander Heliar attached. It even has an umlaut punctuation mark in the name. At least it would have if I could find it. Curse you, Japanese keyboard!

Mike, as I write, I can see out the window my late mother's 1984 BMW 318i. She bought it in July 1984 with money she inherited from her late mother. She drove it constantly until she died (due to lousy medical treatment) in 2006.
She, at 64 years, insisted on a manual shift. The car has wind up windows, manual seats, German vinyl upholstery and has only broken down once when the clutch slave cylinder failed about 2 weeks after she bought it.
The little mushroom colored car still runs like a train , handles like a champ and has about 102,000 miles. And God save David Davis,too.

One thing is for serious, though—I won't see anything like the early- to mid-1970s 2002tii or the mid- to late-'80s 325i. They're gone. The old ethos is dead, as yesterday as a Pentax Spotmatic. Nobody makes sports sedans and coupes like those any more—simple, Spartan, upright, lithe and light.

Ever driven a WRX? While not super light it's pretty close on all the marks.

I learned to toe heel in a 325 during a test drive. I'd tried doing it in my hand me down Subaru Legacy but the pedals weren't lined up right for it. A few years later (96ish) I was buying my first car and the Toyota dealership had a used 325, and the dealership was located close to some local twisty backroads. With my friend in the front seat and the sales guy in the back I proceeded to tear through the Marin backroads, with horrendous over blips and hard braking trying to get the feeling down. The sales guy was not happy; let's just say I didn't buy the car :)

- BMW was known as Basic Marin Wheels when I was growing up there.

- I still toe heel at just about every stop light. Although with a gimpy knee from downhill biking/skateboarding/snowboarding I'm beginning to long for a nice dual clutch paddle shifter.

Beemers, nah. The first Saab 96 V4 (post 2-stroke version although that was really original) - before they enlarged the windscreen and ruined its looks. The 99 EMS wasn't bad either.

Comment from a gentleman in his mid-fifties regarding BMWs: "I can't stand riding as a passenger in those cars; the drivers always make jerky movements and I get car sick".

I hope some of the BMW drivers who read this will take notice.

Sorry but it's like saying Nikon should have stuck with the F2 (the F3 is just has plastic and electronic gizmos!) And Leica should have stuck with the M3. Who needs a lightmeter anyways...

I have driven many cars, and very few can compete with a 3 series.

I'd rarely seen BMWs when growing up out in the boonies, so didn't know much anything about them. While in college a roommate's girlfriend once told me the joke "What's the difference between a porcupine and a BMW? The porcupine has the pricks on the outside." I didn't have a clue what she was talking about until I graduated and moved to California.

I found Silicon Valley awash in BMWs and they attracted entirely the wrong kind of driver. When you saw a driver making an entire ass out of themselves (cutting people off, weaving through traffic, passing on the shoulder, etc.) it was far more likely to be in a BMW than any other car. While that may not be the fault of the manufacturer, that impression stuck with me so much that despite their performance credentials I never developed the least bit of interest in them. The bloat in recent years certainly hasn't done anything to change my mind.

After years of getting relatively bloated as well, the new generation of the VW Golf recently introduced in Europe has actually shed pounds and from all accounts is hugely improved because of it. I wonder if BMW will pay attention.

[Who else drives the car can definitely affect you. In my youth, where I lived, it was Porsches. The Porsche 911 (especially, but not limited to, the Targa) was *the* cool car for yuppies and hot young housewives. And *everybody* who owned one drove it like it was a Dodge Dart. I worked out new lyrics for the tune of "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" called "Porsches In My Way." I still strongly resist the idea of ever buying a Porsche. They just don't interest me. --Mike]

I remember being shocked the first time I rode (shotgun) in a BMW 325i. I had not noticed the car before and my shock came from how good it felt to be driven in one. It was only after riding in one that I started to appreciate, then love the styling.

I too would just love to own one today.

And the variants all looked fantastic - the convertible and the station.

It remains one of my favorite cars of all time.

I'll take a 70's-early 80's 911 over pretty much anything mentioned above.

Another former SE-R owner here. Although I was too young to experience the 2002tii the connection wasn't lost on me when I bought my '93 Nissan, new. 2002tii's are probably more plentiful, as the '91-'94 SE-Rs --- never big sellers --- are the only ones applicable before they too became decadent.

Re: the BMW video ...

Neither "Beauty" nor "Beautiful" are used to describe a BMW or BMW's design goals. Rather, "BMW builds cars that are meant to be enjoyed." "Beauty in Function" "Designed for driving pleasure."

Sal said (and Andre seconded):

There may have been exceptions I didn't notice, but those operating BMWs are the most aggressive, impolite drivers I've encountered

And I third. I don't mind aggressive, aggressive is predictable, but the impolite... Saturns are slow, mini-pickups are to be avoided at all costs (no insurance), and if you see a BMW, you are about to be cut off, or worse. Every. Single. Time.

At least it's predictable.

I don't notice the same behavior from Mercedes or Porsches.

The only BMW I lusted after was the M1. Lovely. I liked the Moonlighting era 7 series, til I drove my ex's dads'. Kind of a boat, needed a VW tug to park it, and the maintenance stories were amazing. He finally sold it when it got too expensive for even him (and he was a man of some means), but he still keeps the 911 SC ragtop for when he's in the country.

whoooooaaaaah nelly. I'm with you 100% on the design "degeneration" of the BMW line but in all fairness, as related to vehicle size and the industry evolution of design based on drag coefficient, I don't know a single manufacturer that hasn't gone bigger, blander and more slippery.

As a previous owner of several 70's era 2002 and 320i beauties, I jumped hard when the 128i hit and it is hands down, true to the ethos of those vehicles, except a. it has gobs more power from a glorious inline 6 and b. the rear end doesn't want to swing around on me every time it rains or I drive through a puddle.

As a young freshly minted 1st LT in the US Army, I was able to afford a good(flashy) car, so I bought a (new) 1970 Jaguar XKE. While stationed in Italy prior to Vietnam, I was motoring nicely in Italy on a mountain road, when a BMW 1600 passed me on a hairpin curve! Damn, I thought, I gotta get one of those! I ended up getting a 1972 2002, not the tii, but even with the ordinary Solex, it was exciting...I rallyed and autocrossed that car for 6 or 7 years....loved it, and shoulda' kept it. With front & rear sway bars, Koni shocks and sport steering wheel, it went where I pointed it...just like a slot car! Oh, the memories!

I used to run a Mazda Rx-7 in SCCA competition and when Graham Rahal, Bobby's son was earning his Formula Atlantic national championship, he and his dad would sometimes show up in a Ford GT or.......an orange 2002 tii.

I had a definite case of old guy envy. More I think for the the 2002 tii than the new Ford GT.

Mike I drive a 2003 325 ti with the sports kit in dark blue. It has a lovely engine sound and all my children think its cool! I use it everyday, it's manual with cloth seats but best of all, because it's a hatch and with the rear seats folded, I can get all my photo gear in the back when I go on location. It gives me great pleasure driving this car, except when I am stuck in traffic, when I wish it was an auto...and when it comes to replacing those low profile tyres!

Mike, as one inveterate small car lover to another I love that you posted this. I grew up watching/helping my dad restore a wrecked Triumph TR250 and got really fired up about the great cars coming from Germany. The original VW GTI was my first car love and I despised the clumsy Detroit iron and Japanese econoboxes. Then a strange thing happened, I drove a 1986 Honda Civic Si. Instantly smitten. Almost felt like an open wheel car compared to my then(2nd gen) '86 GTI. All lithe and sweet and revvy with every control like it was on ball bearings with an airy, open cabin, super communicative. Didn't hurt that the build quality made the VW look like it was made by blacksmiths. Sold that car when it was 14 years old and about the biggest problem it ever had was the occasional burned out lightbulb. It was not babied! Have to think that Honda engineers had spent some time looking at great cars like the 2002 (I still really want one). Funny, the only 2002 I've ever driven had it's original engine replaced by a Honda 1.8L twin cam. BMW 2002 is the original template for my favorite practical cars.

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