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Fifty years ago in January 1968, BMW launched their compact sports saloon, the 2002. It became a fundamental cornerstone of BMW history and its DNA shaped generations of BMW sports saloons to come, while setting a new goal post for competing marques to strive for.

Granted, we mustn’t forget that it was the four-door New Class – or Neue Klasse – which launched in 1961 saved the Bavarian car manufacturer from potentially being taken over by its arch-rival, Mercedes-Benz. What is now known as the 02-model was then launched with the small 1.6-litre M10 engine in 1966 as the 1600-2 and paved the way for great things. But it wasn’t until 1968 that BMW finally launched the compact 02-body with the bigger 2-litre engine from the Neue Klasse – thus creating an icon!

Last weekend, BMW Car Club GB celebrated the grandad to the evergreen 3-series during its annual National Festival at Gaydon. While I very rarely attend single-marque car meets of any sort, for a diehard 02-enthusiast like myself, it was a given that I needed to be there with my trusty old NullZwei. It also proved an excellent opportunity to catch up with many old friends – some which I hadn’t seen for a couple of years.

After about two months of absolutely spectacular summer weather over the UK, last Sunday returned to its usual murky, grey and rainful self. Weather like that is rarely a good thing for attendance at outdoor car shows like this, but my fears were put to shame as British BMW enthusiasts splashed through the rain with their cherished Bavarian classics. Attendance was strong to say the least! Being the BMW Car Club GB, there were obviously plenty of modern BMW’s present too. Frankly, microchips, ECU’s and plastic don’t do much for me whether being Bavarian, French, Italian or Japanese, but I suppose the day will come when they too will be regarded as classics. Until then though, I’ll focus on those proper analogue and driver-orientated BMW’s…

A rather impressive 47 colourful BMW 02’s were parked up on the bank of the small lake outside of the British Motor Museum. Earliest car was a heavily patinated but also deliciously original and unmolested 1968 BMW 1600-2 retaining all of those rare, early 02 details. There were round rear light cars, later square rear light cars, mechanically fuel injected 2002tii’s, both modified and stock 02’s and even several late 02’s with the rare Lux package. Among the 47 diverse 02’s, there were even three Tourings, three Baur targa’s and not least an ultra-rare and desirable BMW 2002 Turbo – the first European mass-produced car to utilise turbo technology, and one of only 1,672 cars produced in 1973 and 1974.

They all stood out in their own charming way. But I must confess that I’ve always had quite a weakness for the slightly quirky Touring version introduced in April 1971 – a German take on the British Reliant Scimitar and the later Italian Lancia Beta HPE. With a total of just short of 862,000 BMW 02’s built with various bodies and engine sizes, only a mere 30,000 were Tourings, so they’re a rare bird.

Tim Cook bought his Polaris silver 1973 BMW 2000 Touring in 2011 as his very first classic car. The car was delivered new from Park Lane BMW and spent the first 23 years with its first lady owner. During the next five years it went through the hands of two more owners who both hardly drove it at all. That’s when Tim became the fourth owner and started a sympathetic refurbishment of the Touring, while enjoying it on everything from local Sunday drives to continental roadtrips. The Touring has never been totally disassembled or seen a full-blown restoration. Instead, Tim has precautiously protected originality and authenticity while treating the Touring to a respray in its factory colour and re-trimming the seats with new blue cloth supplied by BMW Classic. But all brightwork is an amazing 45 years old just like the factory carpets, roof-lining, doorcards and vinyl on the seats. But it’s no trailer queen, as Tim has added approximately 10,000 miles of the Touring’s current 97,000 during his seven years of ownership. He happily admits that it’s the solid yet entertaining 02 driving experience which he so enjoys, just as he does the rarity of the Touring version.

Moving along through the sea of bright seventies colours, the vivid Inka orange 1975 BMW 2002tii of Mark Brooks really stands out. Arguably, this is by many regarded as the signature colour for a BMW 02. But whether you’ll let that impress you or not, the story behind this 02 is bound to. Mark tells me that on the day of the National Festival he has in fact owned his 2002tii for 30 years and 11 days – precisely! That’s a lot of memories and history to have with one car. He recalls how his brother had one, and Mark was terribly impressed with how the little Bavarian managed to offer both fun, practicality and comfort in equal measures. He simply had to own one himself. For the first three or four years it was his daily car, until a company car meant the 02 could lead a more protected lifestyle. Only four weeks ago, Mark got the 02 back after a major mechanical refurbishment of the engine, the rest of the driveline, suspension and brakes. With his tii now being fit for fight again, the plan is simply to drive and enjoy it as much as possible – that is, in between finding time to also ride the mid-seventies boxer-engined BMW R90 S with which it shares the garage space…

But of course, at the BMW National Festival it’s not just about the little iconic two-door saloon. Several of BMW’s larger four-door luxury cars of yesteryear were present too, starting with three Neue Klasse saloons appropriately lined up prior the cavalcade of 02’s. Amazingly, two of them looking resplendently stylish in very rare Schwarz paintwork. The grand 6-cylinder E3 saloon was only represented by a single Polaris silver example of the 3.0Si, where we were spoilt with three of the later E12 saloons. One of these was BMW’s range-topping M535i – the first road car to be handbuilt by BMW Motorsport GmbH after the legendary M1 production came to a halt. This particular car was made even more special by the first owner being none other than Andrew Lloyd Weber, who took delivery of the brand-new performance saloon back in 1981. Parked next to it was the ultimate Autobahn-Stormer – the whiplash-inducing Alpina B7S! With 330 forcefed horsepower on tap along with 500nm of torque, this was by a fair margin the fastest four-door saloon available when it was first released from the Buchloe-based tuning company in 1979.

This brought us on to the painstakingly elegant BMW E9 coupés. In my opinion, few other coupés manage such effortless grace as the big 6-cylinder coupé built between 1968 and 1975. From the subtly aggressive sharknose, the slim-pillared greenhouse and the signature Hofmeister kink to the ornate stainless steel rear light cluster, this is just timeless style of the very highest calliper. And then it amuses to witness just how much the multiple Batmobile wings and spoilers of the homologation special 3.0 CSL changes the whole character of the otherwise so restrained coupé. Which would I choose? An impossible question to answer, so I’ll just have to own one of each – in my dreams at least…

But if you had to settle for just one BMW E9 coupé, perhaps Jeff Wyatt’s example is the perfect compromise? For starters, his 1972 BMW 3.0 CSL simply looks utterly fantastic in Taiga green metallic. Is this perhaps the best green colour ever applied to any car? But furthermore, it encompasses all that specialness which only a CSL ever can, while the Batmobile frontspoiler adds to the already aggressive sharknose. But then the rear is left unadorned enabling the big coupé to preserve an air of exquisite simplicity. The combination blew me away, and clearly Jeff felt the same. Aged 9, the CSL was his absolute dream car. In fact, Jeff recons that it was the CSL which initially got him interested in cars and then involved in motorsport. However, last year he eventually hung up his helmet after a successful 25 year motorsport career, which among many highlights included winning the 2013 GT Cup in a BMW M3 E46. Considering where that dream started, it only seems fitting that his retirement present to himself last year was his very first classic car – a BMW 3,0 CSL. Jeff is quite adamant that he is now getting just as much fun out of his classic CSL on the road, as he did for all those years from highly developed racing BMW’s on the track.

But what probably impressed me the most at the BMW National Festival was the broad variety – especially considering that it’s a single-marque event. Even leaving all of the modern BMW’s out of the equation, there was a lovely mix of all things classic BMW. It started off with a beautiful pre-war Fraser Nash BMW 328, spread out over all of those brand-defining models of the sixties and the seventies, and then continued into the many up-and-coming youngtimer BMW’s which were such a fundamental part of my own childhood. The sun may have been covered by thick rainclouds, but there was much else which shone at Gaydon last weekend…


8 Responses

  1. Landon Anderson

    Love your site Anders!

    Looks like one of the great US event turnouts – but with Rain!

  2. Dave Leadbetter

    Maybe I should have gone to this event as I marked the 02’s 50th anniversary gathering by planting mine firmly into a Forestry Commission ditch instead. I suppose it just goes to prove that they’re not museum pieces…

    Despite the rain the colours in the photographs really stand out – that strange golden green 6 Series is spectacular.

  3. Anders Bilidt

    @landon-anderson and @jim-gerock, glad you enjoyed the report!

    @dave-leadbetter, that’s pretty bad luck! But like you said, that’s of course what can happen when we actually use our classics as they were meant to. Hopefully you’ll have her back on the road soon again…
    As for that golden/green 6-series, it’s one of the ultrarare UK-market 633CSi Hallmark editions. If anything, it looked even more striking in the flesh than it does on pictures.

  4. Tony Wawryk

    @dave-leadbetter ouch! hope you didn’t damage the car, or yourself, too much?

    Despite the rain, this was a good day out, and a super turnout of ’02’s in particular. Good to see you there, Anders, glad you could make it!

  5. Claus Ebberfeld

    The Touring, oooh, the Touring!

    It’s about nine years ago, @anders-bilidt , when you helped me find, acquire and drive back from Sweden my first non-British classic car, my white 1974 BMW 2002 Touring. Thereby starting my quest for learning-by-doing with several other classic cars and youngtimers. I don’t really know how to thank you – or whether I should at all!

    In the context of the above BMW-meeting I think the important thing is that it took a 2002 for me to realize that there is more than British classics to the world. I think I’ve had 20 different classics since then, so it would be fair to say that the 2002 Touring really opened my eyes.

    The exact same things mentioned by the owner of the silver Touring won me over. It was (is) a truly brilliant package, and even though I sold it on, I’ll never forget my Touring: A true turning point in my life with classic cars.

  6. Paul Hill

    A fantastic turn out for the little German boxy saloon. I supplied the Motorsport steering wheel for that gorgeous 635 Hallmark and the same weekend I posted it off I spotted the exact same car in miniature in a charity shop so I popped it in the the box and sent it to Graham the owner of the car. I hadn’t seen him for a number of years until last weekend. He said he still had the toy Hallmark on his desk at work. I bumped into lots of folks I hadn’t seen for a couple of years or so and it was great to catch up. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of event but I was so glad I made the effort. 50 years of the 02 and nearly 30 years of 02 related friendships.

  7. Anders Bilidt

    @claus-ebberfeld, HeHe… thank me or shoot me? – your call buddy…
    I sense that those last 9 years have brought you much enjoyment, but probably also a fair bit of head-scratching. Would life have been easier for you with just a Triumph or two in the garage? Probably. But would it have been as fun and adventurous? Naaah, no way!

    Even though your Touring was sold on, it’s heartwarming for a 02-geek like myself to know that despite the multiple classics you have owned, the 2002 still holds a special place in your heart. That trip to Stockholm and back was brilliant!

    @paul-hill, fun little story about Graham’s amazing Hallmark 6-series. :-)
    Loving your BMW cafe-racer btw…


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