PH HEROES: BMW 2002 TURBO
With 170bhp and plenty of lag the '02 Turbo quickly gained quite a reputation. Ollie Stallwood drives it (carefully)...
I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve already made up my mind about this car - I don’t even have to turn the key to know that I really like it. There is something so right about the styling that words don’t do it justice.
Lairy side stripes, back-to-front writing on a flat front spoiler, bolt-on wheel arches, a black rubber spoiler - it doesn’t sound that great. But if you are lucky enough to stand next to one in the July sunshine – there are no more than a dozen in the UK – you realise it is a car that stands out like few others.
But journalists had a field day with this, saying the German firm was irresponsible and ultimately this forced it to drop the script. It didn’t mean the dealers couldn’t sell the decals to Turbo buyers, so most ended up with it anyway.
Then BMW found out the hard way that selling Europe’s first turbocharged production car in an era affectionately known as the ‘seventies oil crisis’ was a hiding to nothing. After just two years of production the last ’02 Turbo rolled off the production line.
But this untimely demise made the car a cult: an ultra-rare, ultra-fast predecessor to the 3 Series – calling it the first M3 perhaps wouldn’t be that wide of the mark. BMW had showcased its early attempt at turbocharging in the gull-wing M10 concept, which never made it to production.
Now check out the performance figures: 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds and 130mph, in a small saloon, in the early seventies. No wonder the car scared the general public. But it wasn’t just the fun police who were being unsettled by this creation – those who drove it were getting a dose of the heebie-jeebies too.
So savage was the turbo lag that a millimetre of pedal travel could mean the difference between exiting a roundabout forwards or backwards. Suffice to say that there aren’t many ’02 Turbos left – around 500 would be a reasonable estimate.
This particular car has been loaned to me by Richard Stern, a nice chap who runs www.bmw2002.co.uk, and he understandably lives and breathes this car. No pressure then. Incidentally Stern also owns the very last Turbo – number 1672 – which he is restoring. We chat for a while and fend off questions from intrigued city folk circulating the car, before he chucks me the keys.
It’s a rare dog-leg first gear-box, the one to have for a turbo apparently, and this particular car came from Italy. The wheels are sought after Italian-market Gotti magnesium items, the buckets are tight but supportive - everything is original. I try to put to one side the car’s fearsome reputation and pull away (in second according to Stern).
There is a boost gauge sitting on top of the dashboard but around town there is little indication of the turbine spinning up. But as I pull out on to a short stretch of road away from the city I could have sworn someone has just hit me up the back, in an SUV. The turbo comes in like a sledgehammer and the thump comes accompanied by possibly the loudest whoosh and hiss I’ve heard this side of a Fast and Furious DVD.
The car surges forward, piling on speed at such an increased rate that my brain struggles to work out what has just happened. By the time it does I’m heading into a roundabout - fast. The best advise at these moments is to make sure the car is on or off-boost, not teetering somewhere in between, and if you get this right you’d be surprised at how composed it feels.
The rear of the car squats down and you have that classic BMW chassis balance – the car doesn’t have loads of grip from its original-style tyres but it is neutral, letting you know what is going on at each corner.
I don’t want to underestimate the power of a lightweight turbocharged rear-drive BMW but there is a lot of fun to be had without having a seizure as you tank-slap into oblivion. You get some tyre squeal as the car scrabbles with the power but there is such intimacy through the controls that you can, in the dry at least, push the limits.