It is, indeed, a rare occasion when one car model can single-handedly save a car company from financial ruin. Yet it happened to one of today’s major manufacturers, one that regularly competes with Mercedes-Benz and Audi for the top spot in the prestigious German luxury performance market segment – BMW. Thanks to personal experience from two of their executives and impetus from a major American importer of European cars, BMW took a gamble and introduced a new car that not only saved the company, but founded a whole new market segment. The car was the BMW 2002, the first sport sedan.
The best of the breed – 2002tii
Introduced to the American market in 1968, the BMW 2002 instantly won praise from every car magazine worth its salt as a comfortable, reliable, two-door sedan that could outperform any comparably priced sports car on the market. It was a car that a young family could use to commute, run errands, and get the groceries during the week and, on weekends, it would beat the doors off the unreliable, oil-leaking, European sports car at any competition event. It was a practical car that could give a driver a permanent smile as it carved through the corners. With independent suspension all around, the 2002tii handled, said Car and Driver, “With the agility of a pro flankerback.”
In 1972, BMW upped the ante for the competition with the introduction of the 2002tii. The suffix tii was BMW-speak for “Touring International Injected.” That’s right, those wild and crazy Bavarians had given the two-liter, four-cylinder engine of the standard 2002 fuel injection, boosting the power 30% from 100 to 130 horsepower. Couple the extra thirty horses to a chassis that had stiffer springs, front and rear anti-sway bars, larger front disc brakes, wider wheels and a stronger clutch, and you had a sedan that could leave those sports car performance poseurs further behind in the dust. Motor Trend magazine said of the fuel-injected 2002tii, “The benefit was much more power and increased driveability, making it the best-performing and most highly sought model among all 2002s.”
2002tii performance and power
The Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system of the tii took 2002 performance to a new level, a level that was totally unexpected from the rather boxy-looking little sedan. Despite its plebeian looks, the 2002tii could cover the standing quarter-mile in 16.8 seconds with a final speed of 81 mph, and go from 0 to 60 mph in 9 seconds. It weighed a little under 2,300 pounds and had a top speed of 115 mph. Car and Driver loved the car, but especially fell in love with the engine, saying, “The fuel injected engine can make even the parson breathe hard.”
The two-liter engine featured a cast-iron block with an aluminum head mounting a single overhead cam actuating two valves per cylinder. The tii had larger exhaust valves, a higher compression ratio, and an increased capacity exhaust system over the standard 2002. A Borg-Warner four-speed manual gearbox was standard, as were rack and pinion steering, MacPherson strut front suspension and semi-trailing arm independent rear suspension. Options included a ZF three-speed automatic transmission and a radio. Top grade vinyl upholstery was also available, but the standard interior was well-appointed for its day, featuring quality trim covering all areas that were normally painted on other cars. A full center console reinforced the luxury appearance of the interior.
BMW on the brink of bankruptcy
At the end of World War II, BMW production facilities were mostly reduced to rubble and its plants in eastern Germany had been seized by the Soviet army. To make the future look even bleaker for BMW, it was banned from making automobiles by the Allied authorities. What was left of the company survived from 1945 until 1948 by using whatever scrap metal could be found to make bicycles, as well as pots, pans, and other cooking utensils.
By 1948 BMW began manufacturing motorcycles and was back into auto production by 1952. Through the fifties, their product lineup consisted of luxury sedans, mostly based on pre-war DKW designs; the 507, a luxury sports car; and the Isetta microcar, made under license from Italian manufacturer Iso Rivolta. The company continued to lose money – the luxury cars didn’t sell well due to the still-recovering European economy and there was not enough profit margin in the Isettas to support the company. BMW was deep in debt and still losing money, and by the late fifties was staring bankruptcy in the face.
The ‘New Class’ arrives
With the help of fresh investor money, BMW launched a ‘New Class’ of four-door sedans in 1966. The ‘New Class’ of cars was, in reality, the same sedan offered with a variety of engines ranging from 1500 cc to 1800 cc. The ‘New Class’ met with worldwide indifference. They sold moderately well, but the uninspiring design and lackluster engines couldn’t compete in the marketplace, especially with the pizazz and power offered by American cars. In 1967, BMW entered the compact sedan market with a smaller two-door sedan powered by a 1600 cc engine. BMW didn’t know it at the time, but the little 1600-2 was the first baby step in their survival.
The 1600-2, or 1602 as it is often called, was a good little car, but the engine gave it only moderate performance. Two BMW executives, unknown to one another, removed the engines from their personal 1602s and replaced them with BMW two-liter engines. They were ecstatic about the increase in performance, and when they each discovered what the other had done, they collaborated on a proposal to BMW management to manufacture the two-liter version of the 1602. Further impetus for this concept came from Max Hoffman, an influential U.S. importer of European cars. Hoffman was very persuasive, so BMW management took a gamble and released the two-liter version of the 1602 for production as the 2002. The 2002 arrived in the U.S. for the 1968 model year and received glowing reviews from every car enthusiast magazine. The seed of BMW’s revival was planted, and it grew vigorously into the successful company we know today.
BMW 2002tii values
Production of the 2002tii continued until the end of the 1974 model year, at which time it was discontinued due to the requirements of America’s increasingly stringent emission regulations. During this time, 38,703 tiis were produced, all two-door sedans. BMW also made 5,783 2002tii Touring hatchback models, but they were never officially imported in the U.S.
According to Hagerty, the average value of a 1972 tii is $18,900, ranging from $51,700 for one in number one concours condition to $11,000 for a tii in number four fair condition. Values increased between May 2015 and January 2016, but have been relatively flat since then, with our latest data being from September 2016.
If you’re in the market for a reasonably priced collector car, what made the 2002tii attractive when new still applies today – it’s a remarkably practical car, although one with a rather mundane appearance, but it will still beat the tar our of many contemporary so-called “sports cars.” The spare parts supply is nearly limitless, according to Hagerty. In fact, in 2005, BMW constructed a “new” 1972 2002tii almost entirely from its vast supply of replacement parts. If you find your 2002tii, be prepared for odd looks from other drivers on the road – they’ll all be wondering why you’re smiling so much!