On Sunday morning, I found myself behind the wooden, three-spoke Nardi steering wheel of my friend Dave’s 1974 BMW 2002, trying in vain to keep up with an FC Mazda RX-7, Porsche Boxster S, and Ford Mustang EcoBoost as we took a nice drive on Route 33 in Harrisonburg, Virginia. It was “boost weather” for two of the cars in our convoy, but the little ’02 and its carbureted four-cylinder didn’t seem to notice. Regardless, I was having a complete blast at the back of the pack.
Dave had reached out to me a few weeks ago, asking for help transporting a truck he had purchased. We know each other through Madison Motorsports, the James Madison University motorsports club. One of the current students’ fathers had sold Dave a 1985 Ford F-150 for the lofty sum of $500. I was to drive the Ford down to school for our annual “Turducken” barbecue get-together, and ride home with other friends who live nearby in Northern Virginia.
Tyler took me out to pick the truck up on Friday night. It had been inspected in 2008 and apparently driven sparingly since. I decided to see how the truck behaved on the 25-mile drive from Sterling to my home in Arlington. This proved to be quite the challenge. Although it started instantly, thanks to a new battery, it felt very down on power and struggled to accelerate to 55 mph on the highway. This lack of horsepower was accompanied by the constant smell of very hot brakes. The smell faded right as the right front wheel began to wobble, the drum warped from so much heat. I limped it home and asked Dave to reserve a UHaul auto transport trailer, which would allow me to tow the 1985 F-150 behind my 2018 F-150 the following morning.
With the old Ford loaded up behind the new Ford (if you’re curious, the wheelbase of an ’85 F-150 short-bed/single cab barely allows it to squeak onto UHaul trailers, barely) I picked up my friend Zach and we headed south. The trip was uneventful and we met Dave to drop off his $500 Ford-shaped collection of rust. He was very grateful for all of the help, and handed off the keys to his 2002 as a weekend-long thank-you.
I had driven the BMW 2002, briefly, when I was fresh out of college and it was owned by our friend Channing. All I remembered from that last drive was “it’s kinda slow.” So, Zach and I parked my truck and moved our things to the BMW. It started on the first – maybe second? – twist of the key and we were off. Our destination was only 20 minutes away, near the Massanutten ski resort, where the barbecue was being held.
This first drive revealed a car that was, indeed, still slow. The 2.0 liter “M10” four-cylinder produced just 100 horsepower when new, 44 years ago. The four-speed manual transmission had been swapped for the later 5-speed out of an E30 3-series, to help with cruising RPM at highway speeds. I have no idea how much it helped, as the only gauge that worked was the speedometer, but the car would do 65 mph with relative ease.
The radio didn’t work, but it didn’t matter. We had the hand-cranked windows down, the vent windows cracked open, and the only noise that mattered was the thrum of the M10 as it pushed us down Route 42. The car was parked for the evening as we all enjoyed a ton of food, “a couple” of beers, and stayed at our host, Chris’, house.
Sunday morning came around and I took Dave’s BMW 2002 back to Harrisonburg to meet some Madison Motorsports students at MAAP, the Madison Automotive APprentices shop. The executive director, Cole Scrogham, met me at the door and was all too eager to show off his beautiful space. Several of the MM students have worked with Cole already, rebuilding a Porsche 356 engine from the block up, among other projects. The shop and associated programs are open to any JMU student, and it’s an experience that my friends and I would have loved as students ourselves. It sure beats working on jack stands in parking lots.
After some fresh coffees whipped up by Cole, we hopped in the cars and went for a drive up Route 33, heading west out of town. Route 33 is a common “great drive” route that MM students and alumni enjoy, as it’s right out of town and doesn’t take too long to complete. The 2002 was in its element as I worked the gearbox to keep the M10 in whatever powerband it had. The manual steering was easy and direct once on the move, and the disc brakes inspired enough confidence as I came down the mountain’s backside.
We returned to Harrisonburg after an hour or so of mountain driving and grabbed lunch downtown before returning the ’02 to Dave. It was remarkable how different the 44-year-old BMW 2002 felt from a modern BMW, yet how similar it also was in so many ways. What else from that era could even compete, from an agility and “modernity” scale? A Porsche 914, maybe a Mercury Capri or Volvo of some sort. The American “sports cars” of the 1970s were nothing like the little ’02.
Prior to this weekend, the oldest BMWs I had real seat time in were the E30 3-series of the late-1980s. It was really impressive to go another decade back in BMW’s history and realize just how big of a deal this BMW 2002 was when new. It is a happy, plucky little car with fantastic visibility and relatively modern handling, and is impossible to drive without a big goofy grin on your face.
Thanks, Dave, for the opportunity!