From its small stature and lightfooted presence, to its iconic traits and its well-penned lines, the BMW 2002’s allure has ensnared a considerable number of us. Its history, its legacy, and its future all contribute to a character that can’t be merely created – it must be earned as well. Nick Tabeta’s endearment for 02s is no different, having spent a number of his 23 years on Earth looking on at BMW’s nimble coupe with hopeful eyes, yearning for the chance to own one. Today, however, different eyes look back at his ’71 2002; eyes filled with justified pride in the car he’s given a second shot at life.
The 02 is a rare bird in Australia. Seeing one in any shape is a real treat, and a nice example is considerably more special. “A couple years ago, a lady had moved in down the road and actually owned a 2002. Each day I would always slow down as I drove past her place just to catch a glimpse…” For a BMW guy, its both understandable and familiar.
Seeing the neighbor’s car was all but tortuous, and it didn’t take long before the fever set in: Nick needed an 02 of his own. Initially, his plan was to leave a note for the owner, but Nick’s father urged him to check online first. Much to Nick’s surprise, the online classifieds showed a 2002 for sale, and locally at that. Being well within his budget, Nick wasted no time and went to see the car that night after class.
Nick was a bit let down by the car’s condition – old, cracked paint, a run-down interior, and a pungent odor throughout left a lot to be desired. On the other hand, the car ran well, and all of its parts were present, if not in need of some attention. It was registered, too; a huge plus given the difficulty of Australian car laws.
That night, in the dark, Nick made the purchase, and returned the following morning to pick the car up. His drive home was an entirely new experience – vastly different from the E46 and E90 BMWs he had been driving in the several years prior. Amenities like power steering, disc brakes, and fuel injection were missing, pushing Nick to quickly fall in love with the “old fashioned” way of things.
It was only a week before Nick opened the checkbook and began ordering parts. Of course, a slew of maintenance parts were ordered, but along with that was a set of genuine BBS RS wheels and a pair of Recaro LS front seats. “Although they did not make their way onto the car immediately, the parts collection just grew week by week as new parts and ideas came to mind,” he says.
Before installing parts, Nick turned to tackling the most important part of the project: paint. Having sprayed body kits and spoilers on his own in the past, he felt confident in tackling the job in his own back yard. Despite not having a paint booth, the rest of his equipment was up to par, and given that, the result is quite respectable. Nick took the car down to bare metal to rid it of its original lacquer paint, primed it, and then painted it white – a fitting color for a classic BMW. The whole process took an arduous 3 months as he balanced bodywork and class work for his college courses.
From there, Nick installed the air suspension, a decision brought on by the fact that too few coilover options existed in the Australian market, and even fewer that left him not having to cut up his stock suspension components. After a round of thorough measurements and lots of research, D2 air struts were purchased and adapted to fit, with no cutting and welding, surprising to us. Nick built his RSs along side the suspension so that in the end, the fitment would be “guard on lip” on all four corners.
Inside the 02, Nick replaced the carpet, fitted his Recaros, a classic Nardi, and a number of other accessories to freshen up the dilapidated interior. He followed that with new window and door seals all around to keep things from returning to their moldy state.
Under the hood is the original M10 4-cylinder, although Nick has fitted a Weber 32/36 DGV carburetor during an all-out maintenance spree. Future plans include an M42 sourced from an E30 318, but difficulties thanks to the right-hand drive will make it a bigger project than most.
For now, however, the car is just as he wants – something to be proud of, and to satisfy the need for the 02 he’s dreamt of. It seems others agree, too, with the constant compliments and comments during seemingly every drive. Frankly, we can’t say we’re surprised. For one of the few 2002s we’ve seen from Australia, it’s easy to say it’s one of the best.