Curbside Outtake: 1975 BMW 2002 – Exactly Like The One Stephanie’s Mom Had

This 2002 we found sitting behind The Sports Car Shop a couple of days ago brought back some vivid memories: it’s exactly like the one Stephanie’s mom had (right down to the tan color) when I got to know her and her family. Dolores bought it in 1975 after inheriting a bit of money from an aunt, as she was otherwise a rather struggling single mom with four kids. But automotively-speaking, she had her priorities, even if it wasn’t exactly the ideal car under the circumstances, in terms of room for a family of five.

And it wasn’t exactly the most reliable of cars either, as I distinctly remember rescuing Dolores once or twice. But it was sweet car to drive, as I had the pleasure to find out on one memorable drive up to Mammoth for a ski trip.

The issues were mainly electrical and overheating. But I do remember clearly that her brother told me it had gotten a new engine under warranty. Exactly why I don’t know.

This one is sporting an aftermarket steering wheels and alloy wheels from a 3 Series. And a dash mat. I drove it on the wonderful drive up thought the desert and up 395 to Mammoth Mt. in the Sierras for a ski weekend with her brother, her younger sister and a friend. These 2002s weren’t actually overtly “sporty” in the way traditional sporty cars had been defined, with their very firm suspensions and peaky engines. The 2002’s fully independent suspension was quite comfortable, with its long travel. Of course we had four in the car on that trip, so that might have colored the experience somewhat.

And the engine was anything but peaky, with a solid torque curve. Of course in Europe, the 1600ti was quite common, and that was a different animal. As was the 2002tii, with its fuel injection and more aggression tuning. But the regular 2002’s engine was in a very modest state of tune, and eminently flexible. Of course US emission controls undoubtedly blunted its top end some too.

I enjoyed that drive, especially the superb visibility, given how scenic the route was.

The rear seat was cozy. But then except for this ski trip, it was strictly an in-town mobile. And the kids were young and limber.

When Dolores decided to retire early and move to Fairfield, Iowa in 1985, I encouraged her to sell the then-ten year old BMW and get something that was going to be more compatible with Midwestern winters and easy to get fixed there. We advertised it and a young kid and his dad showed up, and it was exactly what the kid wanted for his first car. It still looked like new, thanks to the meticulous ministrations to its exterior and interior by Stephanie’s brother, whose real calling in life should have been auto detailing. They were thrilled and drove it back to Pasadena.

And what did we find to replace it with? A puke-green 1970 Plymouth Fury Gran Coupe, with one of those wild “Mod Top” paisley vinyl roofs and a 440 Commando under the hood. It was the polar opposite of the 2002 in just about every way. Nicknamed “La Bamba”, it served her for quite a few years in small town Iowa, where it undoubtedly felt much more at home than a 2002 would have. It guzzled gas like a sailor on shore leave, but it chugged along needing very little otherwise.

When I texted Dolores these pictures of the BMW, she replied with this:

“That car had electrical problems but it surely had zip and was great to drive!”

She’s 93 and still driving, a Ford Contour we bought her new quite a few years ago.