COAL: 1974 BMW 2002 – Rust-Bucket Resurrected

BMW 2002

The finished project! For Sale to recover all the unplanned $’s spent

Do you remember back when you could by a classic car for one dollar?  I do!  In 1998, I bought this 1974 BMW 2002 for a dollar.  Actually, I traded a 1980’s Mistral Maui windsurfer for it, but I insisted on paying the previous owner a dollar just for the story.In the 1990’s, I lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington DC, and one of my neighbors had two old and beaten on BMW 2002’s parked on the street.  I didn’t know who owned the cars, but eventually when walking my dog, I met him and his dog and commented about how I’d always loved the 2002, and wished I could buy one someday.  He said no need to wait, I’ll help you find the right one, they are simple to work on and their values are pretty low, so you can pick one up cheap.  I was dubious but excited.  I had some money in the bank but I was saving it for buying my first condo, and didn’t expect I’d find a car for nothing.

In those days before Craigslist, I perused the Antique and Classic section of the Washington Post every weekend, and one Saturday there was a listing with some combination of the following information:  1974 BMW 2002, 250,000 miles, rebuilt engine, 4-speed manual, white over blue interior, rust.  And then the best part:  $1,200 or will trade for saleboat.

mistal maui

Mistral Maui (Not my actual windsurfer)

I happened to have an older windsurfer I no longer used in the basement of a house my friend was renting with buddies.  He’d been pushing me to get it out of there as he’d already had to move it from one house to another last time he moved, and he was about to move again.  I had no place to put, nor did I have any chance to windsurf any longer, so I called up the number in the ad and said will you take a windsurfer?!  He said I was hoping to teach my kids to sail, but if you want the car, I guess I’ll do it!

My friend and I drove out to see the car and it was in interesting shape I could say.  It had pinhole rust-holes around the chrome trim on the hood, rusty rocker panels, and a rust hole in the driver’s side floor pan where the accelerator attached to the floor.  On the other hand, it was a complete car with a sweet running engine, good transmission and everything worked.  Well everything except for the “factory” Behr air conditioning.

Behr AC

Behr Air Conditioning 

I thought about it and said to myself:  For a dollar, how much trouble can it be?  If worst comes to worst, I’ll donate it and get a tax deduction.  So I said I’ll take it!  The next day I came back with my windsurfer, got the title, went to the DMV and got a transfer tag, grabbed the keys and drove the car back to DC from Virginia very excited.

On the drive I began to become familiar with some of the greatness of the car, as well as to be aware that the front tires had become lumpy from sitting (they soon required replacement to the tune of $250 or so).

After hot-rodding around and showing off for the rest of the day I started to figure out what was required to keep an old car on the street in DC.  I needed both current license plates and a parking permit, which meant I had to pass inspection, and inspection meant no exposed rust!


Novel setup for 2002 accelerator problems 

So I found an old-school body shop in an alley and for $1,000 they welded a plate into the floorpan for the accelerator, and bondo’d the rocker panels and rust on the hood.  I reinstalled the accelerator back onto the floor only to discover that the angle of the pedal was now both awkward and would pop off of it’s location at inopportune moments.  I removed the pedal and just drove using the metal arm that the pedal would actuate.

So now I had an ugly, white and gray 2002 into which I’d dumped $1,250 that I couldn’t afford to lose.  I had only one option, to go the whole way and get the car painted and looking pretty.

Bus steering wheel

1974-1976 BMW 2002 4-spoke “bus” steering wheel 

In the mean time while I prepared my battle plan, the car was a blast to drive, and without the accelerator pedal, I could bury the accelerator arm into the floor, which would open up the second barrel of the weber carburetor (an upgrade from the original Solex one barrel at the time of the engine rebuild at 150,000 miles) for both additional power and noise.  I learned that on sweeping corners, like on and off ramps, I could hold the big, original “bus” steering wheel in one position and steer the car with the throttle.  More throttle would step the rear out a bit, and less throttle would narrow the line.


The actual car prepped for paint!

Little by little, the car came together with the help of my friend and parts from  I replaced and added trim, I fixed the front bumper, I sanded the whole body and prepped it for paint.  I polished the chrome with fine-grade steel wool.  Soon enough, after about $250, I had a new paint job from Maaco, and the car was starting to look good.

Then disaster struck.  I was out of town, and my wife at the time decided to take the BMW (which I encouraged her to drive whenever she wanted) to take the dog to the vet.  Unfortunately I once the car looked so good with new paint, I had reinstalled the accelerator pedal so the car was all put together.  On the way back from the vet, the accelerator pedal popped off the two little metal grommets that held it into the floor and got wedged in the full on position.  As the car was in first at the time, she couldn’t get the car out of first (although she tried multiple times to get into second with the engine screaming to crashing) and she drove home in first with the revs about 5500-6000 rpms apparently.  In order to parallel park, she turned off the engine each time she switched gears, then started back up with the engine on nearly full throttle.

Well that was it for both the clutch and the transmission.  (When I asked her why she never pulled over, reached down and grabbed the accelerator with her hand to pull it free, she said it didn’t occur to her.  Some things that seem so simple become difficult when under pressure.)

After replacing the clutch and the transmission, I had $4,500 invested in my $1 car, and it was time to sell.  Into the window went the for sale sign, and after negotiating down from my asking of $5,500 to $4,750, a corporate lawyer bought it for his wife who wanted a fun car.  I hope the accelerator didn’t get stuck on her too!