COAL: 1976 BMW 2002 – My Real Impulse Buy

If you thought my Volkswagen Bus purchase was impulsive, out of left field and wildly irresponsible, then I’m about to one-up that here.

I don’t recall the exact avenue that my friend found out about this car but his acquaintance was selling his 1976 BMW 2002 in Chicago. Said friend, at the time, had a 1982 BMW 320i and it had treated him well. They seemed simple enough on paper – what could go wrong? The BMW 2002 was an immensely enticing car and one that’s been well covered here on CC, all the way to David E. Davis Jr.’s seminal April 1968 review in Car and Driver. I really liked the sportiness of the car, excellent greenhouse/visibility plus simplicity rivaled only by a go-kart. In the years proceeding I had been tracking their rising values and thought I better get one while I could. This one was certainly affordable, turns out I soon learned why.

One of the three pictures we received. Conveniently he did not photograph the other side.

My friend and I decided to head out and take a look – the car was said to have been in running condition and the grainy photos I received appeared to show a car in rough driver condition. I packed a bunch of tools in a messenger bag and we bought tickets to Chicago from Des Moines via Megabus, a low-fare bus service. In maybe an omen from the start, we missed the bus from Des Moines because I couldn’t find the terminal. Thankfully we also knew they stopped in a town about 40 miles east so I pushed the Jetta hard to intercept.

The rest of the journey there was uneventful, sleeping through the night and arriving in downtown Chicago around 6 am. The seller was nice enough to pick us up at that hour, then we spent the next few hours zig zagging around Chicago to find keys to the garage. The seller had the car stored in his neighbor’s garage and it took a bit of effort to track him down to get access. Inside that unassuming alley garage in metro Chicago with the 2002? A 1997 Dodge Viper GTS in the iconic metallic blue with white racing stripes – I did not expect that! Upon seeing the car, it was a bit rougher than I was led on, with serious rust on the driver’s door but solid shock towers and a decent trunk floor. There was also a crusty section under the pedals on the driver’s side floor.

The car started right up but the drive around the block was not very smooth – a bit jerky, actually. I thought maybe it was just from sitting that it needed to free up, maybe an oil change would help. It was a wild idea but I thought we could drive it home. I got an oil change for it and returned to pay the seller, but it still seemed a bit unnerving to drive 6 hours west. When time came to see the title, it was still in the previous owner’s name (whom the seller bought it from) and the seller signed the title but never registered it himself. Great. I explained to him that he needed to register it but he seemed unwilling to do so.

Throughout the afternoon, I stuck around their house and continued to drive the car around the block occasionally. I was getting more and more leery about the prospects of driving the car back home and was thinking I would need to come back with a trailer. The seller was adamant that the car needed to leave their shared garage today. In hindsight, I should have looked into a U-Haul truck and trailer that afternoon but instead, my friend suggested other folks he knew in the area, perhaps I could store the car for the short term there and come back later. Seeing I was getting nowhere with the seller with the title or storage, it was time to move on. My friend and I bought return tickets to Des Moines on the 6 pm bus and we drove the car just a few blocks east to his friend’s storefront. There they had a rear fenced-in area behind the store and the owner graciously allowed me to store the car there temporarily until I could come back with a truck and trailer. I thanked them up and down, my friend and I caught our first meal for the day, and we got to the bus terminal.

Back in Iowa, I immediately formulated a plan to get back to Chicago and grab the 2002. Somehow, another friend found out about my challenges and generously lent his Toyota Tundra to help with the rescue mission and just a few weeks later I was free to do so. This trip was taken alone for whatever reason, maybe because folks were working as I departed mid-day, maybe because I was spending the night at an ex-girlfriend’s place downtown – I do not recall.

The tow rig in downtown Chicago

The next morning the fun began. The U-Haul location was back out in the suburbs and being a Saturday morning, they were busy. Finally, I was able to get checked over and rolling closer to noon – far later than I had hoped. Then the real fun began. Back at the 2002, I should have communicated with the store owner that I was coming. I just assumed they’d be there during business hours – NOPE! They were closed, the gate was locked and they were out of town. Taking stock of the situation, I had a borrowed truck, rented trailer and I was in Chicago, a combo not easily replicated – I was not going home emptyhanded. The storeowner was empathic and said I could cut the lock so I got to work. Over the next few hours, I was very resourceful in achieving my goal and thankfully there was a steady stream of people to leverage as right next door was a popular outdoor-only restaurant. Finally, after a few hours of work and some help from some very generous strangers, I had the non-operational car (battery was dead) out of its cage and on the trailer. It felt like a major accomplishment in my mind I must say!

The 2002 in its cage, getting it out was a real bear.

Once the car was back in Iowa I started to go over the car and dig in (kind of). I’m not sure if it had a short or if it was just from sitting but the battery would frequently drain. I dared only drive it on slow secondary streets in town due to the jerkiness and the title situation. Turns out I needed a new guibo. I placed a decent sized order from Ireland Engineering, a 2002 parts specialist, but the car being on a gravel parking lot of my rental house made me uneasy about the prospects of jacking up and getting under the car to access. I was just generally feeling a lack of ambition about this car. The rust issues, flat tires and title discrepancy all had me feeling a bit too far over my head. With the onset of winter coming I got the ball rolling on the title with our DMV and learned what I could about these cars in an attempt to roll forward.

A bit crusty on the outside. I believe the car had some prior body work, the car was originally Sahara Beige.

Spring came, I still didn’t have the title rectified and I didn’t have much motivation to work on it still. Putting in work on a car that you can’t prove is 100% yours is not enticing. I believe finally by late summer the title was worked out but I still had plenty of other things I’d rather do. In hindsight, I should’ve been more proactive about at least addressing the guibo, that would’ve fixed at least the drivability issues greatly but I was so hindered by the thoughts of the rust. It’s not like one could just find a replacement door easily, these cars are pretty much non-existent in Iowa. Around this time I was starting to catch flak from my landlord about the car in the driveway and was pressured to do something about it. With another winter bearing down and realizing that things are not likely to improve, I listed the car on Craigslist and very quickly had a bite. An enthusiastic father/son team from Wisconsin came down one snowy Saturday to buy it, the plan was to fix it up for his son’s first car.

Looking back on this car, it was a pretty half-baked and wild idea but at least it wasn’t a very expensive venture. Sure I lost money on the whole deal but I like the idea that hopefully the father/son team was able to get the car back on the road and spend some time together.