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In the late 1950s and early 1960s BMW was struggling.
They produced some beautiful luxury cars such as the classic 507 and some homely but practical economy cars that sold well in immediate post-war Europe (the Isetta, 600 and 700; the latter being much more of a standard car).
However, the company had no car positioned to sell to the mid-range buyer in a time when Europe's economy was beginning to take off after the war.
As early as 1963 there had been discussions about a new and smaller BMW. Thoughts began to focus on a short wheelbase two-door version of the New Class saloon. This plan had particular merit because it would help to re-establish the sporting image that BMW had enjoyed in the 1930s but it had never recaptured since. The shorter wheelbase would bring handling advantages while the lighter body would improve performance, and of course the two-door configuration would look more sporting than the four-door New Class type. The two-door model did not take long to design.
The New Class wheelbase was shortened from 100.4 inches to 98.4 inches, Wilhelm Hofmeister restyled the passenger cabin to suit, and the front of the car was given a minor facelift. Most of the running gear came directly from the existing four-door saloons, although there was a narrow track rear axle, which made front and rear tracks equal on the two-door model.
The decision was made to launch the car with the 1,573cc "1600" engine and, decided to call it the 1600-2. The additional figure 2 standing for its two doors and distinguishing it from the four-door 1600 saloon. The 1600-2 was announced in March 1966 and was immediately acclaimed as a winner. The lighter body made the car nearly as fast as the 1800 sedan, while the excellent handling added a sporting ingredient which was lacking in the larger car. The motoring press was unable to resist comparisons with Alfa Romeo's sports cars, which suited BMW's needs perfectly.
At the Frankfurt Motor show in autumn 1967, they announced an even more sporting version - the 1600ti - with a 105 hp twin carburetor engine. By this stage BMW were already considering the possibility of giving their two-door vehicle yet another engine in the shape of a 2-litre relative of the 1600ti's four cylinders. Not long after the 1600-2 was announced, Alex von Falkenhausen had a 2-litre engine dropped into an example of the car for his own use. Completely independently, BMW's Planning Director Helmut Werner Bonsch had exactly the same conversion carried out for his car. Neither man knew of the others car until one day in mid - 1967 when both cars were in the workshops together at BMW. Both were enthusiastic about their 2-litre two-doors, and between them decided to put a formal proposal to the BMW Board that such a model should be considered for production.
Their cause was greatly helped by developments in the USA. BMW had never meant very much in that market before the mid-1960s, and the marque had been imported only in small numbers. The company was well aware of the value of sales success in such a large market, and until this point had not had a model which appealed to American customers. In 1966, all that changed. The new two-door 1600-2 model received rave reviews in the American motoring press, and all of a sudden sales started to gather momentum.
Wanting to capitalize on this success, importer Max Hoffman urged the Bavarians to let him have another model in the same vein, and preferably one with even more performance. The only model in that range was the 1600ti. Unfortunately, the twin-carburetor engine could not be made to meet the new Federal exhaust emissions regulations, and so it could not be sold in the good old US of A. However, the 100hp 2-litre engine in the 2000 coupe had been made to meet the regulations. The solution was simple. BMW Sales Director Paul Hahnemann was well aware of the US market requirement, and so he supported the proposal for a 2-litre version of the two-door car. Despite opposition from Chief Development Engineer Bernhard Osswald and Production Director Wilhelm Heinrich Gieschen, the sales argument won the day and the 2002 was born.
There were three distinct "generations" of the BMW 2002 range during its eight and a half year production life. The first generation cars were built between 1968 and 1971. The second generation, or model 71, cars were built between 1971 and 1973. And the third generation, or model 73, cars were built between 1973 and the end of production in 1976.
Within each of those generations, the 2002 range was further subdivided into a variety of different models. And here in the US, the position was even more complicated: changing legislation here obliged BMW to build Model 74, Model 75, and model 76 vehicles, all with certain differences from one another.
For more info visit www.bmw2002.co.uk for everything 02.
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