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Going Analog: 1974 BMW M2 Review

Monday, May 19, 2014

I have a dirty secret. Super cars aren’t really my thing. I appreciate them and marvel at their outrageous power and digital brains, but I’m more of an analog guy myself. My theory on cars and motorcycles is if my talents can’t push them to the absolute limit, then they’re really not for me. That’s what makes Classic Car Club such a fantastic place.

You can get your kicks in an implausibly fast Ferrari and scare yourself silly, then recoup in a vintage grand touring car to slow the onset of cardiac arrest. So what would I have on any fair weather day? Introducing Zac’s employee pick and a car that’s stolen my affection, the 1974 BMW 2002 conversion, better known as the “M2″.

HOW IT STARTED

This car started from the minds of the more reserved Bavarians, not the Motorsport division mentalists traditionally favored by CCC. The 2002 was introduced in 1968 and production continued all the way through 1977. It was based on much more boring four-door sedans aimed at mid-wage earning executives in bad ties and dead-end jobs, or at least that’s my translation of it all.

The history has already been written; this is a driver’s review, not a historian’s, so let’s cut to the numbers. The 2002, while fashioned as an execu-mobile, was still faster than most other things on the road. Its lightweight, simple design shuffled the car to 110mph, and independent suspension, disk brakes and other BMW trickery made it quite a popular car. While all that’s nice and romantic, it’s just not enough for Classic Car Club.

WHERE IT WOUND UP

Under the unerring, maniac eye of Zac, the 2002 lost three digits and gained a letter. Enter the nasty little M2. Like a worm to a butterfly, the 2002 lost its four-banger M10 engine that was stifled by American emissions laws and was gifted a bigger motor from a future relative the incredibly awesome E30 M3 – a car that receives God-like status in the Classic Car Club.

To finish off the engine swap, the M2 also received a custom stainless 2.5in exhaust system, fender flares to make room for the wider Alpina-style wheels, a 10-inch Momo race wheel, Bilstein suspension, bespoke sporty interior featuring yards of alcantera, fresh paint, and a rockin’ front splitter reminiscent of the future 2002 turbo and the removal of that pesky front bumper. Now, the 2,100-pound featherweight is punching out 195bhp from one of the sweetest engines ever developed. I’m not very skilled in the maths, so I’ll just say that’s quite an impressive power-to-weight ratio.

THE LOOKS

Stunning. Nothing much more needs to be said really, but I’ll indulge you. There are only a few cars out there with a “cliff-hanger” style front end, and I love them all. 302 Boss mustangs, early Aston Martin V8 Vantages, and our M2 all have it. It’s that gloriously forward-jutting front end that falls away to the front wheels and makes the car look like it means business, which it does. The multi-spoke Alpina wheels recall an era of rally racing and hill climbs; the aggressive little fender flares accentuate the 2002′s muscles.

Zac, being gifted in the field of design, picked quite a fetching non-metallic gray paint, snatched from the Pantone book of Porsche. And did you catch that matching gray-scale BMW roundel on the hood? Damn; Zac is on point. Aside from CCC’s fantastic appointments, the lines of the M2 are very appealing with the deletion of the front fender. From the profile, everything tips forward a bit. It reminds me of my dog Monkee, when she’s pulling on her leash. Ready for action, like the bulldog atop a Mack truck.

Once inside, you’re greeted by authentic 70′s German minimalism. Nothing other than what’s needed. A four-speed gear map on the dash is meaningless – go by the five speed map on the gear selector – remember the new engine in there. What is noticeable is the panoramic view; the M2′s windows are so large, it’s a lot like watching a driving movie on a 65inch screen in a 5X5 foot living room. The only wheeled vehicle with better lines of sight would be a motorcycle.

Going Analog: 1974 BMW M2 Review

THE DRIVE

Turn the key, push the starter button (I know! Trick, right?) and the car comes to life. The lightweight body with its new hulking engine gives the car a little shudder upon start, like a bird in a birdbath. Drop the e-brake and find first with the wiggly gear selector and we’re off. The engine pulls strong and comes off the line nicely. The gears are tall enough to give you the sensation of flying down a long race straight and the power comes on in a very linear fashion across all five of them.

Row from first, to second, and up the box and suddenly you say to your self, “Sweet bejebus. I’m going very fast in this thing”, and you are, but part of that is the sensation of speed. Forty feels like 60. Sixty feels like 90. But where to enjoy such a beast? Brooklyn of course. Mostly because that’s where I live, but it’s also a borough of superior pizza. So I pointed the little M2 towards the Belt Parkway South and Rockaway Beach. I flipped on some Ramones to celebrate the journey. Hey Ho, Let’s Go.

On the road, the Bilstein suspension eats up the uneven roads very nicely. The M2 does a snazzy job of absorbing the bumps, but keeping the ride taught and the tires always on the ground. Third gear is the sweetheart. It’s great for that 50mph-ish area and in the glorious 5,500rpm zone. I always feel like this is an RPM that works well for vintage sports cars; it’s where the car comes alive but you’re not banging it off the limiter. A healthy dose of mechanical sympathy can go a long way. The Belt turns out to be a good test road. The ride goes from straight to bendy. The lanes seem skinny compared to other roads and the Hudson on the right begins to open to the ocean. It’s like the Pacific Coast Highway of Brooklyn, but with dead bodies, not dolphins.

Going Analog: 1974 BMW M2 Review

In the curvy bits, the M2 takes the bends with a smile. One need not lift very often to keep it dialed in, just lean the car into the turn with very little steering input and the car follows its overbite front face through the apex. Roll on the gas and the exhaust lets out a raspy, gravely-throated wave of anger. Blitzkrieg Bop.

Down below, the pedals are tricky, but great fun. The gas and brake are set up for proper toe/heel shifting, which is great for sporty driving, like we’re doing right now. I position my foot on the right side of the brake, press to get the front tires adjusted to the weight load, then squeeze hard, grab the clutch, shift down from fourth to third while rolling my right foot on the gas for a quick blip of the throttle and let the clutch go, the exhaust barks, the revs boom and the car keeps it’s composure beautifully with very little weight transfer from bow to stern.

No wonder 2002s won so many hill climbs. The brakes are another story. At first application, you’d swear they weren’t there. But they are. They’re vintage and mechanical, but racy and effective when you learn your way around them. Like many German whips of the era, the pedals emanate from above, under the dash, not like the more traditional floor-mounted pedals. This means you need to drive the car with the balls of your feet. The brake travel is about three inches, but really, all the mechanical work comes from the last inch. If your foot is made of ham and wood, you’ll never get them to work.But, if you deploy a deft racer’s touch, that last inch of pedal play is glorious. You can go from a light trail brake to full four-wheel lock up. The trick…there’s always a trick with older cars, is to push down on the brake, not straight into it. Get your foot on top of it and work out that right thigh muscle. It’s hard work, but when you get it down, it pays dividends. Get it wrong and the M2 can be a scary ride. By now, I’ve named her Sheena.She’s a punk rocker.

After working up a sweat, I headed for Roman’s on DeKalb for some kind of asparagus dish that wasn’t quite a soup, nor quite a stew. I really don’t know what it was, but it was delicious. Their wine list is one for the record books, too. In a neighborhood brimming with couture mix dogs like snickerdoodles, poogles and other Frankenstein-like genetic experiments, the little M2 kind of fit right in, waiting for its master, still flexing that leash pull look. I wish I had a leash to tie to the front bumper and street sign it was next to. Inside, Roman’s uber hip regulars all took a shine to her. I heard words like “adorably aggressive” and other silly adjectives for a car, but it’s all good. If she makes them just a fraction of how happy she’s made me, then Sheena has done her job. Gabba Gabba Hey.

-Mike P

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