Friday, 9 November 2007

Classic - BMW 2002 Turbo



There are many reasons to dislike BMW owners. The fact that they will always sit in the middle lane of an empty motorway. They’ll never let you out of a side turning. They have absolutely no awareness whatsoever of where the indicator stalk is. These facts (and they are facts), however, are a question of cultural prestige and certainly not the fault of our Bavarian chums. Sure, Chris Bangle may have gone a bit loopy with his Etch-A-Sketch of late but there’s very little you could do these days to stop people buying Beemers. It’s a pre-requisite of London life that you must either drive an X5 or at least be near one at all times. Jesus, what if someone pulls out in front of you? It’s your duty to plough through them as if their puny econohatch were made of marzipan.

Things weren’t always so rosy for BMW. In the early 1960s Bayerische Motoren Werke, a company known principally for creating incredibly pricey roadsters and peculiar little bubble cars, needed to find some common appeal. The Neue Klasse saloon was the car that saved the company, but it was the 1602/2002 series that achieved true icon status by providing a sensible little three-box saloon with a decent four-banger under the bonnet and, yes, just a little bit of sauciness to boot. It sold in spectacular quantities and inevitably had a very successful racing career, mimicking the wonderful Lotus Cortina trick of cocking a front wheel in the air under fast cornering.

Now, picture yourself as a BMW bigwig in the early seventies. Your previously ailing company is now going from strength to strength, your product is internationally renowned for it’s technological innovation (the 2002’s independent rear suspension, for example, making the back end of a Ford Escort look terribly dated), your balance sheet has never looked beefier. What’s the next step? Well, come on… you work in the motor trade for a reason. There’s more than a little 4-star in your veins. You want to make the car faster.

Forced induction had never successfully entered the mass-produced mainstream prior to 1973. Talk of superchargers conjured up images of Blower Bentleys hammering around Brooklands, turbochargers were just something that got bolted to diesel locomotives to make them marginally less turgid. But of course, BMW have always liked to stay one step ahead of the field. Why not bolt a turbo to the old M10 mill in the ’02? Why not see what happens? So that’s exactly what they did.

It scared the shit out of everyone.

You see, production turbocharging was (of course) in it’s infancy in 1973; nobody had really experienced turbo lag before, so it was just accepted as part of the package. Trust me on this – there are few things scarier than suddenly coming on boost half way round a blind corner. You can’t lift off, you can’t brake, you just have to grit your teeth and hold on. And once you’re a few miles closer to the horizon and you’ve managed to prise all of your fingernails out of the back of the steering wheel, you really want to do it again...

The 2002 Turbo was a revelation. It proved that the Germans weren’t staid, dull corporate suits obsessed by function over form and sales over renown. Look at the front spoiler – that isn’t a reversed photo. BMW deliberately wrote ‘turbo’ on the front of the car backwards so that lesser motorists would see it coming in their mirrors and know they’d have to dive out of the way. This confrontational bravado so incensed the German authorities that they banned BMW from applying the stickers.

This cheekiness sums up the whole ethos of the 2002 Turbo. It looked kind of like your auntie’s shopping car, but it’d happily chew you up and spit you into a tree. Still, it’d make a beautiful coffin and there are much worse ways to go than gripping that chunky wheel, planting your right boot and waiting for the…

…boost.

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