You would be hard-pressed to find someone that hasn’t fantasised about restoring a car from scratch. Regardless of age, manufacturer, or style, the thought of resurrecting some automotive nostalgia from your youth and customising it to your exact specifications cultivates an attraction to which nothing compares. While many aspire to sink their teeth into a project car at some point in their lives, only a handful see their stars align. Whether it is through lack of knowledge or time, the sheer costs involved, or just knowing where to start, at some point, the transition from aspiration to actuality gets lost along the way. But fear not, Man of Many readers, in the quest to educate (and most likely vent my pain and suffering along the way), I’ve decided to document the build of my dream car, a 1972 BMW 2002.
Why a BMW 2002?
Growing up in regional NSW, I was entrenched in a very “Aussie” car scene. My pop was a mechanic and serial Ford owner, my pa drove a one-off Holden one-tonner, and most of my friends had either posters of Toranas or Falcons all over their walls. While I always liked and respected the Aussie muscle scene, I always seemed to gravitate towards German and Italian sports cars. Lamborghini Miuras… Ferrari GTOs… Porsche 911s… there was always something beautiful and mysterious about vehicles from the northern hemisphere.
But when it came time to set a benchmark for prospective project cars to buy, I quickly realised that 95 per cent of my shortlist wasn’t going to cut the mustard for my driving requirements or my bank balance. My criteria were as follows:
Nostalgia: The car had to have a connection with my childhood
Origin: Italian or German
Lightweight: Keeping weight under 1,000kg
Driver-focused: A manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive and a decent chassis
Adaptable: A car that would be as at home on a road rally as it would the red carpet
Beautiful Design: Simple, clean lines
Produced in large numbers: Easier to source parts and a sizeable online community
Resto-modable: A car with a decent amount of aftermarket parts to tune to my liking
Affordable: Sourcing a decent shell and critical parts for under $20,000AUD
From my criteria of “Origin”, I started with a short(ish) list of around 50 cars. By the time I reached “Affordability”, my shortlist was down to two; The Alfa Romeo 105/115 and the BMW 2002. While Alfa Romeos were built in respectable numbers, they were around double the price of the 2002, and the aftermarket parts options were not as extensive. On the other hand, not only were there over 800,000 BMW 2002’s built from 1966–1977, Italian legend Giovanni Michelotti also designed them, so I’d get the best of both worlds.
How To Find One?
It’s a tricky thing to find the right project. You have to be patient enough to wait until “the one” comes along while not waiting so long that the car you’re chasing becomes so popular you can no longer afford it. As I was hunting a shell or parts car, I couldn’t look via the usual channels of a carsales.com.au or the hundreds of auction sites available, so I set up some saved search terms on Gumtree and eBay and played the waiting game. A year into my search, I didn’t find anything close to matching my criteria, so I joined the BMW 2002 FAQ forum and started lifting some rocks. After many weeks of vehicle (and soul) searching, a forum member directed me towards the “BMW 2002 Owners, Australia” Facebook group. While it sounds obvious now, at the time, I was utterly oblivious to the fact that nearly every sub-species of vehicle has an associated Facebook group, engaging in daily banter and advice (usually in that order).
After a quick introduction and a welcome post stating my intentions, it didn’t take long before a few members said they had some projects they would consider selling. Over the next two years, I stayed in contact with two members who changed their minds a collective eight times before one gave up on my pestering and let me go and have a look.
The car was described as a 1972 BMW 2002 shell with parts included and was located near Maitland in NSW. Essentially, it was an unfinished project that the seller’s brother was helping do some metal repairs on, but as the brother was planning to move south, it was time to clean out the shed. While the body wasn’t a basket case by any means, it still needed a lot of work to my untrained eye.
- The rear quarter panels were straight, original and rust free
- The majority of the floor was rust free
- The door sils had been replaced and welded to a decent standard
- The pillars looked rust free
- The car came with lots of spare parts (most of which were scattered around the shed of about six cars, so I wasn’t entirely sure what went with the 2002)
- The car appeared to have had a front collision at some point, and the front nose looked worse than when Blake Perry took a knee to the face
- The spare wheel well was riddled with rust
- The doors, bonnet and boot all needed repairs
- It looked like the car had two repairs done before, one of which looked very cowboy
As I’d been talking to this particular gentleman for over two years, and his brother was keen to see the back of this thing, I was confident we could strike up a deal. So, after sourcing some further information on the history of the car, a more detailed inventory of the included parts, and a quick call to mum to see if there was still some garage space on offer, we agreed on a price of AUD$15,000 which included the following:
- A Half-finished 1972 BMW 2002 Body
- BMW M10 Fuel-Injected Engine
- Getrag close-ratio 5-speed gearbox
- Front and Rear Seats (needing work)
- 4 x Bilstein Shock Abosrbers
- Complete Glass
- Front and Rear subframes
- Front and Rear bumpers
- Various trim and lighting pieces
- Various interior pieces
A week later, a mate and I had the car on a trailer, a grin on my face (some confusion on his), and after a long time waiting, my dream of starting my very own project car had begun.
Stay tuned for Part 2: The Strip