The BMW 02: Tiny But Mighty

If you’re new to the car world, hello. You’re just like me. If you’re even more like me

you may not have ever given much thought to the cool old looking cars; you know, the classics.

That is until you see one. Then, in my experience, you may start daydreaming about riding in it

and the stories that might have occurred with the car. That’s the draw in with car shows, car

clubs, and classic cars in general. We have grown so accustomed to the new and improved yet we

still look at the old and are caught in its beauty. And again, if you’re like me, you feel dreamy

just looking at them. Here at Le Pit Club, we’re joining a special event to celebrate one of those

cool classics, the BMW 02. The event is the Bay Area 02 Swap & Show on Saturday, May 4th at

the Brisbane Marina. And I have to tell you, the car’s history is really cool!

The BMW 02 Series design was based on a shortened version of New Class Sedans. I

looked up what a sedan is because though I’ve heard the term before I’ve never actually

wondered. It is a passenger car in a three-box configuration. Box one is the engine and located in

the front. Box two is the middle of the car, the one most people are familiar with, the passenger

zone. Box three is the trunk and meant for cargo. The meaning behind sedan makes so much

sense, but why “New Class”? You see, in the late 1960’s the BMW was a relatively unknown

brand, and the New Class name highlighted the BMW’s re-entry into the car world. At that point

in time the company was facing some serious financial difficulties due to the failures of their

previous luxury models. I suppose it’s hard to be a successful brand when the general public

doesn’t even know you exist. One can’t really break into the market if people don’t know what

the product is. This unknown aspect paved way for a new generation of compact, sporty cars to

bring the company new life, and they did.

The 02 Series focused on being compact making it a relatively small vehicle compared to

other sedans at the time. I’ve stood, in all my 5’4 glory, next to one of these cars and I’m taller.

They’re honestly quite petit compared to the majority of cars one sees. I estimate they are bigger

than a Fiat but smaller then a Mini-Coop and certainly much more fun than a Smart Car. Now the

features, a shorter wheelbase and low height actually helped contribute to the car’s agile

handling. Racing information ahead, wink-wink. The aesthetic design of the car is characterized by a clean, minimalistic approach. The BMW 02 truly is a nonchalant car free of unnecessary

embellishments yet almost secretly awesome.

The front end, of the 2002 model in particular, features the BMW’s signature kidney grille and

dual round headlights, both of which are integrated into the front panel. Essentially, the

checkered part the car breaths out of is between circular headlights and both parts are attached to

Box one of the sedan. In later iterations the back featured flared fenders to hint at the car’s

performance capabilities. If I were to put a fictional character in the driver’s seat it would be

someone like Indiana Jones during his teaching years, or even the car Superman drives when he’s

disguised as Clark Kent. Unsuspecting, but powerful, is the vibe I’m getting at.

If you’re not aware, the BMW 02 made a name for itself in the touring car racing world

and also had a presence in rallying. Touring car races are when a production-based model of a

car is modified to race on a closed circuit track. For reference, a closed circuit track is what

Lightning McQueen races in Disney Pixar’s 2006 Cars movie. Rallying is when cars race a

predetermined route that goes from one point to another. Think McQueen and Chip’s race to the

new location for the Piston Cup after the three way tie. The 2002 model secured quite a few

victories and podium finishes during its prime. This success helped the brand bounce back and

enhanced its reputation as a sporty, driver focused car. It also gave the car a cult following

among enthusiasts and collectors alike.

In the touring races the BMW 02 was fierce. The modifications showcased the

engineering prowess and agility of the car. It often out preformed larger and more powerful

competitors solidifying the car’s reputation as a formidable motorsport competitor. It was tiny

but mighty. A David if you will. One of the most prestigious races for touring is the Spa 24

Hours. This is an endurance race held at the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium. In the

race teams compete to complete the highest number of laps within a 24-hour time period and the

road isn’t even flat!

The circuit has a crazy layout of sweeping corners, dramatic elevation changes, and while there

are some fast straights the road ahead is a roller-coaster. Its most famous section is the Eau Rouge

and Raidillon complex, where cars take on a steep uphill climb followed by a sweeping left-right-

left sequence. I have been on roller-coasters that do that and they always take the air

right out of me. To think that the drivers were going for most laps with a time cap – I wish I could

find how fast they were going. The BMW 02 won the race in 1968 with a team of drivers from

BMW Belgium. What an incredible race to win!

Considering the win at Spa 24 Hours, it is truly no surprise that the BMW 02 also found

success in the rallying world. In the 1971 Australian Alpine Rally the 02 demonstrated its agility

and durability in the mountain roads. Mountain roads are insane. I have driven up Mt Diablo in

the Contra Costa County a hand full of times and I can only imagine trying to race people on

those roads. The Australian Alpine Rally is a multi-day event that has competitors tackling a

series of gravel roads featuring steep climbs, hairpin turns, rough terrain and unpredictable


My goodness, what a car! To survive the Australian Alps and the Spa 24 Hours is quite the

achievement. The BMW 02 Series’ racing legacy continues to inspire automotive enthusiasts,

collectors, and now me. With its iconic design and motorsport achievement I’m not surprised

they have a whole show dedicated to it and I’m excited to hear stories from the owners at the

Bay Area 02 Swap & Show event.

Hopefully we’ll see you there!

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