What would a modern racing BMW 2002 look like?

In its heyday, the BMW 2002 was a formidable competitor on racetracks throughout Europe.  Can the BMW 2002 still be competitive almost 50 years later?  What would a modern racing BMW 2002 look like?

For many people in their mid to late 40s, the BMW 2002 holds a special place in their hearts and minds, myself included. When first introduced Geneva in March of 1966 as the BMW 1600, it would go on to define one of the world’s leading automotive brands as well as creating a new automotive segment: the sports sedan.  It also made for one heck of racing car, the racing BMW 2002.

Helmut Werner Bonsch, BMW’s director of product planning and Alex von Falkenhausen, the designer of the M10 engine, each had a 1600-2 for personal use. When they found out they had made the same modification, they approached BMW’s board to approve a two-liter version of the BMW 1600. In the meantime, American importer Max Hoffman felt that there was a market for a sportier version of the 1600. The result was the BMW 2002, powered by a 2.0-liter M10 engine.

 While the BMW 2002 did not have the displacement of American muscle cars from the era, it had an excellent suspension system, crisp driving dynamics and was fun to drive. As a result, the BMW 2002 was campaigned on European race tracks by emerging racing teams such as Alpina and Heidegger Racing.


 The racing BMW 2002 of yesterday

 Flared fenders, the mandatory roll-cage, and a high-performance engine defined the racing BMW 2002s of the era. Former typewriter manufacturer, Alpina had created a racing engine that produced 200 horsepower, having upgraded oil pumps, and sumps, amongst other things.   

 Alpina racing engines at the time for the BMW 2002 were made-to-order. As a result, a wide variety of options were available such as a racing clutch, lightened flywheel, high-grade steel connecting rods, and a wide variety of sports camshafts ranging from 300 to 324 degrees. Additional options included high-performance valve springs, a high-capacity radiator, modified water pumps, high-pressure oil coolers, and racing exhaust systems.

When high-performance racing engines were installed in a well-balanced vehicle having a lightened body and racing suspension, the result was a very competitive racing car that kept up with the best of them.

While the BMW 2002 racing cars of yesteryear would be at home at any vintage racing event, what would a modern-day racing BMW 2002 look like?  

Racing BMW 2002 05

An example of a modern racing BMW 2002 

Norbert Wimmer is the man that built the heavily modified BMW 2002 that has been competing in hillclimbing competitions throughout Europe. The only things that remain of the original 2002 are the window rubbers, the throttle, and the brake and clutch pedals. Everything else is modern and custom-built.

Wimmer entered European competition way back in 1997, starting first with slalom events. After crashing his first 2002 in 2000, he started building the car you see profiled below. Within a few years, Wimmer got his first taste of hillclimbing and promptly changed sports. It was then that the car you see here build profiled below took shape.

Racing BMW 2002 01

The engine powering the racing BMW 2002 

Powered by a 2.0 liter M10, Wimmer’s 2002 produces 230 horsepower. While not much by today’s standards, this is more than 75 percent more output than a stock M10. Additionally, the car weighs in at just 829kg or 1,824 lbs. 

The engine retains its stock short-block and eight-valve head. Everything else is pretty much custom starting with Wossner pistons, Pankl rods, and a balanced crank. The cylinder head has a Schrick 336 and 328 outlet race cam, has improved flow properties, and bigger exhaust valves.

As you can see from the video below, this engine loves to rev. Power comes on at right around 6,000 rpm, and max’s out at 9,000 rpm. Performance comes at the expense of reliability. As a result, the engine needs a rebuild every 800 miles.  

Wimmer’s engine started life as a 2002tii powered by a Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection system. Current fuel management consists of four 48mm individual throttle bodies from an E30 M3 modified with a custom airbox, injection setup, and standalone ECU.

Alpina BMW 2002 Racing Car 15

The transmission powering the racing BMW 2002

The transmission is a Getrag 265 dogleg from an E30 M3 retaining the H-pattern design and having the same number of ratios as the standard box. However, it has some custom work in the form of straight-cut cogs and much shorter ratios. With the shorter ratios, first gear tops out at 47 miles per hour, and fifth gear tops out at 123 miles per hour. As a result, Wimmer works hard, getting his 02 up the hill racing.

The suspension of the racing BMW 2002

Wimmer’s BMW 2002 rests on KW coilovers, whereas everything else suspension and steering-wise is custom-made. The exceptions being the OE hubs and rear axle, borrowed and modified from E21 323i trailing arms and carriers.

The suspension is usually dialed in before each event and left there. However, there are several adjustments to the suspension system that are made right before a run. Damper settings, spring rates, front roll-bar thickness, wheel, and spacer widths are all changed in a matter of minutes.

Wimmer’s racing 2002 runs BBS RS three-piece 15-inch rims in sizes from 9- to 10- inches in front and 10- to 10.5- inches in the rear. Tires are usually several sizes of Avon racing slicks.

Alpina BMW 2002 Racing Car 14

The braking setup

In hillclimbing, the emphasis is on going faster and not so much stopping. As a result, Wimmer’s 02 runs stock BMW E30 325i rotors up front with Wilwood four-pots. In back, he is using older Kawasaki ZXR calipers and Yamaha XJ900 discs. The braking system is topped off with braided brake lines.

Weight savings throughout

Much of the BMW 2002s weight savings come from the body of the vehicle. Fiberglass is used extensively throughout and includes the hood, fenders, doors, and trunk lid, whereas the front bumper, splitter, and rear wing are carbon fiber. The fender flares are replicas from a BMW 2002 Turbo and slightly widened through the use of rubber spacers. 

Aerodynamic aids are not limited to just the front spoiler and rear wing. Most of the underside sports a flat underbody channeling airflow through to the rear diffuser. The result is that the car handles as though it is driving on rails.  

The interior of the racing 2002 harbors the bare minimum and consists of a custom-made steel roll-cage, custom-flocked dashboard, a suede steering wheel, and Konig bucket seats. The battery is where the back seat used to be to allow for improved weight distribution.

What have been the results of Wimmer’s efforts? He has won the Berg Cup trophy for eight-valve cars four times in a row, between 2009 and 2012. Since then, his 2002 continues to be competitive in hillclimbing competitions throughout Europe. 

Alpina BMW 2002 13


The BMW 2002 redefined a struggling automotive manufacturer and into a leading automotive manufacturer.  It also created a new category of vehicle, the sports sedan.  In it’s time, the BMW 2002 was a formidable competitor on racetracks around the world.

Almost 50 years later, we see in Norbert Wimmer’s modern interpretation of the racing BMW 2002 that the little Bavarian wunderkind is still relevant and one heck of a car.

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