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Dragging my dream BMW 2002tii out of a Florida field

a brown 1974 bmw 2002tii sits on a concrete slab in a field with its hood and trunk open.  the car was abandoned for decades;  it's covered in dirt and grime and surrounded by tools, jacks and tow straps, all of which were used to drag it out of the field where it sat for 25 years

Photo: Zach Bowman

For a fundamental memory, my memory of the first journey in my 1974BMW 2002tii is quite uneven. There are, however, a few clear moments. I remember my brother’s crystal blue eyes widening in the back seat as Philip spun the car around a dead end of dirt with a fast, arcing drift. I remember the black Scheel-Mann seats and leather-wrapped Momo Monte Carlo steering wheel standing out against the beige door cards and carpeting. And I remember the smell. The soft musk of vinyl and horsehair that accompanies every old German car, mixed with the musty smell that accompanies every Florida car.

And I remember wanting the car with the kind of desire only an 11-year-old boy can muster. The need turned my stomach into a hard knot every time I saw a BMW 2002 in a magazine, or a listing on Craigslist, or worse, in person. But financial realities and personal circumstances conspired to make owning a 2002 a pipe dream. They have always been beyond my reach, their values ​​rising in tantalizing proportion to my income. Affordable cars always have need a lot more work that I am only capable of; restored copies have always been out of reach. For 24 years, from that first outing in 1998, I felt like I always wanted to. Eventually, I put the idea out of my mind.

But earlier this year, Philip, the family friend who gave my brother and me that fateful ride 25 years ago, said he’d trade me his 2002 – the 2002 – for my 1997 Ducati Monster. After all these years, the car that crystallized my love for automobiles, that taught me what a car can be beyond an abstract array of pictures and spec sheets, was going to be mine.

The car

a close up shot of the 2002tii badge on the back of a very dirty brown 1974 bmw coupe

Photo: Zach Bowman

It’s a maroon 1974 BMW 2002tii that was parked in a barn shortly after I got in, and stayed there until 2022. It was much loved before its hibernation, upgraded with Bilstein Sport shocks and H&R sport springs. It’s a bit lower than factory ride height and wears a set of 13-inch alloy wheels from a later model BMW 320i, added to clear a big brake kit. It also has a strut tower brace that was added in the 1990s, along with the aforementioned Momo wheel and sports seats. And, for a car that’s been around since Clinton was in office, it’s remarkably solid.

It was originally Malaga red, a beautiful dark shade of brown that perfectly highlights the tanned interior parts. But now the car is a color I dubbed purplebrown, thanks to a cheap repaint a long time ago. Whoever is to blame for the paint job half mixed the color mix and missed the Malaga red about as far as Spain is from Florida. It is poorly applied, chipping in places and strewn with surface rust spots on almost all the panels.

a photo of the beige interior of a long abandoned 1974 bmw2002tii.  the carpet and door coverings are faded fawn;  the seats, steering wheel and dashboard are all washed black.  there is random trash in the car, which sat abandoned in a field in Florida for 25 years

Photo: Zach Bowman

The car needs the usual litany of work demanded by any vehicle left to sit. The biggest obstacle is the fuel system. The gas tank remained half full; what was once gasoline is now something that smells like a cross between Minwax and turpentine. The inside of the tank has a thick layer of fuzzy rust and the pickup tube is clogged with stinky grime.

The front brake calipers welded long ago and the pads rusted solidly on the rotors. The rear drums are in a similar condition, with frozen wheel cylinders on both sides and damaged pads. The soft brake lines, brake hoses from the reservoir to the master cylinder and the clutch slave cylinder will all need to be replaced before the car goes anywhere.

The BMW 2002tii

a 1974 bmw 2002tii shown on a car trailer being towed through a narrow pass in an overgrown field surrounded by lush trees and bushes somewhere in florida.

Photo: Zach Bowman

The BMW 2002tii is the sportier, fuel-injected version of the 2002, the car that helped BMW gain a foothold in the US market. The fuel injection system is a hilarious mechanical contraption, a sort of Rube Goldberg steampunk machine that shoots fuel at over 450 PSI out of mechanical injectors in each intake tract.

Fuel metering is managed by a metal cone that rotates 270 degrees in response to throttle position and engine speed. The cone dictates the height of a plate inside the pump, which in turn governs the amount of fuel delivered to a set of pistons that push gas to the injectors.

an underhood photo of the engine compartment of the 1974 bmw 2002tii burgundy. the car sat abandoned in a field in florida for 25 years, and it shows: the engine compartment is full of leaves, branches and other trash , and the engine is covered with a thick layer of grime.

Photo: Zach Bowman

Somehow, this ridiculous device, known by its brand name Kugelfischer, was mass-produced. Somehow it meters fuel accurately and reliably enough that the 2002tii is good for 130 horsepower, about 30 more than the standard carbureted 2002. The tii also has bigger brakes than the standard car, boxed rear control arms, better shocks and a higher compression half point, at 9.5:1.

The base 2002 arrived on these shores in 1968 and immediately won praise from automotive journalists and a cult following among people who didn’t want a massive home car. Without the 2002, there would be no 3 series. And without the 2002tii, there would probably be no M3.

It’s mine

night shot of 1974 bmw 2002tii parked outside large garage.  the car is covered in soap suds from top to bottom while the owner sprays the car with a pressure washer.

Photo: Zach Bowman

Florida summer afternoons are all the same: the cry of a million bugs is the soundtrack to being smothered in a damp blanket of heat and humidity. Being outside is only tolerable for short periods until it rains. When it rains, the overheated ground vaporizes the drops and suddenly another weighted blanket lands on top of you and things get really dark.

The afternoon I found my 2002tii, there was no cast central in Florida – pretty close to 100 degrees with even humidity – but that day, I didn’t care. In the backyard of a farm I had visited thousands of times as a child, the car sat with its nose down on a dirty concrete slab.

Green and gray lichen, sand and mold gave the brownish little car a fuzzy appearance, and a flat Dunlop as old as Nirvana’s last record gave it a sad slant. The remains of generations of bugs hung on long-abandoned cobwebs throughout the interior and in the grimy engine compartment. But upon slamming the driver’s door, the smell, as unmistakable and clear as it was 25 years ago, rushed back. It wasn’t just a 2002tii barn find, it was my 2002tii. Even if it took me a quarter of a century to call it mine.

And after?

a close up photo of the 2002tii badge on the back of the burgundy BMW.  the car is in the middle of a deep cleaning and the bodywork is covered in soapy water dripping from the car.

Photo: Zach Bowman

The car is in excellent condition considering how long it has been on and the ugly looking fuel tank. After picking up the car, I made a pit stop in Knoxville, Tennessee, on the way back to my home in Virginia. With the help of two friends and a few trips to the parts store, I was able to get the car started and running for a few seconds. After two and a half decades of slumber, my BMW came to life without protest. It’s going to take a lot more effort to get it to work and drive reliably, but after all this time, I can look that dazed little kid in the face and say, “You did it.” Pinch me.


Aaron Richardson is a recovering editor who lives in Staunton, Virginia. He is currently the editor of the online magazine side-by-side UTV driver, and a former contributor to Motorcyclist, Autoblog and many others. When he’s not writing, his 1974 BMW 2002tii, half a dozen motorcycles, and his 1990 Ford F-150 keep him busy.

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