Lifelong Escape

Photo of Jeff Brinker's restored BMW 2002

An Original Owner’s 2002 Odyssey

By Jeff Brinker

Photo of Jeff Brinker's restored BMW 2002.My odyssey began with the 1968 Road & Track Road Test of the new BMW 2002. I was finishing high school in Easton, PA, and had struck a deal with my parents that if I accepted a full scholarship at Rutgers (rather than a more expensive Ivy League), they would buy me ‘half a car’. Although they had in mind a VW, I have been infatuated with BMWs ever since teaching a girlfriend to drive a 1600. The introduction of the 2-liter 2002 in 1968 set in motion a 2002 odyssey that continues to this day. As a freshman engineering student, beyond reading and re-reading the R&T article like an issue of Playboy, I got a 5 to 9 PM job at UPS loading trailers. By the end of 1969, I had stashed away $2K for my half and convinced my mom to buy the other half of a 2002. From Easton, we journeyed to Taylor Motors in Ottsville, PA, and ordered a 2002 in Riviera Blue with a $300 deposit. On March 5, 1970, it arrived (Serial No. 1669418)! We paid the balance of the $3450 sticker price plus $199 in tax and drove away.

Continuing to work at UPS to support my ‘2002 habit’, I immediately began modifying the car with ‘bolt-on’ accessories and components: a walnut gear shift knob, Cosmic 13 x 5 1/2 aluminum wheels, fog lights, a header, Abarth exhaust, Bilstein shocks, and twin Weber 40 DCOE carburetors. With those mods, the car was pretty quick. I remember racing around on back roads with a Porsche 911T. We got pulled over, and, when the police officer left, the Porsche driver remarked, “That is the fastest Renault I have ever seen”. 2002s were very rare (and unrecognizable to most) in the early 1970s, and lights were flashed and horns beeped upon encountering a fellow 2002 driver.

My thirst for performance remained insatiable, and in 1971 I discovered Foreign Cars of Hunterdon in Lebanon, NJ, whose slogan was Power by Ziereis. Ziereis was Hans Ziereis, an SCCA champion driver of Porsche 356s in the 1960s who switched to BMW 2002s in 1969 to compete in the U2L Trans Am racing series, providing BMW with one of only two Trans AM victories at Bridgehampton in 1970. Ziereis mentored me in driving and all things mechanical. He told me the best way to increase performance was to install a racing seat and a good set of tires, and I soon installed a one-piece Recarro seat and a set of Michelin XASs. The pinnacle of performance was achieved in those early years (1973, with the odometer reading 48,924) when Ziereis performed an engine job where he rebuilt and recontoured the head and replaced the rings and rod bearings. I never dyno’d the car, but it readily kept pace with the new Porsche 914/6s.

My graduate studies detracted my attention from my car in the late 1970s. A low point in performance occurred in 1978 when a bolt or screw somehow got sucked into cylinder 2, ruining the head and causing other collateral damage. I managed to find a head and, with fellow graduate students, rebuilt the engine in the engineering parking lot, but the head and performance never matched Power by Ziereis.

In 1979, I moved to Albuquerque to work at Sandia Labs, keeping my 2002 garaged and using it as my daily driver. I had routine service performed by Gerhard Motors and Dieters, and in 1984 I had my 2002 re-manufactured by Automotive Import Recycling in Belvidere, NJ, removing rust and repainting it Bronzit (ugh). SW Collision Craftsman re-painted it Iceland Green in 1991. My car remained garaged until 1998, when, needing to transport kids, my wife and I decided to get a second AWD vehicle. Relegated to the driveway in the NM high desert, my 2002 deteriorated and became infested with pack rats. I tried to keep it running, but eventually it just sat covered but unstartable—a depressing sight.

Photo of Jeff Brinker and Kevin Worley
Original Owner Jeff Brinker left and Restorer Kevin Worley right.

Finally, in 2020, I resolved to restore my car to the appearance and performance it possessed in its heyday. I garaged it and began looking for a restorer. Luckily, my wife, driving her new X3 M40, got a rock chip. To fix it, we went to Sandia BMW, where a Saturday Wheels and Coffee event was in progress, with several restored 1600s and 2002s on display. There I met Buddy Lorio, who had driven his newly restored 1600, and Kevin Worley of Worley Works, who had performed the restoration. It was immediately obvious that Kevin was very experienced with 2002s and extremely meticulous. Over the past 3 years, Kevin has conducted a bolt-by-bolt restoration of my car. First, the car was disassembled and repainted ‘Alpina style’ by Old Car Garage with the original Riviera Blue on the engine and trunk lids and Polaris Silver everywhere else. The engine was transported to Ronin Motorworks in Fullerton, CA, where it underwent a complete rebuild, including forged 9.5:1 pistons, a 292 cam, a header, PerTronix ignition, and a lightened flywheel. Installed with twin Weber 40DCOE carburetors, it now dyno’s at 125 whp at 5500 feet, equivalent to over 160 bhp at sea level. Meanwhile, Kevin rebuilt the suspension and drivetrain with Bilstein Shocks, Ireland Engineering sway bars and coil springs, a Volvo big brake kit, a Getrag 245 close ratio 5-speed transmission, a limited slip differential, and Yokohama Advan/Fleva 195/50 R15 tires mounted on Panasport 15×6 wheels. To keep it all cool, we installed a Champion aluminum radiator. As a final note, Kevin had every nut and bolt used in the rebuild plated, giving the engine compartment the look of a Swiss watch.

Engine Compartment Photo of Jeff Brinker's restored BMW 2002.
The bolt-by-bolt restoration included completely rebuilding the engine.

After fifty-three years, 2002 is back! Thanks to Kevin, its appearance and performance exceed Power by Zeireis. Let the Odyssey continue with new escapes.

Sunset photo of Jeff Brinker's restored BMW 2002.

Article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of BimmerLife Magazine