When unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1973, the 2002 caused quite a stir – or is that whirr? – for two reasons. Big news was the claim of being the world’s first turbocharged production car, while the other publicity came from controversy surrounding its styling: the fastened-on arches, deep front spoiler and reverse ‘Turbo’ script had a German safety and speed activist group and parliamentarian, who deemed the car too aggressive for road use, up in arms. This was somewhat remedied by the removal of the front text before series production began in January 1974.
Turbocharging was a known thing but in production car terms it was in its infancy – so much so that the 02 version was touted as the world’s first turbocharged production car. This in itself is very debatable, with the 1962/63 launch of the Chevrolet Corvair Monza and Oldsmobile Jetfire passenger cars somehow flying below the European radar. Whatever the case, turbos were not new to BMW’s motorsport division.
As the 1960s drew to a close, BMW’s saloon car racing programme started suffering against newer competition with more modern technology. The trusted 2-litre had been developed to make 130 horses, but more was needed. Initially an increase in capacity seemed like the only option but this meant using Siamese cylinder bores which, fearing reliability issues, chief engine designer Alex von Falkenhausen blocked. The fitment of a six-cylinder was considered, but engine bay dimensions saw this idea scratched from the list. With no other option, the idea of a force-fed 2002 race car project arose. In 1969, the works entries with 270hp on tap did well enough on track (winning the European Touring Car Challenge) to inspire Von Falkenhausen to start working on a turbocharged engine for a 2002 road car. But it wasn’t as simple as bolting on the unit and took until mid-’73 to make it road-usable and reliable.