On 7 March 1966 BMW’s CEO, Gerhard Wilcke, celebrated the company’s 50th anniversary by introducing a smart new two-door coupé to appreciative guests at the Bavarian State Opera House in Munich. Called the 1600-02 it was small, agile and clearly capable of taking more power than its four-cylinder 1573cc 85hp engine delivered and spoke to a whole new sector of the car-buying public. It marked yet another first for the Bavarian-based business. Not surprisingly, it would not be long before the latest BMW tin-top would be joined by a sporting cabriolet version.
Karosserie Baur is a coach-building business based in Stuttgart, the capital of South West Germany. It is renowned for its links with the German motor industry; both Porsche and Mercedes-Benz have factories and museums in the city. Baur was established in 1910, the family registering a patent for the manufacture of folding hood mechanisms for luxury vehicles soon after. By the 1930s the company had created a reputation for high quality craftsmanship over building specialised car bodies – it signalled the start of its legendary links with BMW.
In the early post-war years Baur was responsible for building the cabriolet bodies for the elegant BMW ‘Baroque Angels’. Another German company with strong ties with BMW was Karmann of Osnabruck and by the 1960s it was manufacturing the bodies for the elegant 2000C and 2800CS Coupés. With the launch of the ‘02 saloon it seized the opportunity and built a prototype convertible based on an ‘02 body but the proposal was not accepted by Munich.
Almost from the outset BMW’s business parameters involved high quality engineering design throughout the range ensuring that even base models encapsulated best-of-breed handling, ride and performance as well as deriving the greatest revenue from each version; the two-door 1600-02 model was no exception.
When Karosserie Baur put forward its proposal for a convertible version of the two-door ‘02 Munich took up the suggestion with alacrity. It was a model that would attract yet another sector of BMW customers. Moreover, the complexity of transposing a saloon bodyshell into a full soft-top version stepped outside BMW’s mainstream assembly processes and was ideally suited to Baur’s quality hand-built craftsmanship. Apparently, BMW had already considered the possibility of producing a cabriolet version of the larger Neue Klasse saloon. Styled by head of design Wilhelm Hofmeister his proposal used an all-new bodyshell mounted on the monocoque body platform of the four-door saloon. But the notion was discarded on cost/volume/revenue return grounds. In contrast the opportunity to maximize on the ‘02 model by releasing a soft-top version from the Baur factory aligned with BMW’s policy to expand the model range.
In 1967 Baur created a prototype using an ‘02 saloon as a basis. Part of its charismatic appearance relied on a foreshortened rear deck/boot area. However, possibly on cost grounds, after careful consideration BMW rejected the rear treatment. It then reconfigured this section using standard ‘02 hind quarter panels and displayed the car at the Frankfurt Show ready to accept orders.
With the go-ahead from Munich in September 1967 Baur began offering the 1600cc ‘02 cabriolet for special order, each car being almost unique, built to the customer’s demands, assembled from partfinished shells supplied by Munich. It was a complex process. Baur began by dismantling the outer sill panels and inserting additional strengthening sections to give the bodyshell torsional rigidity and stiffness. Then the roof, complete with B-posts and rear pillars, was cut away before much of the interior was retrimmed. A Baur-made collapsible hood was then added, which could be stored behind the rear seat for fresh air motoring. The result was a remarkably pretty car, the sleek ‘02 lines lending themselves surprisingly well to the radical transformation. However, on the road some observers suggested that despite the added metal strengthening the convertible ‘02 still suffered from scuttle shake over uneven surfaces and did not align with BMW’s ‘driver’s car’ reputation.
Significantly, all 1600-02 convertibles were left-hand drive and none were exported to the States. In 1971, a 2.0-litre version was introduced though this option was ceased prematurely after only months of manufacture, the greater performance potential revealing the structural deficiencies of the Baur body changes even more.
However, BMW was not blind to the attractions of an ‘02 soft-top and an alternative was considered. Almost immediately Baur released a targa-top version. The assembly process for the Targa involved adding a 16 gauge sheet metal plate between the inner and outer sills. Next, the rear section of the roof from the B-post back complete with screen was removed, attaching a new B-post and roof panel, which included opening rear quarter lights. The rear three quarter panels and screen were replaced by a folding canvas roof complete with Perspex window. To make way for the Targa ‘lid’ a section was cut out from the roof. To restore structural integrity bracing was added to the perimeter of the remaining roof bodywork and braced to the windscreen frame. Also, changes were made to channel rain water from the roof to the hood bin and exit via holes in the sills. Finally, the centre sections of the Targa’s seats were recovered in a hounds tooth material and the seats themselves were installed slightly lower in the floor pan to compensate for the lower roof line.
This clever conversion allowed the car to be driven with the Targa roof section in place, saloon-like, the Targa roof to be removed and stored resting on purpose-built supports in the boot above the luggage, or with the rear window/hood lowered and stored behind the rear seat. In acknowledgment of the association of the name Targa with Porsche in Germany, the BMW was titled the Top Cabriolet while in the UK it was known as the 2002 Convertible; production began in June 1971.
The prototype 2002 Top Cabriolet was displayed at the Amsterdam Motor Show in early 1971 with production starting in April. Sadly, sales of right-hand drive models was slow and production ceased ahead of schedule while manufacture of LHD cars carried on until 1975. Worthy of note was that Baur’s work was time-consuming, done largely by hand, which meant that a car leaving Munich just before the introduction of a change in specification could mean that it was already out of date by the time it reached its eager owner. Perhaps reflecting this craftsmanship prices were just under 15,000DM for the first Targa and 16,215DM for the last square rear light models.
Finally, while the US is usually reckoned to be the largest market by far for soft-top cars the impact of the book Unsafe At Any Speed published in 1965 had a major impact on the sales of sports cars on the American automotive market with the very real fear that open cars would be banned altogether in the future. While this did not happen it did affect the planning schedule of European sports/convertible car manufactures during this period. Companies like Triumph and Jaguar for instance ceased offering soft-top cars for a period. This could explain why no Baur BMW ‘02s were exported the States.
Standing admiring the glorious bronze coloured 2002 Targa belonging to Michael Oben he begins by telling us something of his background. “I was born in Maidstone, Kent,” he recalls. “My dad was always interested in cars and when it first came out he bought a brand-new BMW 325i from our local dealer. It was fantastic, fast even by comparison with other cars of the time. It gave me the aspiration to have nice, unusual cars myself when I grew up.
“My first car was a very early dark green Mk1 Ford Escort 1100cc,” continues Michael. “I got interested in rally driving and I began to participate myself. My friends and I used to follow the career of a local rally hero, John Taylor, who was sponsored by Ford main agent Haynes in Maidstone and he became the first European Rally Cross Champion. It was because of John that I got the urge to drive fast and I joined a local driving club. I then had some racing lessons, but was told by my teachers that I was too aggressive.
“My first sports car was an MG Midget and then I had two further Midgets and later three TR6s before moving on to a Triumph Stag. The Baur came in for sale at Kent High Performance Cars, a garage owned by a friend of mine. The owner was looking to trade it in against a Ferrari Testarossa! The first thing I noticed about it was its unusual colour, it really stood out. When I drove the Baur for the first time I was so impressed. Only minutes beforehand I’d just got out of a Triumph TR6 and it was a much nicer car to drive, it handled, rode and steered so much better. It was a pleasant surprise.
“I like BMWs because they are reliable and they do what they say in the advertisements,” reflects Michael sagely. “Nowadays, I don’t drive the Baur from one month to the next. But, when I do I get in, I pump the throttle a couple of times, pull the choke out a little way, turn the engine while pulling the choke out fully and it will start straight away. On the road it will easily keep up with modern traffic. The car gives the dual experience of saloon-like luxury with the Targa roof panel in place and an almost sports car-like sensation with the lid stored in the boot. One particular memory I have is when my wife and I took the Baur to a friend’s wedding. I think it was almost a case of the guests looking at the car and not at the bride. Often, people will walk past other classics to look at the Baur.”
Michael’s Baur BMW was built in 1973 and was the first right-hand drive car with square tail-lights and a plastic grille insert to be imported into the UK. The build details also indicate that there were far fewer of these later square rear light cluster cars made, making his BMW rare indeed. However, Michael would love to clear up two questions: what happened to it between 1973 and its first registration in 1975 and why is the colour, which appears to be original and unique, not listed in BMW’s paint catalogues? Mysterious.
“When I bought it there was a small dent in the offside door and a degree of surface rust. After looking around for a paint match we repaired the affected areas and resprayed the bootlid and the door. Also, the engine had been fitted with a Weber carburettor and wasn’t running very well. Graham Juffs at Bee Emm Workshops in Chart Sutton near Maidstone changed it to an original 40 PDSI twin choke Solex type and immediately the car began to run properly.”
Sadly, however, Michael’s Baur is up for sale as it has to make room for restoring his E-type Jaguar. “It’s just something I have to do,” he concludes. When Motor magazine road tested a 2002 in June 1968, it said simply: “We thought it to be an outstanding car.” Praise indeed. What made the car so desirable was that it successfully married several characteristics into one: comfortable and accomplished long-distance tourer, economic round town urban transport and sporting coupé with the acceleration to put many equally-sized engined cars to shame. In transforming the 2002 into a Targa model none of these attributes were lost, with the added bonus of the chance of fresh air motoring when the opportunity permits.
Climbing in behind the wheel and the 2002 Targa exhibits a compact yet comfortable interior giving a hint of the enjoyment yet to come. Quality controls mixed with attention to detail in design exhilarate the impression. Ahead of the driver’s eye line is a threegauge binnacle with speedo, rev counter and supplementary dials for temperature and fuel with knobs on either side for wipers, choke and so on. A usefully deep shelf runs the full width of the dashboard with a glovebox, which drops down, on the passenger’s side. Beneath is a neat centre console which houses the heater controls and radio.
The front seats in the 2002 are well shaped to give good lateral support. However, Baur located the seat squabs low down relative to the side windows and windscreen. Another drawback is the height of the fixed steering wheel while the pendent footbrake and clutch pedals are set high above the floor pan making heel-and-toe changes a little awkward.
The in-line four-cylinder OHC BMW engine is always a joy to start as it bursts into raucous life at the twist of the key. Equally delightful is the knife-through-butter action of the gearstick; into first and balancing power and clutch take up is creamy smooth as we move off. Reaction from the throttle is immediate and it’s easy to see how the road test report spoke of a 0-60 sprint of just 9.2 seconds, going on to reach a creditable 107.4mph at full gallop.
Up through the gears and the decisive gear lever action encourages you to use it to derive the best from the car. Another pleasurable experience is the clutch which, despite having to cope with 116lb ft of torque at 3000rpm, is far from heavy in action. For the 2002 model BMW uprated the final drive to 3.64: resulting in useful top end speeds in the intermediates and a long-legged feeling in top; ideal for fast cruising on the motorway.
In 1990cc form the engine producers 100hp at 5500rpm resulting in good response. With only a slight increase in pressure on the throttle the 2002 reacts with a satisfying surge and a noticeable push in the small of your back.
On its release much was made of the ‘02’s market leading suspension design; independent MacPherson struts with lower wishbones up front with trailing arms, coil springs and dampers at the rear aided by anti-roll bars fore and aft, the setup giving supple yet accomplished ride qualities while good damping characteristics result in lurch-free cornering instilling the driver with confidence in the car.
With the Targa ‘lid’ and rear canvas roof in place this version of the 2002 gives draught-free almost saloon-like motoring. Remove the top and drop the rear hood and the car is transposed almost into a sports car with the enjoyment of an open air world while at the wheel, who could want for more?
Michael Oben, Graham Juffs, Bee Emm
Workshops and Richard Stern at the 02 Register: www.bmw2002.co.uk
Sadly, sales of right-hand drive models was slow and production ceased ahead of schedule
|ENGINE: M10 Four-cylinder, eight-valve|
|MAX POWER: 100hp @ 5500rpm|
|MAX TORQUE: 118lb ft @ 3500rpm|
|0-62MPH: 10.9 seconds|
|TOP SPEED: 106mph|
|FIRST PRODUCTION RUN OF RHD CARS: Round rear light models, chassis numbers 2791001 – 2791266 (January 1973-July 1973): 267 cars built|
|SECOND PRODUCTION RUN OF RHD CARS: Square rear light/plastic grille models, chassis numbers 3595001-3595094 (September 1973-January 1974): 94 cars built|
|SPECS OF SECOND PRODUCTION RUN: Square rear light cluster, black plastic grille, simulated wood facia, four-spoke steering wheel. Lux option introduced with improved trim, simulated wood veneer window sill strips, glove pockets on doors and arm rests|