Orange Rush 322whp turbo 1602. With irresistible classic charm and turbo power, this gorgeous 1602 is practically perfect in every way. Words: Elizabeth de Latour Photos: Patrik Karlsson.
322WHP TURBO 1602It must be hard being a member of the ’02 family if you’re not a 2002. The BMW ’02 family is large and varied, with different engines and body styles and they are all undeniably appealing, but everyone remembers the 2002. The 2002 is the popular, older teenager that gets invited to all the parties, that gets the girls, that everyone wants to hang around with. Meanwhile, the 1602, 1502 and 1802 are the siblings that just weren’t as popular, that sometimes get forgotten about because their more popular brother is hogging the limelight, and it all comes down to engines. The 2002 was blessed with the largest engine out of all the ’02 family members and its two-litre four-pot came in a variety of flavours, most notably the tii and Turbo versions. If you’re not fussed about outright performance or, for example, if you’re planning on doing your own thing with the engine, then it doesn’t matter which version you buy as they all deliver the same classic charm and appeal and that was exactly the thinking behind Niclas Ågren’s purchase of his 1602.
For Swede Niclas, BMWs have long been a passion but the newer machines leave him cold and, for him, it’s all about the classics. “Ever since my dad bought his first E34 525i I was hooked on BMWs,” he grins. “There´s just a feeling of power, precision and quality in perfect harmony that I haven’t got from any other car brand.
I have never been interested in the newer models of any brand though. Anyone with money or a big loan can go and buy a new car. That doesn’t impress me a bit,” he smiles. “My kind of car people find their own little piece of motoring history and put their sweat, blood and souls into it.
Either by restoring it to its former glory just as it rolled off the assembly line or they do what I do and put their own personal touch on them. Either way, we all share the same passion for something that a new car lacks, a story, a soul and they are mechanical not digital,” and that’s about the most profound statement of passion for classics we’ve ever read.
Unsurprisingly, there have been numerous BMs in Niclas’ motoring past, all falling within the 1960-2000 age band that he’s okay with, starting with the E36 325i Coupé he had as his first BMW, and he’s never been shy about modding his machines either. “I have always modified my cars to various degrees. But my first real project car was a 1984 E30 320i that I was modifying into a M3 clone. Not a replica, a clone, with all original body panels, S14B23 engine etc.,” he says. “I had almost all the parts and was about four years into the build when I found out that the M3 C-pillar add-on had become NLA from BMW. After spending a long time trying to find one I then decided to sell all the M3 body parts and scrapped the shell.”
A disappointing end to an exciting project but Niclas hadn’t give up completely; “I kept the S14B23 engine and bought my first 2002. It needed a lot of work and was not a runner. After a few years I decided to sell this car and find a more solid shell and start over but before that I made some interesting modifications. For example I transplanted the complete gearbox tunnel from the E30 project into the ’02 body.
“I decided to make sure that everything else around the engine itself was of high quality and increased the power gradually… I am now up to 322whp and 300lb ft without any issues”
It was amazing how well it matched the contours of the floor,” he says. “I then bought my second 2002. This time one without rust, a decent paint job and Group 2 flares and front spoiler. I mounted the M3 engine, modified the tunnel to accommodate the Getrag 265 gearbox etc. The aim was to build a potent track day racer, however, I ended up selling this car before completion and I’ll explain why later,” says Niclas, and the end of that build brings us neatly to the beginning of this one.
“While I was building the 2002 ‘M2’ Group 2 track car I thought: ‘Hey, I have owned two 2002s but I have never actually driven one. Why not get another one that actually runs that I can have as a summer cruiser while I build the race car? That way I can get a good idea about how they are to drive. That will help when deciding how to modify the race car.’ So I began to search for a cheap, drivable ’02 for sale and that’s when I found this orange little beauty,” he grins. “It was about 40 minutes from home. The body was in decent shape and all the bits and pieces were there. And it was a runner – not exactly a sprinter but hey, I changed that later on,” he laughs. “Anyway, all the mechanical components were in a sorry state. Everything was worn out, faded, oily, jiggly, wobbly etc.
But I loved it!” he exclaims and it’s easy to see why as the classic charms of the an ’02, any ’02, are impossible to resist and, finished in iconic Inca orange, this 1602 was about as charming as they come. “I had planned for it to be a little side project from the race car build. Fix all the issues it had little by little and leave it stock. As most of you know this is how most projects start. Then they grow into something else. ‘Just a little more power wouldn’t hurt’ right?” laughs Niclas and that’s pretty much exactly what happened.
“Step one was to make her a bit more roadworthy,” he explains. “That meant a complete overhaul of the drivetrain and suspension, all OEM spec at first. Then I found an M10B18 from a 1987 318i at a good price and thought it would be a good improvement in both reliability and power. When installing the new engine I found that the original wiring loom was chopped up when the engine was removed from the E30. So I decided to install a Megasquirt ECU instead,” he says. “It now performed well as what I first intended it to be, a summer cruiser. But at higher speeds the revs were way too high, so it was time for a five-speed conversion; I made all the necessary modifications and put a Getrag 245 in it and that fifth gear sure makes a huge difference.” So far, so sensible, but this is where things start getting exciting. “At this point I have to tell you that I am part of a crew of drag/street racers called Skogen Racing. Some of you may have heard of us? We are most known for turbocharging old Fords and trying to get as much power as possible for as little money as possible (without being cheap),” Niclas says. “I have always been a BMW guy myself and most of the Fords built in recent years have had BMW engines swapped into them. So, naturally it wasn’t long before I was talked into turbocharging the 1602 as well. You know, nothing fancy.
Just throw something together from stuff lying around in the garage, right? Well – no! I can’t do something that way. If it is worth doing it’s worth doing right!” he grins. “But now I suddenly had two project cars at once. One for the track and one for the road. And at the same time I was about to be a father for the first time. So I had to make some prioritising. I quickly came to the conclusion that the S14-powered track car would have to go. It would just be too expensive if anything went wrong with it. The M10 is quite a bit cheaper to repair as you can imagine. But I sure do regret selling the S14 engine in hindsight,” he sighs, but looking at this epic 1602 that he’s created there really can’t be much in the way of regrets.
When it came to the engine, Niclas knew exactly what he wanted: “The plan was to make it a reliable, clean build with enough power to put a big smile on my face as soon as I put my foot down. Quality and attention to detail was paramount,” he says with conviction. “In true Skogen Racing spirit I have left the internals stock. The only major engine upgrades are the Cooper ring head gasket and the ARP head bolts so that it can handle the boost, which is currently dialled-in at 30 psi. Since I am running it on E85 there is no need to lower the compression rate either,” he explains. “Instead of going out and buying forged rods and pistons etc. ‘just in case,’ I decided to make sure that everything else around the engine itself was of high quality and increased the power gradually in order to find any weak spots that would break, and then upgraded the components that did break. I am now up to 322whp and 300lb ft without any issues,” he says.
“I believe that as long as you have a good ecu (EMU EcuMaster) and a really good tune, you can have good reliability without having to completely rebuild the whole engine with really expensive parts.” While Niclas may not have gone overboard on this engine build, he has put together a superb power plant with nothing but the best components. The sturdy M10 sits on Group N engine mounts and is boosted by a GZ-1835 turbo sitting on a custom manifold and hooked up to a Turbosmart 38mm wastegate and blow-off valve, breathing through an M54 electronic throttle body (the old M50 TB is still in the pics), with a custom-made exhaust system at the other end. There are Bosch Racing ignition coils and 1300cc fuel injectors, which run off a custom-made TG Racing fuel rail while a Deatschwerks DW300 in-tank pump supplies the go-juice. “When building I have always tried to make sure that nothing looks out of place, like it doesn’t belong. It’s quite obvious that it isn’t stock when you lift the bonnet.
But, as much as possible, I’ve tried to keep it stock-looking. Nothing fancy, just clean,” Niclas says. The aforementioned Getrag 245 ’box has been uprated with the addition of a six-puck 228mm sintered clutch disc and Sachs 618 pressure plate, with power being sent to an E21 323i 40%-locking LSD via a shortened propshaft.
With BMW never envisaging any member of the road-going ’02 family ever having to deal with this level of power, the classic chassis has naturally received a number of modifications to ensure that it is capable of coping with the power now being produced by that M10. “I am far from done when it comes to suspension and chassis upgrades,” explains Niclas. “As it was when the pictures were taken it had standard shocks and cut lowering springs.
As I am writing this I have mounted BC Racing coilover struts to the front suspension and reinforced the control arms. In the coming winter I will do the same in the rear. The E21 323i limited-slip differential will be joined by 323 trailing arms and driveshafts as well as rear disc brakes,” he says. The drop in the photos is seriously good, getting the little 1602 sitting lovely and low, with those gorgeous BBS RSs looking absolutely perfect against that bright orange bodywork. Niclas actually got hold of a set if 6.5x15” BBS RMs first but, when these staggered RSs came up for sale, he had to have them. As he says: “You can’t go wrong with BBS RS rims. They are timeless.” Nestling behind the tightly-packed white mesh centres of the wheels are Girling four-piston calipers up front, clamping E21 323i drilled and grooved discs with EBC Yellowstuff pads and braided hoses.
While the engine and chassis have received plenty of attention from Niclas, the exterior has been left in a rather more natural state, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. “BMW did a pretty good job with the styling so I don’t want to mess with the classic look too much,” smiles Niclas. “I mounted a Turbo-style spoiler at the front and the earlier all-chrome rear bumper. Since my main focus up to now has been on power and handling I haven’t done a whole lot on the outside of the car yet, but I have some things planned for it in the future,” he smiles. The interior, meanwhile, is almost virtually stock but there are changes, if you know where to look. “Inside the car I have the same philosophy as under the bonnet: stock-like appearance but upgraded to a higher standard,” says Niclas. “The seats are taken from the slightly more modern E21 model. I have replaced all the gauges with modern digital yet stock-looking ones from Speedhut. When pushing these old cars past their comfort zones performance-wise you have to know that you can rely on your gauges, and the 45-year-old-plus originals had become a bit wobbly,” he laughs. “The old original steering wheel has been replaced with a much sportier one from Momo called the Prototipo, a timeless classic when it comes to steering wheels,” and it’s the perfect choice.
Niclas has been working on this delightful 1602 for almost nine years now and, good as it might be, he’s far from finished; “The plan is to do all the major upgrades during the winters and have it ready to be driven every summer in order to avoid losing interest due to trying to do it all at once, like I did with the previous project cars,” he says, sensibly. “I have already mentioned some suspension upgrades that are coming. In the engine department I am going to replace the turbocharger in order to make it spool a bit faster and earlier. And maybe a bit more aggressive camshaft would be in order too. Then it is time to do some bodywork. I am working on modifying four VW Golf Mk1 arch flares to fit the ’02’s body, resulting in a 4.5cm width increase per side. That will make room for wider outer lips on the BBS RS alloys. Then some basic rust repairs and a new paint job, and then about a thousand and more other things after that,” he laughs.
“You never get done when working on cars. You just move on to the next thing,” he adds, and that’s something we can all relate to. If that’s everything that he’s got planned, what about the money-no-object mods on his wish list? “I don’t think we have sufficient room in this article to get in to that,” he laughs with a shake of his head. What he has done is created an absolutely gorgeous 1602 packing a serious turbocharged punch, the perfect blend of stunning classic looks and surprising performance, and the end result is an utterly charming, completely irresistible and practically perfect classic that is impossible not to love.
DATA FILE Turbo 1602
ENGINE 1.8-litre four-cylinder M10B18, Cooper ring head gasket, ARP cylinder head bolts, GZ-1835 Turbo, custom-built turbo exhaust manifold, Turbosmart 38mm wastegate and 38mm blow-off valve, M54 electronic throttle body, Bosch Racing ignition coils, crank pulley/trigger kit from 02again.com, Bosch EV14 1300cc fuel injectors, custom-made TG Racing fuel rail, Deatschwerks DW300 in-tank fuel pump, SPD fuel pressure regulator, SPD fuel filter, flex fuel sensor, AN fittings throughout, heavy-duty Group N engine mounts, custommade 3” to 2.5” exhaust system, EcuMaster EMU engine management system
POWER AND TORQUE 322whp and 300lb ft wtq @ 30 psi
TRANSMISSION Getrag 245 five-speed manual gearbox, six-puck 228mm sintered clutch disc, Sachs 618 pressure plate, shortened propshaft converted from fourto three-bolt flange against the gearbox, modified shift linkage, custom transmission cross member, 40 % locking E21 323i LSD
CHASSIS 7.5x15” (front) and 8.5x15” (rear) BBS RS wheels with polished lips and white centres, 185/45 (front and rear) Nankang NS2 tyres, BC Racing 45mm E21 Coilovers modified to fit, polyurethane bushes, boxed front control arms, Wiechers Sport strut brace (front), 2002 anti-roll bars, E21 brake master cylinder, E21 320i front hubs, Girling four-piston calipers with E21 323i drilled and slotted discs (front), Yellowstuff brake pads, steel braided brake hoses
EXTERIOR Inca orange, Turbo-style front spoiler, early-style all-chrome rear bumper
INTERIOR E21 seats (front and rear), Momo Prototipo steering wheel, Speedhut.com gauges, custom gauge panels and centre console, Kenwood KMM-BT302 head unit, Cerwin Vega 2x 6.5” 320W speakers (front), 2x 6x9” 350W speakers (rear)
THANKS Skogenracing, Mikael Skogsberg, Jocke at GZ Racing, Anders Börjesson, my family and friends
Turbosmart 38mm BOV. M10 runs a GZ-1835 turbo boosting at 30 psi. Shiny all-chrome rear bumper. Momo Prototipo steering wheel and E21 seats. OE-look modern gauges blend-in perfectly. Gorgeous 15” BBS RSs. Turbo-style front spoiler adds a bit of aggression. SPD fuel filter.
“BMW did a pretty good job with the styling so I don’t want to mess with the classic look too much. I mounted a Turbo-style spoiler at the front and the earlier allchrome rear bumper”