Restoration Perfection: Todd Kuchel’s BMW 2002

Everything’s civilised at 2500 RPM. Down a gear as the corner approaches, and the crackle and pop reminds you what’s under the hood. Back on the accelerator, and as you power through the corner, you can’t help but smile as the induction noise overpowers the screaming exhaust. What a machine!

It’s hard to believe, I wasn’t interested in cars when I got my licence.

Sure, I knew what Ferraris and Lamborghinis were, and like any Back to the Future fan, had always wanted to own a Delorien.

But of the true motoring passion that lives inside all men, I had no idea. Nor did I know that when I started work and saw the small BMW 2002 on the back lawn of my boss’ house, that it was the car which introduced the world to hot sedans and had saved BMW from bankruptcy, or that fifteen years later, I would have restored one of my own to the best example of its kind in Australia.

Eight years later, and I had spent six days a week working for Nipper, David and Johnny Fechner at Apex Bakery, Tanunda; three petrol head brothers whose personalities resemble the cast of Top Gear, and alongside Luke Reinders, whose company is like a constant injection of motoring passion.

It was an environment of idolizing fast cars and experiencing them.

“I suppose it was only natural that when Nipper came to work one day announcing that he was inheriting a BMW 2002 and asked if anyone would like it, that I immediately said yes.”

The car had belonged to the late, Bruce Thiele, previous ambassador for Orlando, Grand Master of the Barossa Barons and respected member of the community, and had been sitting in his shed for at least ten years, awaiting restoration.

Nipper, having already built many cars in the past, wanted to find the 2002 a good home.

There were only two drawbacks: the car needed a little work and I would have to wait a month before I could even see it.

This gave me time to realise that, besides not sighting the car, I knew nothing about the type of car I had just agreed to buy.

During the month that followed, I gathered all the information I could find on the BMW 2002; discovering that it is one of the most iconic cars in history.

This car had saved BMW from financial crisis and helped the company establish the name it has today.

But best of all, I had learnt that it was a performance car, made at a time when people had thought they needed a V8 to have a fast, affordable sedan.

It was in the early 70’s, that, during the production of the BMW 1600, both BMW’s director of production planning and the designer of the M10 engine had each installed the M10, 2 litre engine into their personal cars.

When they discovered that they had both made the same modification, they took the idea to the heads of BMW and the 2002 was born.

It was the first production car to have its engine upgraded for the sake of speed.

It had a monocoque chassis, independent rear suspension and a two litre engine with 101 hp.

A mechanically fuel injected version called the Tii followed with 130 hp in 1972.

And when they released the 2002 turbo in 1973 with 170 hp, it was the second turbo charged production car in the world.

The BMW 2002’s engine block was also once mated with two cylinder heads and a KKK turbo to create the M12/13 engine.

This was the engine that powered Gerhard Berger’s Benetton F1 car that went on to win the world championship in 1983.

It was the first turbo charged car ever to win the championship, and still to this day, with its staggering 1500 hp, it remains one of the fastest F1 engines of all time.

On top of all this, I was comforted to learn that BMW had just claimed to have all previous parts in production and were in the process of building a 2002 from scratch to prove it.

This meant that I would have no trouble finding replacement parts.

But whilst I agree that all BMWs are nothing short of motoring genius, if I was going to restore a car, I wanted it to become something far more unique.

I had taken a huge interest in the release of new-age retro versions of old supercars, like Singer’s 911 and the E type Eagle.

These are cars that look like their grandparents, but behave like the cars of today.

I decided that that was exactly what I wanted my car to be, not something flashy, but my own, new age version of what I imagine the 2002 might have been, if it were released today.

By the time it came to take delivery of the car I had gathered enough pictures, contacts and information to know exactly how I wanted it to look and run when it was completed. Sadly, my perfect plan came crashing down at the moment the car arrived.

In front of me was a poo-green car that smelt like mice and mouldy fabric. There was rust all over it and not a straight bit of chrome anywhere.

Every gear felt like neutral and on start-up I heard the horrid whine of a broken thrust bearing. The car was a lemon!

Somehow I saw beyond all that, and honestly, in the end, it was these defaults that led to the replacement of every part on the entire car and the reason why it became what it is today.

A week later I had taken the car home, and in one day stripped it down to a running shell with front seats.

I had uncovered even more rust, and had to reattach the number plates to visit every body shop in the valley.

As expected, nobody wanted the job. But they had all referred me to a man named Eric Lange, who does nothing but remove rust and prep cars for paint.

This was perfect for me, as I already had my good friend Adrian Dahlenberg lined up to paint the car.

I admit it took some persuading, but eventually Eric agreed, as long as I was willing to wait until he was free.

At that point Luke kindly offered to keep the car in his two bay shed, so that I could have one side to store the car, and the other for the parts I removed.

Over the next 8 months Luke and I pulled the entire car down to a rolling chassis whilst somehow I still managed to work every morning, then spend every afternoon helping Adrian with farm work and sanding cars in exchange for the paint job to come.

By the time it came to deliver the car to Eric, I had also decided to have him make a few body modifications.

Over the course of a month, he refabricated panels, fixed holes and made numerous custom modifications, making it the only one of its kind.

This included welding up the old door mirror holes so that I could attach the new Talbot mirrors, as seen on the Aston Martin DB5.

From there, the car was trailered to Adrian’s, painted in a two pack Polaris silver and taken back to Luke’s shed.

We then removed the sub frames, and while they were being pressure tested, sand blasted and powder coated, I had all new chassis components shipped from Ireland Engineering, including Bilstein suspension, a four wheel disk brake conversion, custom drilled 15” wheels and a freshly rebuilt E21 LSD.

With the car back on its wheels, it was a completely new rolling shell. Even today, looking under the car, you can see all the colours of the individual parts as you could on that day.

The next delivery was from Roger too. He supplied me with all new cosmetics, from original service stickers to matching ignition and door handles.

At the same time, I had given my engine to DMC mechanical, along with a custom stroker kit from Ireland Engineering, which included forged S14 internals, a Schrick cam and a fuel injection kit for reliability.

With no other choice for perfection, I visited Steve Boem at State-side trim and amongst discussing my plans for the interior, had my dash sent away to be customised and remoulded and purchased enough soundproofing to line the interior.   

A year later I received a completely balanced and blueprinted engine from DMC, looking even better than the day it left the factory.

By then Luke and I had modified my gauge cluster to house the new Autometer guages, designed the required fuel system for the fuel injection, custom built a centre console and with dad’s help, fitted an old set of Recaro seats that would later be replaced.

During the following week, Luke and I mated the engine with a rebuilt E21 Getrag 5 speed and lowered them into the car, ran the fuel lines and wires up the pumps. Finally it was looking like a car.

By this point it was mid-2011. I was set to be married in the following January and liked the idea of having the car in the wedding.

All it needed was some wiring, a drive shaft, exhaust, tuning and the interior. Sounds simple enough, but that’s where the trouble began!

I delivered the car to an Adelaide based workshop that had convinced me of being able to do all of the above, and within a month, so that it could be upholstered before the wedding. But when I returned three weeks later, I found my car pushed to the back corner behind at least ten more cars they had taken on, with little more than half an exhaust.

The long, antagonizing story short is that after countless empty promises, the car was there for two years and I was charged more than triple my quote.

When the car returned, I was already married, had built a house and was spending most afternoons landscaping. The car couldn’t have been further from my priorities. But still, it had to be completed.

Eventually it went to Stateside Trim and as with any other automotive business in the Barossa, I couldn’t have had a better experience.

Steve put together an Italian black leather interior from my design that took inspiration from components of my favourite cars, like the Zonda R, DBS and Weismann GT.

It was all then complimented by a set of new Recaro seats and polished aluminium accessories.

I have no idea how many hours Steve spent, only that each door handle took ten hours alone. And it looks like it did too.

With a new set of Kumho tyres, the car went to Barossa Auto Centre, where Andy Laube modified and perfected the exhaust and Michael Chapman sorted the four wheel disk brake conversion.

Numerous loose ends in the wiring were then sorted out by Jake Alcorn, who also referred me to a freelance Dyno tuner, who did an incredible job.

With 120 hp, and a curb weight reduced to 1 ton, it’s not the fastest car in the world, but in no way is it a slug.

In fact, it’s the perfect ratio for a driver’s car of its age, to be enjoyed on a Sunday afternoon with my wife.

Finally mid 2015 the car was completed.

Now, after 8 years of hard work and determination since that day I first saw the car, I finally have the privilege of opening the garage with the satisfaction of owning a car that I envisioned and built myself.

Simply pulling it out into the sun and giving it a polish is enjoyable enough.

But when that perfect day comes around, when the weather’s nice and the day is free, this car becomes so much more.

The smell of Italian leather is strong as you lower yourself into the snug Recaro bucket seats. The door shuts with a perfect sealing click, and as you turn the key to accessories you hear the fuel pumps whine as they prime.

The leather steering wheel is thick to hold and the polished shifter feels like a chrome cricket ball.

Then without even the slightest flutter of accelerator, the car rumbles to life at the touch of the key and idles with a brilliant rhythmic thump.

Out on the road, it’s civilised; purring along with a nice subtle note accompanied by an occasional supercharger-like whistle from the 45 mm intakes.

But with one back change you feel the revs build up through your entire body and as you extend your right foot, the exhaust explode with the ear-splitting scream we all miss from the formula one days of old and the smile on your face lasts the rest of the drive home.