It all started back in February 2019: I had a layover in Houston, Texas. and met a friend there who had a collection of flamboyantly colored BMW 2002s. I was there to look at several of his cars, but when I walked into his polished-floor garage, there was one that stood out from the others like a beacon—a turquoise beacon. There is just something about turquoise blue on a 2002 (say that three times quickly).
Turkis, as it is more commonly known by its German color code, made the other vividly colored 2002s look downright pedestrian. I was captivated by it. I didn’t end up buying the car then, but it would come to me a year later with a trio of 2002tii’s.
When it showed up on the truck in Colorado, I had high hopes for it. Although it wasn’t perfect, maybe it would pull at somebody’s heartstrings, just as it had mine. Even today, I can’t fault my optimism: a “roundie” tii in a rare color—what could possibly go wrong?
The thing is, certain 2002s can be especially difficult to sell, or maybe I’m just not very good at selling them—or maybe it’s both. If I’m honest, I despise the act of selling cars anyway. I would much rather let them speak for themselves and connect with the right person organically. The downside to this approach is that it can take a significant amount of time and chance for the right connection to occur, a situation made even more difficult by nuanced colors and high prices.
I bought the Turkis tii in the mid $20,000-range and spent about four more grand bringing it up to par. I was hoping that I could make a few thousand selling it in the low-$30,000 range. It would be a fun car to own for a little while either way. No, it wasn’t perfect; it had a few rusty spots, but nothing terminal as far as 2002s go. The engine was not numbers-matching, but the car did come with lots of recent maintenance records and a few recent upgrades, parts like H&R springs, Bilstein dampers, and FPS tii wheels. I figured that it would make a great entry-level tii for someone.
I was wrong.
It took me a little over six months to get the car sorted and listed, and once I did, I heard nothing but crickets. Over the six months that followed, the phone probably rang that many times, and the people who did call were clearly uninterested. Sensing their lack of enthusiasm, I spent more time convincing people that it wasn’t the car for them than actually trying to sell it (it’s a good thing I fly jets for my day job).
I am patient, however, and despite the extended timeframe and subsequent loan-interest accrual, I chalked up the monetary outflow to paying to enjoy the car a little longer (there could be worse ways to lose money). And enjoy it I did during fair-weather late-summer and autumn days last year.
Until calamity struck and the engine dropped compression in one cylinder.
Although now clearly going to be a money-loser, the loss of compressions was actually a blessing in disguise; I would much rather catch things like this on my side of the transaction than the other way around. But now I had a decision to make: Do I sell it as-is at a much lower price (full disclosure, of course), do I rebuild the non-numbers-matching engine that’s already in the car, or do I swap in something else, like an S14 or M20 engine from an E30? No matter what, I would be spending money to lose money, which is never a good feeling.
Then a compelling solution presented itself. Another friend of mine had a 2002tii with a healthy engine and a five-speed swap. The body of his car had been damaged, but the internals were in good health. His price was reasonable, and I didn’t feel guilty putting a five-speed transmission into an already non-numbers-matching tii. The only hitch was time; none of this would happen quickly, but the interest clock had already burnt a large hole through any potential profit, so I figured what the heck, let’s do it.
Another six months, and the Turkis tii was back—and better than ever. The new engine pulled strongly, and the five-speed made it much more drivable in the modern world. Indeed, driving the little Turkis tii around caused an uncontrollable smile to blossom across my face. It had a truly special presence, like a rescue dog that showed up one day with few details about its storied past, some of it good, and some of it bad. And like a rescue dog, it had misbehaved, but we were on good terms now.
Or at least I thought we were.
I planned on taking the car for a nice drive to Sedalia, Colorado, in order to drop off some parts. The route was scenic, and the roads, once I got out of town, were wonderfully twisty. It was a great opportunity to take it out for a rip, and sniff out any lingering squawks after the engine swap. The weather was starting to turn, but all of the storms were coming out of the northwest; if I was expeditious about getting on the road, I could beat the weather and enjoy some spectacular scenery in the process.
I loaded my parts and hit the road just as the first raindrops started to fall. The little Turkis tii felt hungry as we worked our way south. We put a nice gap on the line of cells crossing Colorado’s Front Range until hitting a four-lane major artery north of Denver. Traffic was thick, but driving a 2002 is always a pleasure, and I was smiling proportionately. The radar showed a nasty cell bearing down behind me that could spit out some hail, but my timing looked optimistic enough that I would miss it, as long as traffic didn’t come to a complete stop.
Then calamity struck again. I was in the middle lane approaching a busy intersection when the shifter stubbornly stuck in fifth gear. I thought quickly as traffic overwhelmed me like a tsunami; it could be the shift linkage, the shift platform, or the detent pins within the gearbox. As horns blazed, this was no place or time for diagnosis; the little Turkis tii and I were in grave danger. It was just a matter of time before someone plowed into me.
I pulled, tugged, massaged, and pleaded with the shifter to move into anything but fifth gear, but it refused to budge. My attention was broken by the sound of screeching oversized tires and the word RAM rapidly filling my rearview mirror, but luckily that one missed me. Worse yet, that thunder cell had turned red on the radar and was bearing down on me fast. I needed to move—and move now!
Pushing was not an option, because I needed have a foot on the clutch pedal to disengage the transmission. I would have to drive the car, and the clutch would have to be the sacrificial lamb. I started the Turkis tii and started slipping the clutch to lurch it along from a standstill in fifth gear. You wouldn’t think it, but with just the right amount of in-and-out on the clutch pedal, an M10 engine will happily start in fifth gear and even get up to a speed where the engine isn’t bogging if you are methodic and patient. God help you if you have to stop again—which I inevitably had to—but I was making progress. To make matters worse, I could see hail falling from the cell now—and it was getting closer.
I knew of an abandoned parking garage several blocks away. With a little bit of green-light luck, I could probably coax the Turkis tii undercover—if the clutch would just hold up. If it worked, I could save the car and myself from being rear-ended, and perhaps even belucky enough to avoid the hail. I begged the clutch to last and willed the lights to stay green. Come on, come on!
With the last green light, I made it—and I got the car under cover just as the first large raindrop started to fall. They were soon followed by Skittle-size hail, and then mothball-size hailstones, with a few potential golf balls mixed in for variety. Phew!
Sheltering in the concrete fortress, I rode out the storm to the smell of a burnt clutch, but both the Turkis tii and I had survived intact. A security guard eventually shooed me out, but by then the storm had passed. I was tempted to say, “I’m not parking here, I’m abandoning!” but discretion won the moment. I left the Turkis tii in another parking lot and got a ride from a friend to grab my Ford Excursion and trailer. I had the Turkis tii safe and sound back at the hangar by dark.
Maybe it’s fate, maybe it’s the universe, or maybe this little Turkis tii just doesn’t want to leave me. Whatever it is, I have no one to blame but myself. I saw something in this car that nobody else seems to, and it’s done nothing but hurt me for it ever since. But like any toxic relationship, I just can’t seem to leave it. For now I’m going to walk away for a few days, and then I’ll get it in the air and suss out the problem, along with a new clutch in the process.
How long our toxic relationship lasts remains to be seen, but for now, I’m not quite ready to leave.—Alex McCulloch
[Photos courtesy Alex McCulloch.]