You may recall seeing an Inka Orange ‘73 2002 making its way around the internet a couple of weeks ago. It’s BMW CCA member Dorian Hicklin’s restomod 2002 project that was recently featured on Jay Leno’s Garage. As the story goes, in April of this year, Leno saw Hicklin leaving the Autobooks event in Burbank, California and flagged him down to check out the car. Its vintage racecar appearance and quality construction makes such an impression that it even piqued the interest of one of the world’s most well-known and knowledgeable vehicle collectors and enthusiasts, Jay Leno. One thing led to another and two weeks later Hicklin was in Leno’s studio garage, filming an episode about his ‘73 2002 for Leno’s online series. Is that cool or what!?Given that Dorian Hicklin is a BMW CCA member, it was the perfect excuse for BimmerLife to reach out to him and find out more about his background and what went into his stunning 2002 build. Hicklin, a career Lighting Professional, is currently a member of the Los Angeles Chapter of BMW CCA and has been a club member since the mid 90s. He remembers joining the club because he liked Roundel magazine and would source parts from the classifieds (before all of that was available on the Internet).
His first adventure into the world of BMWs was purchasing a one-owner 320i (E21) in Kashmir Gold. Hicklin recalled, “it was hit in the back rear quarter by a deer, but just seemed to have a good history. I found it in Autotrader when I was all of nineteen years old, and wanted to get a European car for the handling. I worked with my Dad to bang the quarter panel out and paint it. The car was really great–I drove it and had it for a couple of years.”
After the experience with the E21, Hicklin stepped back a generation and bought his first 2002 with the intent of fixing it up and flipping it. He said that he “gravitated” toward 2002s and “fixing them up and flipping them became a hobby,” which explains why he’s had 40 of them over the years, four of which are still in his possession. Hicklin added, “These were cheap cars back then–they didn’t cost a lot of money. The next thing I knew I had five of them. I started working on them, I rebuilt a couple of motors, and just started going from there. There’s not a lot on these cars that I haven’t done myself. Aside from a tii fuel pump rebuild, gearbox rebuild, and a rear differential rebuild, I think I’ve done everything else multiple times.”Hicklin was first introduced to his now-celebrity ‘73 Inka Orange project through a friend that he used to buy, fix, and trade cars with. He said, “my friend had the 2002 for twelve years and it was originally put together by 002 Salvage. When I bought the car it was rough and really tired, but I liked the car and it had character. It was just one of those projects that kept being put outside and moving from shop to shop. I decided that I wanted to rescue it.” After Hicklin bought it, life got busy and it sat for about five years before he did anything with it. You know how it goes; work, life, and other projects need attention.
While Hicklin has taken the lead role on all of his other projects, he said, “I wanted to do a deep dive on the ‘73 2002, but I knew I didn’t have time to do this one solely myself.” The project got a jump start when Hicklin met Shad Essex at the SoCal Vintage BMW Meet in 2019, an event that Hicklin attends and helps with regularly. Hicklin recalled meeting Essex at the 2019 SoCal Vintage: “we talked and I was interviewing him to make sure he understood the cars and the history. Shad had been working in a race shop and had a lot of experience with 2002s, so we partnered up on this one. Originally we were going to build it together, but [when the pandemic hit] the majority of the work ended up being done by Shad. I had a vision of what I wanted the car to look like; I knew what I wanted it to be. As a builder, Shad contributed a lot of great things to it. It was really nice to have Shad as a partner and for him to understand my vision and get it right.”
BimmerLife reached out to Shad Essex to get his take on this recently viral 2002 build that he helped turn into a reality. Similar to Hicklin, Essex has also been a BMW CCA member since the 90s. When he wasn’t a Chief Engineer on a fishing boat in Alaska, he grew up working on and restoring 2002s, 3.0 CSes, and other older BMWs with his brothers saying that “turning wrenches was just in their blood.” After buying his first 2002 in ‘97, Essex said, “I attended a high-speed-driving event at Laguna Seca and all bets were off. We started pulling all the dead weight out of the cars, putting cages in them, and running with groups like Historic Sportscar Racing West and Vintage Auto Racing Association (VARA).” He took a job at D’Motorsports building vintage racecars for Monterey Historics for about ten years, then moved to Los Angeles where he currently resides.Essex said that he and Hicklin bonded over what kinds of cars they liked and that they had similar tastes. While the original plan for this build didn’t involve taking it to this level, once the car was stripped down they saw that “Mr. Goodbones”, a nickname they gave the car, had virtually no rust or rot, the project evolved. Essex added, “a lot of care went into making all of the modifications on this project revisible.” As an example, he described reusing the under-hood bracket for the diagnostic port on ‘73+ 2002s for a bump start button that can be used during valve adjustments and other engine work.
Essex’s favorite part of the build is the interior. With the exception of the fiberglass on top of the car’s retrofitted CSL dash, Essex hand made everything out of aluminum. That includes the door panels, rear seat delete, and more. Essex said, “I love hand bead rolling and making the pattern look the same as the original panels–polishing where the trim would be, then masking it all and painting it black, so it looks like a standard panel.”When I asked Hicklin what his favorite part of the build was, he answered, “The inside experience of the car is really a joy. The GTS seats with air lumbar support, the steering wheel, which is a limited-production-run piece based off the wheel in a friend’s vintage Porsche racecar, and short-shift five speed–it all fits together so nicely. To me, a 2002 is a car that I can get into and it will always feel like home, but when you sit in this one you know it’s special.” I think the entire package of Hicklin’s Inka Orange ‘73 2002 is excellent, but like Hicklin and Essex, my favorite part of the build is the interior. The CSL dash, the exposed floors and transmission tunnel with long Forest shift boot cover culminating with a drilled shift knob, the custom GTS seats with details color-matched to the car’s paintwork, the bead-rolled door panels, the rear-seat-delete panels covering the fire suppression system–it all works so well together. Hicklin commented, “even Jay [Leno], when he flagged me down, said he really liked the interior.”
Hicklin is very much a person to “give credit where credit is due,” as he put it. While his vision for this build was a period-correct restmod B-Sedan 2002, this was the first car he didn’t completely build himself. He said, “there was a great team involved in this project.” In addition to Shad Essex, there were a number of other organizations and individuals that contributed to this ‘73 2002 build. Bimmerheads built the motor, which consisted of an increased-displacement M10 and performance-built head with uprated lifters, springs, and camshaft. The dual 45 carb setup was rebuilt by his friend and Alfa expert, Hector Vasquez. Hicklin had a number of conversations with Ground Control Suspension Systems regarding his goals for the suspension setup, and they delivered a great product. BMA Auto Parts was very helpful for sourcing parts. Joseph DeMeo handled the vehicle’s chrome.Some of the pieces for this build were pulled from Hicklin’s own parts stash. This included a now-discontinued Mason Engineering strut brace. Hicklin also went to the BMW parts bin for the five-speed manual transmission and limited-slip rear differential, which came from an E21 3 Series. The period-correct Compomotive multi-piece wheels came on the car when Hicklin bought it, but like everything else on this build they were refinished. The brakes came from an E12 5 Series. Given that this 2002 was built to where it could pass VARA tech inspection and that Hicklin says he plans to take it to the track at Willow Springs, the beefy brakes will come in handy with the amount of suspension and drivetrain work that has gone into this car. And it will sound great doing it with the center-exit Alpina-style Supersprint exhaust. Despite being on opposite coasts and connecting via phone, talking to both Dorian Hicklin and Shad Essex felt just like being at a local car event and meeting new friends, while discussing their automotive passions and experiences. Hicklin and I ended our conversation with him giving me a teaser about his next project. “Originally I was just going to wrap this car (the Inka Orange ‘73) and make it a fun cafe-style driver, but once you have a car soda blasted you have to take it to a higher level. This is a precursor to what will be coming next, ” Hicklin said. I’m quite excited to see where this goes!
Want to see this beautiful build yourself? Hicklin says that he plans to attend both the San Marino Motor Classic Concours and SoCal Vintage BMW Meet later this year, bringing both his Japanese-spec E30 M3 and the Inka Orange ‘73 2002. Being a true automotive enthusiast, I’m sure he’d love to chat about his projects and yours, so stop by and say hello! —Mike Bevels
[Photos courtesy of Dorian Hicklin and Shad Essex.]