They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, but “they” have clearly never seen an Inka Orange BMW 2002. Few BMWs pull at the heartstrings more than an Inka 2002, and when this one showed up on my digital doorstep, I decided a little insanity was in order.
Inka Orange is to the BMW 2002 as Henna Red (Hennarot) is to the E30 M3, or Laguna Seca Blue is to the E46 M3. It is one of those colors that define a certain model more than any other hue. So when a good friend, enthusiast, and fellow motoring journalist called to offer me his 1976 Inka 2002, I was obliged to say “Yes.” We have traded a half-dozen cars over the years, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. He disclosed its issues and sold it at a price that allowed for some room to fix them. But classic BMW maintenance can best be described in the words of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who actually pimped the saying from NASA); there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. When the Inka 2002 showed up, we didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction under the hood, but I knew there would be a few of those unknown unknowns.
On the day it was delivered, it was so cold outside that the delivery truck’s fuel lines froze, and I had to deliver diesel by the galloon in oil jugs to the stranded truck in the middle of the road.
At first glance, a patina’d 1976 2002 doesn’t rank high in the hierarchy of the desirable 2002 order. The later square taillights and offensive U.S. impact bumpers aren’t as tidy as those of a small-bumper “roundie.” This car wore the scars of age; the front spoiler was peppered with rock chips, and the body was littered with scratches and dents. The bumpers were removed, leaving large holes in their place and a comically long exhaust pipe tip that was gunning to bruise the shins of those who dared walk too close. Worst yet, Colorado’s emissions are more stringent for the 1976 model year, meaning it would be a nightmare to get it through. Add an unknown unknown in the form of a carburetor overhaul, along with a few other ailments, and the budget ballooned into the realm of insanity. The Inka car seemed like a bust.
But there was just something about this 2002 that made it all okay. All of those rock chips had a story to tell and were an honest representation of a car that was loved and enjoyed. They added the perfect amount of patina, the kind you are proud of when people notice it at the gas station. Underneath that patina was some proper 2002 hardware; a (now freshly rebuilt) Weber 32/36 carburetor, headers, a five-speed gearbox, a limited-slip differential, and fourteen-inch E30 basketweave wheels.
Inside, it boasted E21 Recaro seats, a Momo steering wheel, and a California rag-top. Sunroofs are valued in the 2002 community, the opposite of a slicktop in the E46 M3 community. This is foolish, as 2002 sunroofs are a nightmare; they always leak and rarely work—and if they do, it’s just a matter of time before they don’t. Then when they decide to jam and stop working, the paint on the upper surface of the sunroof panel inevitably gets scratched.
After we got the Inka 2002 running smoothly, it took no less than four attempts to get it to pass emissions. Then I added a little icing to the cake in the form of a set of cloth orange Recaro Gradient seats that my friend had sold to me before buying the car. Adding orange to orange only made it pull at the heartstrings harder. It sold quickly to another friend, and I even got the Village Bicycle back in return. But before it left, I asked to spend a few more days with it.
If beauty lies in imperfection—which it does—then this little Inka 2002 is breathtaking. It is the kind of 2002 that is impossible to walk by in the darkness of the shop without stopping to spend a quiet moment staring at it. I’d find excuses to take it for a drive. The California top was absolutely sublime; I’d open it no matter how cold it was outside. It’s not the fastest 2002 we’ve ever had, but it didn’t have to be—my face still hurt from smiling on every drive. I always say, you never see a 2002 driver without a friendly smile on their face. The five-speed gearbox and the limited-slip differential made it exponentially better than the stock setup—every 2002 should have this combination.
After a week or so, and as many trips to the emissions station, I was ready to relinquish it to its new owner. While I’ve owned dozens of 2002s in rare colors over the years, there was just something about the little Inka car that made it stand out. It was not the perfect example, but like a rescue dog, that only made me love it more. It was a sum greater than its parts, one that is the essence of what a classic BMW should be. Perfectly imperfect, fantastic to drive, and one that pulls at your heartstrings in a way no other car can.—Alex McCulloch