For decades, most of my automotive energy was directed at finding well-priced 2002s that had good bodies but were cheap because they needed one major repair that sidelined the car. A bad transmission, a blown head gasket, a seized engine—something like that. As the years passed and the value of these cars rose dramatically, finds like this became akin to Bigfoot sightings. I mean, when most of the value of the car is in the shininess of the paint, the condition of the body, and the interior, why would you sell it cheaply? You’d either get it fixed, or do a little research and find that the hit on the value isn’t that significant if the rest of the car is in good condition, and that someone would likely pay real money to buy it and fix it themself.
The situation is the worst with round tail light (a.k.a. “roundie”) 2002tiis. Built and imported only in 1972 and 1973, the mechanically-fuel-injected roundie tii is easily the most desirable version of the 2002 that was sold in this country (yeah, yeah, shut up—turbos, tourings, and Voll cabriolets weren’t available through Max Hoffman’s dealer network). All factors being equal, a roundie tii is worth nearly twice a carbureted round tail light 2002 in comparable condition. There were also big-bumpered, square tail light tiis in 1974, but they don’t have the cachet or the value of their perky roundie sisters.
So there’s basically no such thing as a shiny solid round tail light tii being sold at an affordable price because it needs work.
The ad showed up on the Facebook “BMW 2002 Classifieds” and “BMW 2002 Buy Sell Trade” pages. A fellow named Bobbie Morrone posted the car with the following story and description:
“Hey all. After much consideration I am selling my 1972 BMW 2002tii project. I found this car in a barn a while ago and ended up purchasing it with a non-tii parts car that a friend is saving. This car, in my opinion, is a great candidate for a patina driver. I am swamped with other projects so am regrettably selling. I believe the car was last on the road in ‘93. Have the plate.
-VIN: 2760322 (very early vin for a ‘72 car)
-Clean title in my name
-Nose has been replaced with snorkel nose
-Engine block is not original
-Engine is locked up (atf and acetone are soaking as we speak)
-“121″ cylinder head
-Non-original patina paint (hood is the worst)
-Original early plastic intake runners
-Car rolls and steers
-Wiper linkage damaged (replacement included)
-Has rust but overall pretty solid. Car was stored on gravel over plastic, so moisture wasn’t eating away at the under side while it sat.
-Original 13×5 tii steelies with new tires
-I also have an m42 dropout available for extra coin if that’s your thing. I personally think the car deserves to stay M10 powered.”
The photos in the ad appeared to show a nice-looking largely-original Riviera blue tii with shiny paint, a nice worn-in interior, and a bit of rust-through visible on the left rear shock tower. I was stunned that no one had grabbed it. The fact that it had a seized engine allowed me to entertain using the free-spin card of the tii engine I’ve had sitting underneath the back porch for years. It’s the later engine with the E12 head and the metal intake plenums, but still, its presence dramatically reduced the risk to me as a potential buyer.
I commented on the Facebook ad that I was shooting Bobbie a private message, which immediately started speculation that of course I was buying the car (a few years ago when I bought my fourth 2002, someone snapped—in a mostly good-natured way—at me online saying “Hey, Rob, leave some for the rest of us!”).
I swapped a few messages with Bobbie, saying that I live in Boston (the car was in Indiana) which complicated matters but didn’t make it impossible, and I’d be interested in photos of the undercarriage. Bobbie immediately FB-messaged me the other photos he had of the car. They showed that the gestalt of the car as having pretty shiny Riviera paint was a little too good to be true (for example, the hood appeared to have been red and repainted Riviera, presumably from the same incident that caused the nose to be replaced, and had deep scratches through which the red shined), but still, the car looked very cool.
Rust-wise, I was excited by the photos Bobbie sent me of the undercarriage. The car looked way better than just “good bones.” Below are some of the frame rail and floor shots.
Rust-through-wise, in addition to the left rear shock tower, there was bubbling at the bottom of the right quarter panel, at the corner of the right door, and the rear edge of the left door. Additionally, there was a rust hole at the back of the left rear wheel lip, some weakness at the back of the left frame rail, a small rust hole at the bottom of the left rear quarter panel, and two small rust holes on the bottom of the right rocker. Still, in the big scheme of things, that’s not bad. Below are the pics of these rust-through areas. Obviously, it was better if these holes weren’t there at all, but for the price, this was still way better than expected. A photo of the underside of the left rear shock tower didn’t show that the top rust had broken through. To me, this looked like the kind of car that you could drive almost indefinitely without sinking money into rust remediation as long as you kept it dry.
I was very clear with Bobbie that I was still wrapping my head around it. “Don’t think ‘Rob’s buying it.'” I cautioned. “When it reaches that point, I’ll be very direct. In the meantime, if someone else wants it, don’t wait for me. All’s fair in love and vintage cars.”
But the more I looked at the photos, the more attracted to the car I was. I put in an email to the guy I use for shipping—Garry Thomas at Gartho Logistics—to get a shipping quote for the dead car. It came back at $900, which was cheaper than I would’ve thought.
I called Bobbie and we had a long conversation. I could see from his Facebook profile that he’s a guitarist in a jazz trio. We talked at length about that, and how performing musicians’ lives were completely upended in March 2020 by COVID. I asked if he had family. He said he has a long-time girlfriend who’s very supportive of his musical and his automotive endeavors. I knew I was dealing with a kindred soul when he said that sometimes she tells him that, when he’s trying to sell a car, he’s so honest that he scares people off, a comment that my wife has made many times over the decades. “Marry that woman!” I said.
Eventually the conversation turned to the car. He told me a story that I was vaguely aware of—that the car had been for sale on Facebook a few years before. It was part of a hoard of cars a guy had. Bobbie went over there to buy five E30s, saw this one in the barn, and was on the guy to sell it to him, but the deal was slow to consummate. Apparently, the “oh all right it’s yours” call came when Bobbie was, coincidentally, in a car with Jake Metz, who was my enabler in the whole Ran When Parked adventure with my ’72 2002tii, “Louie.”
Bobbie explained that he’s really an E30 guy—he owns an E30 M3 and has an E30 parts business—and that he just has too many projects to deal with the tii. I explained that I’m not a collector, nor am I someone who flips cars. Rather, I buy cars that speak to me, cars where my interest and the car’s story and vibe align. If I think that I—who is a mechanic but not a bodyworker—can help a car be the best version of itself, and if the car can live part of its life with me where I nurse it back to health and it provides me with grist for the mill of content, then we’re a good fit for each other. This Riviera tii had both of those written in giant letters all over it. I asked Bobbie to confirm that the title he has is blank—unsigned and undated.
Eventually I asked the question I often come around to, whether it’s in-person or long-distance—”What do you need to get for it?” Bobbie said that three people had offered him eight grand, but no one had closed the deal yet; they were all still looking at financing and shipping. I told him I’d call him back in a bit.
I looked at the photos, and the light bulb went on: I’d be an idiot not to buy this car right freaking now.
I called Bobbie back less than ten minutes later and got his voicemail, so I texted and messaged him “Let’s do it.” He rang me back. I said that I’d send him a deposit via whatever means he wanted, and would similarly pay him the balance. We had a deal. I was psyched. I had my winter project lined up. And I’d finally have a use for that long-sitting but unseized tii engine. I began to think about how I’d get the dead car from where the shipper would likely drop it off two streets over (my street is too small for a multi-level transporter) into my garage. I guess I’d need to roll it as I did the Lotus ten years ago. I realized I’d forgotten to ask if the handbrake worked.
Then Bobbie did something astonishing: He said “I want to make sure you’re happy with what you’re buying, so do you have any other questions? Are there any other areas you want photographed? You did see the bit of rust where the front floor pan goes into the wheel well, right?” I looked in the photos and did not see that area. Bobbie said that either Facebook Messenger had dropped the pics or he’d messed up.
I said “Since you’re asking, just to be thorough. Yeah, sure—could you pull up the rear seat and photograph the sheet metal around the rear subframe attachment points? 2002s don’t hide their rust like E9 coupes do, but this is one area where the rust is often more visible from under the rear seat than it is from under the car.”
Later that afternoon, Bobbie sent me a message that said “Well, my day just got a lot worse. Proof that ignorance is bliss.” It contained this odd photo of the right rear subframe mount from under the seat.
It’s not even clear what you’re seeing here. Below is the area zoomed in.
Clearly the sound-deadening material has been pulled away from the area. Is the metal around the actual subframe mount point at the top of the photo cracking? Did someone pull the sound-deadening away in preparation to weld up the area? It’s difficult to tell. Bobbie said that he didn’t see any rust or cracking visible from under the car. I often wonder about “ran when parked” or barn-find cars. People usually don’t simply park running cars that they love. There’s usually a reason, and it’s often that the car needed some expensive repair. On Louie, my own ’72 2002tii, it took a few years of ownership for me to realize that the reason it was parked was almost certainly because it had a cracked head that was dripping oil onto the exhaust manifold. Of course, this car did have a seized engine. Did it seize from sitting, or was that why it was parked?
Unfortunately, there was more. The photos of the back of the front left inner wheel well were more troubling than the ambiguous one of the subframe mounting point.
When zoomed, the problem is apparent. The area above where the wheel well joins the floor pan is rusted clean through.
A different view from near the front hub into this same area can be seen below. That looks like a three-finger hole at the junction of the rocker panel, the floor pan, and the wheel well.
Now, to be clear, none of this materially alters the description of the car, or even changes the rosy and often self-deluding nutshell that it has “good bones.” It still looked like a solid extremely well-priced project tii that you could revive and drive without dropping what used to be house down payment money into rust repairs—that is, as long as you didn’t delude yourself into thinking otherwise. But eight grand—nine with shipping—is still a lot of money, and when you don’t do bodywork (or even when you do), a car with rust has a slippery slope. I’m not really one who does the “underwater” calculation, but combined with the seized non-numbers-matching engine, the non-original non-tii snorkel nose, the red paint coming through the hood, and the fact that a car sitting since 1993 will need everything, this area of rust-through put it over the line for me both logically and emotionally.
I wrote up a detailed description of what I was seeing, explained that it put the car just outside what I was comfortable buying, that it still looks like a great car and his price was still quite reasonable for what it is, thanked Bobbie for his outstanding interaction, and messaged it to him. He replied “While I have to make money selling E30 parts, the money is secondary to building relationships, as it’s really what’s important. Selling cars can be stressful, but trudging an honest path, showing the car exactly as it is, and trusting your instincts and trying to see yourself on the other side of the transaction is better for everyone. So, even though it often results in a slower sale, the car more often than not gets into the right hands, which is important to me. I totally understand the rust assessment, and am just genuinely glad we found that before the car arrived in front of your home and you were unhappy with a purchase. If you ever need a hand in the Midwest, I have a lift at my warehouse and am happy to help.”
What a stand-up guy. I told him that his honest approach represented the absolute best of our corner of the world, and that it would be my privilege to buy him multiple beers whenever we meet.
Predictably, two days later, I had second thoughts. Equally predictably, I checked the ad, and the status had been changed to “sold.” I messaged Bobbie, and he said “Yeah, there was a #2 guy to you who was jonesing for it. Once you were out, I sent him all the photos I took for you to him, and he still wanted the car. His good friend is his wrench and will be getting it back on the road. I also found him a solid tii engine. It would’ve been fun to read about your adventure with the car, but I totally understand your perspective with the rust. If all car enthusiasts knew where to draw the line… it would really shake up the markets :^)”
So, my hat’s off to you, Bobbie Morrone. You don’t have to be an old guy to have old-school values.
Now, marry that woman!