Car of the Month May-June 2018

John Pauldings “modern 02” (With kind permission from BMW Car magazine June 2018)

John Paulding has been the happy owner of a BMW 2002 for over 40 years. Chris Graham meets the man and his car to discover the roots of the attraction.

Enthusiasts don’t come much more enthusiastic than John Paulding. The passion he feels for his early 1970s BMW saloon evidently burns just as brightly now as it ever did; so much so that in over four decades of ownership he’s remained faithful to his ’02 and never once thought of swapping it for another BMW model, of any description.

Of course, that isn’t to say that he hasn’t tweaked his car over the years. In fact, with his engineering background, John’s been well equipped to tinker with his pride and joy, improving it here and adding extra functionality there. Externally the car remains a standard-looking 2002 but, under the skin, it’s a different story.

“I’ve owned the car since 1975; it’s an early 1973 model so was only a couple of years old when I got it,” he explained to me as we sipped coffee outside his Cambridgeshire village office on an unseasonably hot April afternoon. “I actually bought it from a friend of mine who was a panel beater and it was the first BMW I’d owned. I’d been into Fords up until that point, driving Cortinas and Escorts. But those cars used to give me so much trouble that, eventually, my mate suggested that I switch to a BMW for some quality design and inherent reliability. Then persuaded me to buy his car!

“I was delighted to make the change and ran the Verona red two-door saloon happily as my daily-driver for about ?? years. It was quite an eye-opener for me, switching from those basic Dagenham machines to the undoubtedly more refined vehicle from Munich. In terms of overall quality, there was an enormous gulf between the cars.

“The driving experience was very different, as well; all of a sudden I found myself with a car that had MacPherson struts at the front and independent rear suspension and it was certainly way above anything that Ford had to offer at the time. My job was based in the West End of London in those days, but the car coped really well with the cut and thrust of driving in the capital, and never let me down.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing, as John went on the explain. “As time passed and the mileage built, the car started developing gearbox problems. In fact, it went through a few of them. That was the original four-speed ‘box, and I fitted several replacements but kept getting issues and, in the end, I just got fed up with all the trouble it was causing. Regrettably, it meant that I had to stop using the car as my daily transport, so I put it away in the garage and bought myself a stop-gap which, as I recall, was some sort of Volvo.”

The years rolled by, life went on and the ’02 continued to languish in John’s garage, unused but certainly not forgotten. “All of a sudden, 12 years had passed,” he explained, “and we decided to move from London to a village in rural Cambridgeshire. Obviously, I had to take the 2002 with us – there was never any question about that – but that meant getting it going again.

“So I re-fitted one of the old gearboxes I still had, got it roadworthy and then drove it the 50 odd miles to our new house. Although the gearbox was still a problem, that drive reminded me just how much I’d missed the car, and re-emphasised all the aspects I liked about it. I also realised that the model had started being regarded as a ‘classic’, and all this really rekindled my enthusiasm.”

“Then, in one of those funny coincidences that occur now and then in life, I happened to read about a classic BMW parts specialist company called Jaymic, that was offering a five-speed gearbox conversion on the 2002. Based near Norwich, Jaymic, was swapping the original four-speed ‘box with a five-speed unit from the E21 3 Series, and this seemed like the perfect solution to me.

“So I jumped at the idea and, once the car was booked in, I decided to get the engine rebuilt as well; I had no plans to sell the car, so it seemed to make sense to get the engine sorted at this stage, too. This turned out to have been another good choice as, once they started stripping it down, they told me it was one of the most worn M10 engines that they’d ever seen! I was never sure of the car’s actual mileage as the odometer hadn’t ever worked properly.”

As things turned out, the new gearbox and the engine rebuild absolutely rejuvenated the car, and John was delighted with the results. “I put it back on the road in 1991” he recalls, “and we started using it straight away for family trips all over the UK, plus a few over to the Continent. I also got very interested in other things I could do to the car to make it even better, while retaining an original feel overall.

“My fascination with good engineering combined with my desire to make the car even more usable led me to fit all sorts of goodies over the coming years, all of which have made a real difference to the way the ’02 drives, and the pleasure I get from using it. Always, though, my aim has been to keep the modifications ‘sensitive’ and in keeping with the age of the vehicle, so I’ve never hankered after dramatic power increases or wild, bolt-on bodywork bits. It’s an early 1970s 2002 and I’m happy to keep it looking as such.”

“But the modifications to the car really have become something of an on-going project which continues to progress to this day. I’ve undertaken all but the most specialist jobs myself and have really enjoyed every aspect of the project so far. The list of what’s been fitted is an extensive one, but some of the highlights – in no particular order – include uprated brakes with grooved discs, electronic ignition, a twin-choke Solex carburettor (from an automatic 2002), electronic power steering and Hella air conditioning.

“The car also benefits from electric windows, coilover suspension, a rear strut brace and front anti-roll bar from the 2002 Turbo, Powerflex suspension bushes throughout, Bosch headlamp washers (optional in Scandinavia), Zender front and rear spoilers, tinted glass and a heated windscreen, inertia seatbelts on all four seats, leather upholstery with custom-made front seats, all-metal 25mm flared front wheel arches, uprated 80-amp electrics and a 12V sealed gel battery under the rear seat.

“One thing I’ve never fancied doing was to fitting a twin-light conversion, which I know is a popular conversion for many owners. I’ve always preferred the look of the large, single headlights. However, one lighting change did occur at the back of the car, where I swapped the original round tail lights for the more modern-looking square ones. Also at the back I fitted a period boot spoiler, which I think looks great.”

“The bodywork has endured the past 45 years remarkably well in most respects. However, it’s had a full respray that was carried out in 1984 (I took it back to the original owner for that), and stuck with the original Verona red. The car was treated to a new bonnet, front panel and front wings at the same time, due to a combination of rust and front-end damage. At that time, I couldn’t source a replacement, pressed-aluminium front grille, so had to settle for the black plastic version (from the updated car, which first arrived late in 1973).

“I’ve not found any significant corrosion elsewhere in the bodyshell, and the sills, floors and suspension struts all seem fine. However, the overall rigidity of the bodyshell was thrown into question a few years ago, when the car was on a friend’s two-post lift. I happened to open one of the doors and then found that it wouldn’t shut due to body flexing. This was a disappointing discovery but it set my engineer’s brain whirring, and I came up with the idea of fitting a six-point roll cage inside the car, but hiding it from view behind adapted trim panels to minimise the visual impact.

“A friend of mine is a metal fabricator and, between us, we formulated a design and he set about welding it into place. We used BMW’s drawings from the Cabriolet model as our guide, and fitted triple top hat sections to strengthen the A, B and C posts, a tube across the underside of the roof, joining the B posts, diagonals to brace that, plus another brace across the floor, just ahead of the front seat mountings.

We also stripped-out all the heavy old sound-proofing and replaced it with modern DEI Boom Mat, which is lighter and much more efficient. The bodyshell stiffening measures have made a fantastic difference, and the car now drives like a go-kart!”

Further improvements

While John doesn’t drive the car as much as he used to – it only covers about 1,000 miles a year nowadays, and most of that is to club events around the country – his enthusiasm for tweaks remains as fervent as ever. “I have several exciting projects currently on the go,” he told me. “One of the most interesting is the installation of electronic fuel injection, which has been partially fitted. I’ve installed an Omex 600 Series electronic control unit under the passenger seat and, in the boot immediately behind the rear seat back, there’s a Webcon high-pressure fuel pump and swirl pot assembly plus additional control items. The fuel lines have also been run through the interior of the car to the engine bay, but that’s as far as I’ve got.

“I’ve also got a Webcon Retrojet throttle body sitting in its box in my garage, waiting to be fitted. This houses the fuel injector in a beautifully made, contemporary-looking aluminium assembly, and bolts straight on to the existing inlet manifold. While this set-up won’t deliver any performance increase, it’ll enhance reliability and eliminate the fuel vapourisation problems which can make re-starting a hot such a struggle. The system also incorporates stepper motors to increase the revs and compensate for the use of the already fitted air conditioning system.

“So, the immediate plan is to get the fuel-injection running and properly tested then, if I’m happy with it, I may well upgrade to a twin throttle body assembly that Omex produces, which would deliver a bit of a power increase. Elsewhere, there’s a little bit of bodywork to be tackled. The fit around the doors isn’t great so that needs looking at, as does some rusting along the inside rear edge of the boot lid.

“Of course, it’s easy to forget that the last respray happened nearly 35 years ago, so it’s not done badly, all things considered. In many ways, I regret not using the car more often and for longer journeys. I haven’t been to the international 2002 event in Holland, for a few years, but not for the want of trying. Life just seems to keep getting in the way, although I’m determined to get back to that excellent event again soon. I’d certainly have no qualms about embarking on that sort of trip in the car now; it’s ideally equipped for touring and the five-speed gearbox has made motorway travel more relaxing, pleasant and economical.”

It’s obvious that John remains an owner who is deeply satisfied with his BMW, and who appreciates the car at many different levels. He’s done a great job of bringing an already great design more up to date and now firmly believes that, despite the car’s age, his 2002 doesn’t feel like an old car to him.

“My modern daily car is an X1 M Sport which is a great machine that meets all my needs. But, if I sit in that car and close my eyes, it’s uncanny how similar it feels to the ’02 in terms of layout. The gearlever and major controls all feel as though they’re in the same place which, I guess, proves just how well designed and advanced the 2002’s interior was!

“I really can’t say that, after all these years, I’ve been able to pinpoint any serious shortcomings of the 2002. If I’m forced to be really picky, you could argue that it would benefit from slightly faster steering. Having the option of a rack and pinion set up would be nice, although I can’t honestly say that it’s something that I’m that bothered about. There is a conversion which allows the rack from an E21 to be fitted, devised by fellow 02 owner Nick Vyse, although this is quite an involved conversions that requires fabrication of mountings and steering arms. See https://www.bmw2002faq.com/forums/topic/71202-rack-and-pinion-conversion-question-m2-build/

“The engine has been fine ever since the rebuild and, apart from burning a bit of oil when I switched to a thinner grade, there have been no mechanical issues at all. I carry out all my own maintenance on the car, and will happily tackle a bit of respray work, too.

“I still enjoy driving the ’02 just as much as I ever did; its appeal has never waned which, I suppose, is a testament to the quality of the original design. Of course, I’ve added a few creature comforts, which make my car more usable on today’s roads, but it remains a 2002 at heart, and that’s the way I intend to keep it.”

My mate suggested that I switch to a BMW for some quality design and inherent reliability

That drive reminded me just how much I’d missed the car, and re-emphasised all the aspects I liked about it

I still enjoy driving the ’02 just as much as I ever did; its appeal has never waned

Leave a Comment