While the brand new 3-Series is the fourth generation of cars to carry the 3-tag, the car that started it all was the 2002 (and 1602) of the late 1960s and early ’70s.

At that time, BMW needed to expand into new niche markets, and a range of light but powerful compact two-door cars was seen as the way to go.

Powerful and agile, the “02” cars soon built up a huge following and set new standards for small cars. They were the weapon of choice for many enthusiastic drivers and competed with great success in touring car races in many countries.

They even made appearances at Bathurst with some reasonable results, despite the field in those days being categorised according to the retail price of the car, rather than engine capacity.

Of the 02 series, BMW certainly saved the best till last with a model called the 2002 Tii. Launched here in 1973, the 2002 Tii used the same, elegant bodyshell of its two-door relations. And although the shape was utterly familiar by the mid-70s, it hadn’t lost its appeal and still managed to look fresh.

Specifically, the slender roof pillars, large glass areas and lithe overall dimensions gave an impression of light weight and no small measure of athletic ability.

And for once, looks weren’t deceiving because the 2002 was nothing if not quick and light on its feet.

The interior continued the theme with a low scuttle and an airy feel, despite the black plastic used for the dashboard. A standard tachometer backed up the theory that this was a proper driver’s car.

You could also argue that the Tii started the whole Euro-look thing with the abolition of just about anything shiny. The grille, for instance, was painted black and much of what would have been chrome on other cars was either painted or finished in stainless steel for a satin look.

Power came from a two-litre four-cylinder; a capacity that was considered at the time quite large for such a small car.

Even today, two-litres seems a lot of engine for something with the 2002’s exterior dimensions, but BMW wasn’t stopping there.

Rather than use carburettors, BMW specified the Tii model with mechanical fuel-injection. Add a single overhead camshaft to that lot, and suddenly you had a genuine hot-rod on your hands.

There was no automatic version of the Tii, and a four-speed, floor-shifted manual was the only gearbox ever fitted.

Independent suspension all round meant the 2002 was a tidy handler, to say the least, yet still managed to ride better than just about any other small car of the time.

Load one heavily and the rear wheels will splay out at fearful-looking angles, but, generally, the on-road behavior won’t produce any surprises at all.

A good Tii will still point and handle well, too, and although some of the suspension components will eventually wear out, a car that has had routine maintenance can still feel surprisingly tight.

Beware of smoky motors that could be indicating a need for expensive work. Any major noises from the engine also demand suspicion and the best bet is to get an independent BMW specialist to give the car a once-over before you part with the cash

The Tii model lasted until September 1975, when it was phased out and the first generation 3-Series took over. And if you take a hard look at the first 3-Series, you’ll see more than a hint of the 2002 in the way the window line, bonnet and general proportions work.

Finding a good, clean 2002 Tii in 1998 is the biggest hurdle to ownership and, like many cars of the era, the ones still left fall into two distinct categories.

They’re either completely clapped out, rusted and full of dents, or they’re meticulously maintained, probably reconditioned by now, and, even if they’re driven regularly, are driven by people who care.

Obviously, a car from the latter category is the only one worth buying and although you’ll pay considerably more, it’s worth it in the long run – just ask anybody who has ever owned an elderly European car.

You’ll find scruffy examples for around £500 or so, and this is an awful lot of money to pay for something that is unworthy of your attention to start with.

Better cars start at closer to £2500, and £4500 is not over the top for something that’s tidy and in reasonable mechanical shape.

Minters with a service history and not a blemish to be seen are closer to £7,000 and tend to change hands within the BMW clubs that dot the country. By the way, clubs are the best place to start searching, as club members will be aware of any good examples that up for sale.