Turbo Fever

Story by Retromod Staff

Photography by Zach Mayne

When it comes to cars, just like a lot of other things in life, our expectations and reality aren’t always entirely copacetic. Take the original BMW 2002 Turbo. There is no denying it was a ground-breaking -even revolutionary- car for its maker. Like the legendary Porsche 930 Turbo from the same era, the 2002 Turbo helped legitimize the use of forced induction for increasing horsepower and torque. Turbocharging has practically become the rule rather than the exception for modern cars, providing more performance and superior fuel economy

But while the 2002 Turbo’s forced induction motor may have been impressive for its day, drive one now and you’ll likely be somewhat disappointed in the performance of its turbocharged motor. The turbo M10 came on boost around 4,000-rpm and produced about 170-hp, a figure that provided entertaining if not scintillating performance.

Southern California BMW enthusiast and hot rodder Mano Aguilan built this 2002Tii into a formidable performer by utilizing the same basic approach of the original 2002 Turbo. There’s a turbo M10 under the hood and the exterior mimics the looks of the original ’02 Turbo thanks to the addition the model’s cool looking fender flares. But he dialed the performance up several notches in the process.

The BMW arrived at his shop as a tired but running and driving, square taillight 2002Tii. The engine had already been rebuilt, so the head was removed and rebuilt with heavy-duty valve springs before being bolted back on with APR head studs and a thicker Cometic head gasket. In the process, the thicker head gasket lowered the compression ratio to a more turbo suitable 9.0:1.

A hybrid turbo was provided by Comp Turbos in San Dimas that uses a smaller housing than the one on the original 2002 Turbo. Inside the housing is a smaller compressor wheel for more progressive boost delivery. And unlike the original Turbo, which had the turbo mounted down by the exhaust, Aquilan mounted the turbo to the side of the top of the engine. It’s not only easy to access for maintenance but looks cool. Custom piping delivers exhaust gasses to the turbo before exiting out of a 2.5-inch stainless steel exhaust with a Magnaflow resonator and muffler.

Fuel delivery is provided by the Tii’s original Kugelfischer mechanical fuel injection, though it was adjusted to provide more fuel to the engine. The cold start injector has also been replaced with a 750-lb Bosch unit. ECU tuning specialist Split Second installed and programmed a controller that relies on vacuum signals and RPMs to control the amount of fuel being delivered. Most importantly it delivers the most fuel when the throttle is wide open. Aguilan says that Split Second's tuning of the controller allowed for a smooth running motor with a relatively flat torque curve throughout the powerband. An aluminum Ireland Engineering radiator was installed to ensure reliable cooling. Elsewhere there is an oil cooler as well as intercooler fitted with silicone hoses.

In order to ensure that the 2002 could handle corners as well as it ate up straights Aguilan installed a set of custom Groma coilovers. These consist of shorter Bilstien Sport shocks inside of shortened strut housings. The coilovers use 325-lb springs from Ireland Engineering. At the front of the BMW are welded and boxed lower A-arms that are more rigid than stock, an approach that extends to the front subframe as well. Stiffer urethane bushings were used throughout the chassis and there are also adjustable upper camber plates and a strut bar spanning the engine bay. Ireland Engineering provided one of their 22-mm front swaybars to keep the nose planted around corners.

The front, lower A-arms have been welded and boxed with additional metal for added rigidity, as has the front subframe. Firmer urethane bushings have also been installed wherever possible, while adjustable upper camber plates and a strut bar were also added. An adjustable, 22-mm Ireland Engineering sway bar rounds out the front suspension changes.

At the back, Aguilan fitted the 2002 with Bilstien sport shocks and Ireland Engineering lowering springs, an djustable 22-mm sway bar and urethane bushings. Adjustable camber plates have also been welded onto the subframe. 320i vented front rotors work in combination with stock Tii brake calipers. Rounding out the performance upgrades are a set of 15x8-inch genuine Alpina alloys. Fitted with 225/50-15 Khumo Ecstas, the iconic wheels perfectly fill out the BMW's flared wheel arches.

The 2002's interior was also extensively restored, with key changes that vastly improve the driving experience. Period correct Recaro buckets from a BMW 320is that have been recovered in black leather replaced with original slab-sided seats, while the driver steers through a three-spoke BMW sport wheel. There is a subtle boost gauge mounted in the center console to monitor the turbo and of course the rest of the interior received all new panels and carpeting throughout.

M1 Autobody in El Monte, California was entrusted with restoring the BMWs exterior, which was in tired but solid condition when the car came into Aguilan's ownership. Wisely, he didn't stray far from the striking aesthetics of the original '02 Turbo, which BMW got just about perfect. The rare black color of the Tii's body was retained and along with way was embellished with OEM Turbo flares as well as the deeper front spoiler. One subtle change was made to the spoiler, which was trimmed carefully and then moved about 1.25-inches back for a smoother look. The body was further cleaned up by deleting the side markers and chrome trim that normally encircles the entirety of the 2002's belt line. Lastly, an OEM Turbo rear spoiler was bolted to the trunk.

Aguilan's take on the classic 2002 Turbo has resulted in one of the most beautiful '02's we've come across. Since its completion, the car has been sold on to a new owner, but we can't wait to see what BMWs come out of his shop next.