A Morning With the Clarion Builds 1974 BMW 2002
I’ve always found that driving someone else’s vehicle is stressful affair. You get in, make sure they’re ok with you adjusting everything to your liking, and even then there’s no guarantee that you’ll be completely comfortable behind the wheel. On top of that, you’ve got to be hyper aware of how you’re driving, how everyone else on road is driving, and how this unfamiliar car is behaving. Even if you’re at the helm of a paid off, decade old Prius—which is pretty much the equivalent of a bumper car. It was with all that in mind that I approached the stunning Clarion Builds 1974 BMW 2002 in a misty Malibu parking lot. The car had been flatbedded up from its home in Irvine so as to minimize the chances of anything unfortunate happening to it. Why the extra precaution? Aside from it being a phenomenally executed one-off-build that won the Petersen Automotive Museum Perfection Award, it’s headed to auction this weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, and all proceeds from the sale of the car will be donated to the Barrett-Jackson cancer research fund at the TGen Foundation. So, in addition to being a museum quality restoration, and a car adored by millions, this vehicle has the potential to save lives by helping fund cancer research. And there I was, about to have a go in it some of my favorite canyon roads on a quiet Monday morning. RELATED: See More of the Iconic BMW 2002
After five minutes in the driver's seat, I was completely enamored with the car. No expense had been spared in the restoration process, it felt completely new, probably even better than when it rolled off the lot in 1974. No doubt this was due to Clarion enlisting the geniuses at CoupeKing to handle the body restoration, a process in which literally every bolt was removed, cleaned, re-plated, and then put back in place.
That obsessive attention to detail is present throughout the vehicle, and you absolutely feel it when you drive it. Top to bottom this car feels tight, and compared to the other 02s I’ve driven, there’s simply no comparison. From the fully reconditioned classic 15x7 BBS RS 001 wheels wearing sticky Toyo R1R rubber, to the period correct Nardi steering wheel, and shift knob, everything comes together to deliver you a pure, and unforgettable driving experience.
All the concerns I’d had when I got into the car were had washed away, and I found myself completely in sync with the 02 after the first couple of corners. I felt the upgraded suspension handled the imperfections in the well-worn road with ease, never once did I think the car was going to become unsettled. I could see everything, the beautiful lines on the hood guided me around turns that I’d taken thousands of times before, but never with this much of them on display.
If there’s one thing that driving an older car will make you realize, it’s how disconnected from the road we’ve become. I like to think that my M235i offers a-lot of feedback, and engaging driving experience, but it felt like a damn tank after driving the 02.
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Climbing higher into the mountains, I became increasingly comfortable with liberal application of the throttle, and for this, I was rewarded with a wall of sound, courtesy of the 2.0-liter 4 cylinder M10 under the hood, and a custom exhaust comprised of a stainless steel header from Ireland Engineering, custom stainless steel midpipe, and Magnaflow muffler. It’s appropriate that Clarion commissioned this vehicle, because you can compose a symphony with your right foot. From a deep baritone at low RPMs, to a raspy howl nearing redline, the vocal range of the 02 is concert hall worthy.
Of course the block is not your average M10; no that would not do at all. Ireland Engineering delivered a 292 camshaft, valve springs, intake manifold, and a multitude of other parts from their catalog. What really sets this particular motor apart though, are the twin side draft Weber carburetors. I could feel the damn thing sucking air when I really got on the throttle, and again, the reward is auditory bliss. Working with a custom throttle linkage, and a bespoke air cleaner from K&N, those Webers are at the core of what makes this 02 unbelievably fun to drive.
When the first canyon I’d selected to drive came to an end, there was still plenty of time left in the window I’d been given, so I decided to give the 02 a break and shoot some photos. All the adjectives in the world have been used to describe Giovanni Michelotti’s Neue Klasse design, all of them, and I’ll be damned if any of them do it justice. A 2002 in any condition will stop anyone in their tracks, anywhere in the world. People who do not care at all about cars, or car culture, stop to admire a 2002. This is a car that can hold its own next to a Jaguar E-Type, Ferrari 250 GT, or Bugatti Type 57sc. Iconic doesn’t do it justice, it’s more than that, it’s been the basis for 40 years of sport sedans. This isn’t a BMW, it is the BMW
While I stood there with birds chirping, a salty breeze blowing on my neck, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the moment. I lowered my camera and just stared at the car. Intermittent bursts of sunlight hit the Fjord Blue paint revealing a shining shade of blue so perfect, that I’m not convinced it wasn’t mixed by Thor himself. From every angle, and at any distance, the 02 is captivating, and not just from the outside.
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With the Neue Klasse interiors, BMW defined what restrained luxury was, so there was no reason to fix something that was certainly not broken. Bringing that refined, but simplistic design back to life was the mission, and it was executed perfectly on this build. The entire interior was gutted, and then refitted with new OE-quality materials, resulting in an elegant, understated cockpit. The bucket seats are from another early model 02 and are finished in Oyster leather that pairs perfectly with the Fjord Blue exterior. The Euro-spec “Lux” package adds more Oyster leather in the form of interior panels, and a new Oyster Alcantara headliner keeps the overall vibe light and airy.
From the driver's seat, you’re looking at a completely restored OE dashboard with three easy-to-read gauges laid out side by side, and leather wrapped OE center console with oil pressure, voltage, and water temperature gauges. Much to my surprise, the addition of a Clarion NX605 Smart Access multimedia navigation system did not ruin the classic cabin, in fact, I hardly noticed it was there, a testament to the tidiness of the integration.
This being a Clarion Builds car, it wouldn’t be complete without a jaw-dropping sound system, so top shelf component speakers were integrated into custom built front kick panels, and 5-way speakers were placed on the reshaped rear deck. Instead of a spare tire, the trunk now holds a custom fiberglass panel housing pair of 10” subwoofers, and a 6-channel amp under acrylic glass. I briefly tested the competency of this setup, and lets just say it passed with flying colors. If for some strange reason you get sick of listening to the symphony provided by the exhaust, you can drown it out with music from this system.
But honestly, how could you get sick of such glorious sounds? How could you tire of revving the M10 all the way to the upper reaches of the rev range? After spending just two hours with this car, I would have gladly traded it for mine. All the modern conveniences, and comforts that come with the M235i are just distractions meant to help you forget that you’re paying a pretty penny for something you don’t need. The 02 on the other hand is devoid of distractions, a car completely focused on a singular goal, be the ultimate driving machine.
That Clarion helped an 02 to achieve, and surpass that goal is admirable. Choosing to let me take it for one last hurrah before it headed off to a charity auction, that’s grounds for having them sainted. I cannot fully express the amount of gratitude I have for being given the chance to drive this car, so I’ll simply just say thank you to Michael Farino for making it possible, and to everyone involved with the build, you have my eternal respect, and admiration. Perhaps a 3.0 CSi should be on the list of future projects, seeing as it's the second most beautiful BMW ever produced.
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Photo Credit: Andrew T. Maness for BoldRide