I’ll admit I have a soft spot for 2002s. I think just about everyone does, especially orange ones. We featured Carter Kelly Kramer’s in the exceptionally well received film This BMW 2002 is a Carved Pumpkin, so when Los Angeles native John Robb dropped a line asking if we’d be interested in checking out his 2002 ‘stroker’, the answer was obvious.
Ted Gushue: Tell me the story of your 2002.
John Robb: Well I’d always been a Porsche guy. My first car was a 1968 911. I was 25 when I had that, that was the first car I ever bought that was my own. This was in England, then I had a ’68 911S, and then I sold that car at completely the wrong time and moved to New York. Lived there for five years and I still had the itch to get another classic.
Moved to Los Angeles, started looking at 911s, at which point the market had already gone absolutely nuts. So I thought, well I can buy a ratty 911T for $60-70k, so I started looking at 914-6s. I found one for sale, went round and saw it, shook on the sale, had it compression checked, there was a problem with cylinder 5, so that fell through. In a fit of disappointment I mistakenly went on Craigslist, saw this car and went up to the canyon where it lived to look at it. I had zero intention of buying it, and of course ended up buying it on the spot.
TG: So this is your first BMW?
JR: I’ve got two now, one is a project car that I’m building into an Alpina race car. Funny story, I actually ended up buying that 914-6 as well, as it turned out they screwed up the compression check and there was nothing wrong with it.
The Tii though, while I loved the car I found the engine to be a little underwhelming for whatever reason, so my intention was to sell it within a few months of buying it, but I met my now good friend Le Tran who runs the 2002 Garage Werks, which is out in Ontario, and I took the car to him and he started to talk me into a few things.
Next thing I know I’ve dropped a 5-speed conversion in, then we start talking about doing engine work. None of it really made sense financially. He didn’t talk me into it as much as I talked myself into it, and it kind of spiralled out of control from there.
I spend a hell of a lot of time over at 2002 Garage Werks, he’s teaching me stuff every time I go over there. When I’ve got this car I didn’t really know what I was getting into, and all of a sudden I’m stripping things down to bare metal and repainting it myself. Then I stripped the interior, took the whole thing down to bare metal, same with the bottom of the car. Welded up the holes, so it’s turned into a totally unintentional passion project.
So much of this has come out of my own childhood, my father and I never really shared a passion for cars. I always envied that because I never had that. In my mind I thought I might have missed the boat, you know, how am I ever gonna catch up to these people that have had a passion their entire lives. How am I going to learn? I would daydream at times where I would give up my job and offer to be an apprentice in a shop, and then I could go and learn, but I’d just love to do that.
TG: I think we’ve all had that feeling at some point, haven’t we?
TG: What’s it like to drive?
JR: It’s fun, it’s fast, it’s just a great-handling car. Out of the box, 2002s are great handling cars. I’ve got coilovers in the front, stiffer springs on the back, made it a little more squat, the subframe is reinforced, it handles really really well, corners on rails. Very similar feeling to my 914 for some reason, despite the engine being in a different place.