Freude am Fahren: Driving the Bavarian Econs BMW 2002 Prototype

“The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” Serendipity, a single word that quite aptly, describes how it came to be that someone from Singapore could have one of his most amazing automotive experiences ever, halfway across the world, with little to no prior planning whatsoever.

It all began shortly before my flight to the capital of Bavaria whilst scrolling through a little app called Instagram. With #BMW2002 once again showcasing a lovingly (albeit a.i.) curated selection of lovely old autos, I came across a beautifully crafted 2002 shot in the not too unfamiliar streets of Munich.

As you’d expect, I sent a friendly message asking if I could take a look since I was heading over and by some stroke of serendipitous luck (or magic from the Automotive Gods), everything quickly fell into place and I found myself meeting up with the extremely affable Nicolas Navarro on a lovely Friday morning, a massive BMW fan who happens to also be the CEO of Bavarian Econs Tech Gmbh.

What Bavarian Econs do to resto-mod classic BMW 02s is something I’ve always dreamt of and at the same time, something many others would consider pure heresy. They take these beautiful iconic classic cars and convert them into EVs. Cue the pitchforks!

But before we get there, let’s take a step back and hypothesise why some geeks like us love classic cars and can feel so strongly about them. Some love the way they look, some revel in their unfiltered driving experience and the rest, perhaps, appreciate their connection to history or memory in time.

It is for these very reasons why I reckon the love for classic autos can be so very personal and why I’m certain many observers would have already made their conclusions the moment I mentioned the forbidden “E” word.

But hear me out, because while this might shock (hehe) you, as a fellow 2002 owner, this Bavarian Econs 2002te, even in prototype form, was one of the most enjoyable cars I’ve ever driven.

While this ex-rally spec BMW 2002 might have left the competitive circuit behind, life in the fast lane for this tough little Bimmer is nowhere near abating as it transitions into the World of electrification.

Wearing hand-made Alpina-Esque pig cheek flares with additional girth further added to the rear section, a Kooglewerks air dam, period-correct Michelin semi-slicks wrapping a set of custom-made BBS E50s straight from the BBS factory and THAT beautiful livery.

Inspired by the BMW Frank Stella Art Car and the classic BMW Original Teile E24 Schnitzer race car with references to its electrified underpinnings and Bavarian icons (spot the pretzels, beer and Olympic tower?), it definitely more than looks the part.

But as we all know, appearances can only count for so much when it comes to cars and here is where things can get rather polarising as the Bavarian Econs 2002 has ditched it petrol burning powertrain for an electrified Tesla heart with lungs (batteries) from a BMW i3 (33 kWh, good for 180miles/290km).

While the initial idea called for a motor from the iX to keep everything within the Bavarian family, the BMW’s power unit was, unfortunately, a couple of centimetres too tall to safely slide under the 02’s little clamshell bonnet.

Even though the idea of swapping out an internal combustion engine for an electric one might seem straightforward and rather simplistic, the entire process of doing so with full type approval by the strict German regulators and authorities made it an especially involving project that spanned years for Nicolas and his team.

Together with engineers from the German TÜV, this very prototype was subject to thousands of KMs worth of extreme testing and hundreds of pages worth of official documentation. High speed, long-distance runs on the Autobahn and continuous drives through the Alps in various climates, this 2002 has seen and done it all.

And now, with much kindness, generosity and (plenty of) trust from Nicolas, it’s my turn to drive it.

Getting into this 2002 was an experience that, for me at least, felt both at home and foreign at the same time. The door, while delicate looking, opens with a familiar metallic clunk as I extend it outwards before sliding into a period bucket seat while dodging a roll cage, a reminder of this car’s racing history.

Inside, you’ll quickly become aware that this is a prototype. It is raw, unfinished, a little messy and unashamedly purpose-built to be driven. Perfect.

Ahead of me, a slightly weathered Momo Prototipo emblazoned with the Bavarian Econs insignia and directly behind, the classic 2002 instrument cluster which is where things start to look a little different.

Cleverly retrofitted to work in sync with this car’s new-age motor, the tachometer is now a power meter, displaying not just how much percentage of power is being churned out of the rear wheels, but also how much power is going back in with regenerative braking. The fuel meter now shows the battery’s charge level with the temperature gauge now focusing on the batteries instead of water. Every other secondary control on the binnacle remains as-is. Even the started key is intact.

Along the centre console is where the biggest differences lie, gone is the gear lever along the transmission tunnel, replaced by a drive mode selector and a cluster of buttons to toggle drive modes and charging functions. I would never have imagined seeing a “Sport mode” button in a 2002.

Nicolas promises customers’ cars will not in any shape or form have an interior as spartan or as the prototype and I’m confident they’ll be able to pull it off. Especially when he mentions that they’re sourcing for materials used by the Rolls Royce factory and have even paid a visit to Singer. Yes, that Singer.

With the 2002te turned on, it was time to drive and immediately the lack of power steering hits you, slightly harder in this car because of its extra-wide tires and feathering the throttle to move off smoothly takes some getting used to with near-instantaneous torque at your disposal.

Even though power from the Tesla motor has been limited to 161 horses (and 170 Nm of torques) in order to keep TÜV happy (due to the stock 2002 brakes), at 1,150 kg, this is still a pretty light car with 0-60 coming up in a very respectable 6.2 seconds, readily surpassing the acceleration figures of the 2002 Turbo.

While the power figures might sound rather tame, they felt perfectly suited to this car. With uprated brakes coming up on a future build, this power figure will be bumped up to a very healthy 250 horses. I reckon that might be a little scary.

And unlike what you might imagine, this Tesla motor isn’t quiet either, with all of its sound deadening stripped off, it produces a high-pitched whine reminiscent of a straight-cut gearbox. And while the loss of a manual gearbox might be a cause for initial alarm, the effectiveness, tractability and constant delivery of power from the electric motor and its regenerative braking properties allow for a new layer of discovery as you begin to enjoy the drive.

Acceleration figures aside, the biggest takeaway after a drive in this 02 is just how much it still “feels” like an old classic automobile.

2002 owners, you know what I’m talking about, the weight of the steering, the lean into the corners as it eagerly turns in, the vibrations of the entire chassis, the roar of the road and the noise of the wind bouncing off the windscreen and through the side windows, it’s all there.

The lack of driving aids, or safety equipment and that sense of euphoric dread as you catch yourself thinking, “Oh my God, I’ll probably die if I crash” when the speedometer spins up towards 160km/h. It’s all there.

That feeling of engagement, of connection with the car and a sense of wonder as you catch its reflection in the corner of your eye. It’s all there.

Freude am Fahren. It’s all there.

In a world where these old cars might face extinction, thank you Nicholas for giving them a new lease of life and adding a new dimension to their driving experience.

While the Bavarian Econs 2002te is not here to replace our beloved internal combustion-engined 2002s, it is here to sit alongside them and sit alongside them proudly it should because it felt truly special and I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to drive it. I wish I had one.

A joy to drive everywhere, a joy to look at, and a joy to have shared one of the best drives with an extremely passionate BMW fan. It was a serendipitous day indeed. And we’re only halfway through. Stay tuned.

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