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Up close with the BMW 2002 Hommage concept

As autonomous cars become ever closer to reality, BMW chooses a different path

  • Very few cars have the visual audacity to trade blows with a mint BMW 2002. But this new 2002 Hommage concept – unveiled at Villa d’Este on the eve of the concours show – might just be up to it. Just don’t call it a comeback. Though the narrative surrounding this 2002 Hommage – the latest in a long line of BMW concepts honouring past icons – trades heavily on nostalgia, it’s just the latest salvo in BMW’s ongoing commitment to the “ultimate driving machine”.

    Because with the advent of the autonomous car looming heavily on the horizon (and one previewed by BMW itself with the Vision Next 100 concept), the 2002 Hommage is a smack in the face to the future, a carbon-fibre haymaker to remind us that actually, some of us still like to drive now and then.

    This particular Hommage recalls the 2002 Turbo, the first mass-produced European car to feature a turbo, and an evolution of a saloon that not only helped turn BMW’s fortunes around but would become an integral part of its DNA. Chart the 2002’s lineage and you rise up through some of the greatest compact BMWs ever built. Proper driving gloves stuff.

    This feature was originally published in issue 284 of Top Gear magazine.

    Photography: Wilson Hennessy

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  • “The 2002 is holy in our history, it’s about the core of what we do,” BMW’s head of design, Karim Habib, tells TG. “It was more just about that spirit, about that turbo era, that crazy compact thing with incredible power. The M2 still has a bit of that.”

    Ah yes, we need to talk about the M2. Because – though BMW doesn’t want to dwell on it too much – the concept car in the pictures here is, perhaps unsurprisingly, based on M Division’s rather lovely new compact, 365bhp coupe.

  • The journey from M2 to the wide-arched agent of oversteer you see here was perhaps shorter than the design team might have liked. “We had been talking about this for a while,” Habib explains. “One, it took us some time to decide [on a 2002 homage], and two, we had to find the budget. That was not easy.

    “We ended up doing it in less than half a year,” he adds.

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  • Good thing the M2 has such a solid base. Because, frankly, that’s pretty much all that remains. Only the glass and the roof are carried over from that car. The mirrors you will recognise from the BMW M4. The rest of that concept body is built entirely from carbon fibre. “It’s the best material,” explains Habib. “It fits this one.”

    Fits. Just drink in those looks. The front apron echoes the 2002 with its reverse Turbo script, while the “shark nose” flows up to that speared bonnet (just like the original 02s) with a matt finish, sat atop a large kidney grille. The roof and bootlid too, are also matt, and on either side sit those fabulous wheelarches. BMW wanted to reimagine them as being bolted on, “like four brackets”.

  • The flowing carbon-fibre lines also neatly tie up BMW’s ongoing love affair with the material, used extensively for the i8 and in the new 7-Series. “That’s something we need more of. It’s a technology we have and it’s great. We find ways to use recycled carbon fibre, and be just as efficient, and I would like to use more of it. Hopefully the technology allows us to be quicker.”

    In fact, Habib goes one step further – enough to keep BMW 2002 fans ripe with anticipation. “If we are to do a small run of these, they’d also be carbon fibre.” TG takes a step back. We’ve heard the promises before. Surely they can’t be serious?

  • “I don’t know if we will build this, and I don’t know if the people who buy them will be collectors or such, or those who actually would like to take it onto the racetrack.

    “But I would like to think they’d take it onto the track, because that’s what this car is all about,” he adds with a smile.

    A carbon-fibre-bodied special edition doesn’t exactly scream value, mind. But Habib takes a look at the world around him. “If you see today, the Astons, Ferraris and Rolls-Royces that people are prepared to pay millions for, I think it was never entirely sure if people were prepared to pay really big money for BMWs.

  • “It seems there’s a market for it,” he adds. “I’m positive towards it.”

    The BMW board is, apparently, certainly more receptive than perhaps it’d been before. “They said, ‘Now, we see you guys are serious, so we have to look into it,’” he tells us. “They understand that we need some interest in this, and we just have to find a way to make it reasonable.”

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  • Reasonable is perhaps the wrong term to apply to a carbon-fibre-bodied super coupe, but hey, if BMW wants to build it, we’re interested. As it’s based on the M2, it’s “as effective as possible in terms of production”. The powertrain – all fancy 3.0-litre turbocharged six-pot – remains as before. The only difference is that for this 2002 Hommage concept, they added the exhaust from the BMW M235i Racing. Perhaps a less subtle signal of Habib’s intent for the board to take notice…

  • It’s certainly a move back towards BMW’s “traditional” territory of the shark-nosed, compact, powerful performance car, but is this just a relic? A carbon-fibre whimsy to keep us distracted while the autonomous car gains ever more traction?

    “If driving isn’t something you always do (and we’re known for the “ultimate driving machines”) then what defines BMW?” Habib asks. “If we built products like the CSL Hommage or this 2002 Hommage, then it’s easy. But if we built products that you choose when to drive, how is the BMW experience going to remain unique?

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  • “Autonomous driving is a big part of our future, and we will be building cars where driving is not your main assignment. But we think the brand can have both. We can do autonomous cars, but also, maybe it’s a specialist thing – we need more for people to have their toys for the weekend or to take on track.”

    TG asks him to keep this little track-day special burning brightly in the eyes of the influencers. Habib smiles. “I’ll be carrying that torch, I promise.”

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