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Car Feature: Byron Sanborn’s 1974 BMW 2002 Turbo

Byron Sanborn is a long-time fan of all things BMW. He loves driving them and tinkers with them for a living. His shop, Vintage Racing Motors, located in Redmond, Washington, builds, maintains, and pulls track support duty for numerous old Bavarians still working hot laps on the vintage racing circuit. Byron has a nice stable of his own and the standout is this 1974 2002 Turbo.

“I’ve lusted after a Turbo since 1974 when I saw one in Germany,” says Byron, “and I stumbled across this one in England. It was apart. It had been in a small accident in 1985 where the radiator burst and the engine ran out of water. I was being consulted on the cylinder head which had cracked from the intense heat and I took a chance and asked if the car might be for sale. Told them I’d be interested in buying it… as is, where is. So I struck a deal long-distance and bought the car in September of 2001.”

The car is rarified air indeed. It’s one of only 1,672 Turbos produced between 1973 and 1975 and these cars were never imported to America. The reverse “Turbo 2002” script on the spoiler adds to the Bavarian’s rarity, appearing on only about 400 early production cars. “The lettering is backwards so you can announce yourself into people’s rearview mirrors. BMW got a lot of flak from the motoring press and company executives who thought it was too aggressive so they stopped doing the graphics.”Byron and the BMW endured a long road to get to the car you see here. “I spent just about all the money I had at the time to buy it and get it to the United States. The crash damage had been repaired, which wasn’t very much, but the engine and gearbox were out of the car. My first thought was, ‘oh, I’ll build an engine and I’ll have it running in six or eight months.’ Uh, didn’t work that way… never does.”

“It’s a bit like the cobbler’s kids shoes, you know, I spend all day long working on other people’s race cars and getting around to doing my own took a while… two years or so before I even really looked at it. We walked around the car… ‘there was dirt here, they’d got a little moisture in the paint gun there,’ and the usual progression… ‘Oh well, we could fix that, and we’ll blend to there, and we’ll fix that and we’ll blend to here.’ And after a couple of hours you’ve decided there wasn’t a one square foot spot anywhere that didn’t need attention. So, you know, mission creep went off the scale and we decided to take it all to bare metal.”

The car sat for a while and eventually spent about three years in the paint shop being worked on between jobs. When he got it back, Byron put the car on a rolling stand in his home garage to start assembling suspension pieces, finding and installing trim pieces, and so forth… He estimates this was probably the early part of 2009.

“I put my foot down and said, ‘I need to get this done.’ And by that time the engine was complete and the gearbox and everything was ready to bolt together. So, I just started spending my weekends at the shop, putting it together and then putting it back in my trailer and getting it out of the shop to take it home at the end of the weekend and then back to the shop the next weekend. So the car has lots of frequent flyer miles in the back of my trailer.”

Byron needed a solid deadline so he could really put the hammer down. His line in the sand was July 2010 and the BMW CCA Puget Sound Chapter’s club concours event. Byron accelerated his work rate and drove the car for the first time the week before the show.

“It was the first concours I ever entered and I just thought that’s not me. I’d much rather drive them, but the show was the finish line of sorts… got me to complete the build… so I followed through. It was shocking. I went home with all the hardware… I got best in class, best of show, and the car was even voted the people’s choice. I was ecstatic. I claim not to be a concours guy, but I can tell you that it kind of blew me away that I could actually do something like that.”

It was around this time the BMW was featured on our Handbook #322 cover. But the story was still spooling up. The regional car show wasn’t Byron’s only concours… he and the 2002 went from the club scene to the big leagues, Pebble Beach. Fast forward to 2016, BMW was celebrating 100 years and the Pebble Beach organizers decided that they were going to have two special classes, one for prewar and one for postwar BMWs. They wanted a street CSL, a 503, a 507, and when a 2002 Turbo was needed Byron’s phone rang.

“Well, what an honor. There’s never been a 2002 of any configuration on the lawn at Pebble Beach. It is a 1974, by Pebble Beach standards that’s a brand new car… it still has a new-car smell to them. There were some fabulous, fabulous BMWs in my class… truly awe-inspiring cars. I figured I was probably maybe fifth or sixth in class.”

“The judges came by at about 9:00. At around 12:30, the class representative came up to me and said he’s got the list. And at first I didn’t understand what the list was. It’s the top three cars… in no particular order. I said, ‘great.’ And he said, ‘you’re on it.’ I was absolutely stunned. I didn’t even ask who the other two cars were, I just couldn’t comprehend. At 3:00 they sent the three of us to the staging area. We waited a long time, the adrenalin was flowing even though I was just standing around. The car got third place and I was floored, just so honored to drive it across the presentation stand.”

The grass may be greener but Byron prefers the open road to the concours lawn, and he has no qualms opening the throttle wide and loud. The 2002 sports a pressurized 2.0-liter four rated at 170 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. Byron says the 2002 Turbo invented the term turbo lag. When the motor finally comes on boost, he says it’s the torque that you really feel. “It starts getting serious at 4,000 rpm, but unfortunately below that, when you’re off boost, the thing is a dog. A standard two-barrel carbureted, normally aspirated motor will run away from you until the KKK turbo gets up on boost. So I learned the importance of compression ratio pretty quick. This thing is 6.9:1 static compression… good luck finding anything lower.”

“It’s early turbo technology for sure. The 2002 Turbo was the very first production turbocharged car built in Europe. It’d beat a Saab. It’d beat a Porsche, but the technology was pretty archaic back then. When I’m asked about turbo lag my answer is ‘It’s Epic.’ And my running joke is how ironic that the boost gauge and the clock are both mounted together in a binnacle. I tell them the clock is placed closer to the driver because it moves faster than the boost gauge.”

Byron says he plans to keep driving the BMW, and to show he wasn’t kidding he took it out in the rain for our between-cloud-bursts photo shoot. These cars regularly top six figures so we were definitely impressed and would like to thank Byron for going the extra mile and sharing his BMW with us.

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