CERNOBBIO, Italy – There’s a cold wind blowing dark shower curtains across Lake Como, but the only thunder to shake the Orwellian scene is the exhaust note of the pale blue concept car with a license plate that reads BMW 2002 Hommage. Stuffed with electronic and mechanical anabolic agents, this wildly camouflaged BMW M2 hammers out a loud and blunt exhaust tune.
BMW now practically owns the Concorso d’Eleganza, and to celebrate the occasion the Bavarians typically bring at least one fresh design exercise down to Lake Como north of Milan. Noteworthy concepts of the past include the reinvented M1 by Benoit Jacob, the Superleggera Mini roadster by Anders Warming, the proposal for an up-market 9 Series coupe co-designed with Pininfarina, and the reborn CSL masterminded by BMW design chief Karim Habib.
But 2016 is the year of the 2002. Not any 2002, but the turbo with a lowercase t. The creative team whose claim to fame is the 2002 Hommage has apparently been coached by the devil himself. Highlighting this 3-D exercise in wickedness is a huge nasal air dam that would do a full-scale dragster proud, the originally bolted-on flares that now grow like bulging muscle cords out of the wheelhouses, and the drag-cutting grooved trunklid inspired by a downsized helipad.
The longer you inspect the BMW 2002 Hommage in detail, the more parallels derived from the period touring cars fielded by Alpina, Schnitzer, and Koepchen you’ll find. The trademark indicator brows are celebrating a comeback as fiber optics, the golden headlamp reflectors are meant to evoke memories of BMW’s famous 24-hour racers, and the carbon fiber beltline has clearly been inspired by the very first 1966 BMW 1600. The proportions, too, are a deep bow to Wilhelm Hofmeister, who oversaw BMW design between 1955 and 1970 and whose famous kink at the trailing edge of the rear window is still an integral part of the brand’s DNA. While the lids, the shoulders, and the roof of the 2002 Hommage are sprayed with matte paint, the lower section of the body presents itself in gleaming Space Race Metal. This tone-on-tone finish might not be obvious at first sight, but it’s a nice touch that fuses tradition with modernity.
The vintage BMW 2002 turbo parked next to Habib’s latest creation looks almost like a prewar motorcar by extension. It also smells and sounds like one. Even at idle, the befogging emissions waste no time plucking leaves from the surrounding trees. The range of its tired round prehalogen headlamps struggle to beat naked candlelight. And the full-scale mirror writing war paint across the car’s chin is as vulgar today as it was back in 1973 when BMW removed it the day after its Frankfurt auto show debut.
Still, on the not so subtle side, you cannot overlook the apron piercings for the fire-red tow eyes, the set of carbon-fiber tack-ons, and the four golden brake calipers that straddle carbon-ceramic discs. Compared to the 2002 Hommage, the real thing built from 1973 to 1975 in 1,672 units is slim and subtle. The humble steel wheels are shod with narrow 185/70 VR-13 tires, the only available colors were silver and white, and pleasantries like a fifth gear or disc brakes all-round are conspicuous by their absence. Even though the vintage 2002 turbo lacks modern conveniences like power-steering and electric windows, it provides an equally memorable driving experience, highlighted by the 2.0-liter, 170-hp engine, which invented the sequence of long throttle lag followed by a very short but violent turbo punch three years before the Saab 900.
True to its mission, the 2002 Hommage is a professional attention-grabber. The bicolor 20-inch rims run on Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rubber (245/30 and 295/30), the extrovert blades and breathers catch the eye while smoothing the air flow, and the Hot Wheels-inspired drag-cutting addenda allegedly produce massive downforce. The plan view is pure wide-body 2002, the shark nose front-end profile looks as credible as the black-panel taillights, and the M2 greenhouse takes the 2002 theme to the next level. Due to time and cost restraints, the cabin of the show car is unchanged from a no-frills M2. Which is a shame, because the generic dashboard layout is derived from the unremarkable entry-level 1 Series, with low-grade surfaces and a boring color scheme.
Is the 2002 Hommage really a test balloon for the ultimate M2? It’s hard to tell at this point, but there definitely will be a 400-hp-plus M2 CS, which could indeed derive its more aggressive livery from the Villa d’Este Primadonna. What we know for sure is that BMW is going to reveal another Hommage car next year—be it an open-top grand tourer along the lines of the 503 and the 507, a re-creation of the low-volume 1800 TI/SA based on the new 5 Series, a 21st-century iteration of the full-size “baroque angel” luxury sedan, or a new electric bubble car worthy of the Isetta name.