As far as I know, rain has not really changed that much since the 1970s. It still falls from the sky with varying levels of intensity, and is often accompanied by reduced levels of light and visibility. In fact, I have it on good authority, that rain has been roughly the same for a very long time. Traveling through rain lead to the invention of the windshield wiper independently but almost simultaneously by Mary Anderson, Robert Douglass, and Henry James Apjohn over a century ago in 1903. Fast forward 50 years, and windshields were bigger, glass was better, rubber was better, and cars were more aerodynamic helping rain to slip off and not impair vision. Big wipers with motors the size of scooter engines lay beneath the cowling of classic American cars from the sixties, and we had intermittent wipers thanks to Bob Kearns from Detroit. You would think then that some 70 years after invention, we would have super wipers. And we did. I remember a trip to America as a child where I was mesmerized by a giant arm sweeping across a panoramic windshield.
All of which makes the windshield wipers on the 1976 BMW 2002 unexplainable. They are small relative to the size of the windshield and the great greenhouse that makes the 2002 iconic. They are operated by a stalk on the right, which is at least an improvement over the combo of switch and stalk push of the earlier 2002s. The blades are spindly. They are slow. Too slow for any significant rain in 1976, and too slow today. They would be perfectly at home on a sports car with a fold down windshield from the 1950s. Or a Ford Model A. Which brings me to lights. The headlights and tail lights on this car are also weak. The light that they emit would be better described as a bright glow. Incandescence. There is a healthy collection of threads and products on the forums dedicated to improving this aspect of the cult car. Why? This car is brilliant in so many ways. Other Marques and even other BMW models had better solutions in these areas years prior. Was this where the money ran out? Was it rebellion against the emerging safety sealed beams and wild excess of Mustang and Thunderbird tail lights? Was it just styling?
Now before you take this as a rant from someone not of the 2002 persuasion, please know that the Classic Velocity garage currently has 3 of these cars, and has owned many more over time. There is an obvious love affair going back decades. This rant was prompted by a 1 hour drive in steady pouring rain through the smoky mountains. At night. I-26 from Asheville NC to Johnson City TN is one of America’s scenic byways. We should have made all of the interstates like this. It goes up and down and left and right in a way that keeps your interest. At speed it is really fun if the constabulary are elsewhere. The roads off the Interstate are even better, but that is another story (see proper procrastination). When this interstate is experiencing a deluge, and you are unfamiliar with the road, and it is dark, and there are no strategically placed highway lights, it is not so much fun. When your vehicle is a 1976 BMW 2002 with stock wipers and stock headlights and stock tail lights, it is no fun at all.
Upon departure, it was dusk, and a few of us took off to take advantage of the break in the relentless rain. That break was short-lived as we encountered the rain about 10 miles later. At first visibility was not bad, and the Rain-X did such a good job that the wipers were not needed………..we interrupt this program to sing the praises of Rain-X. This product is magic, and has improved countless trips on two wheels and four. Big fan, highly recommended. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming……….Then the angry clouds arrived, which blocked out any remaining light, increased intensity a bit, and dropped visibility to nought. The other 02 took the next exit, but I tucked in behind the Bavaria. On we went as speeds slowly fell…60…..55……50……45……He was having no fun either, and apparently the two sets of 02 headlights that the Bavaria have were not much better than the one pair I had. This was the kind of rain where, like in dense fog, high beams only made matters worse. The truckers apparently know the road well and their weight inoculates them against the rivers of water running across the interstate. I think they have better wipers as well. We lived in fear that they would not even see us as they rapidly approached. I tapped the brakes when I saw anything in the rear view mirror so that it activated the two additional fireflies that passed for brake lights. As they passed us at +25mph, they disgorged oceans of water and spray making you completely blind for 1 or 2 seconds. If you think 2 seconds is not that long, try running full speed in an unknown dark field known to have a few trees, and closing your eyes while you count two Mississippi. Fun, isn’t it? I was reciting some kind of incantation about ships at sea, but there was no sound coming out. This was not going well. I threw caution to the wind and increased speed, passing the Bavaria, and tucking in behind a tanker truck. My lights were good enough to follow him, and I turned off the wipers, leaving modern chemistry alone to clear the rain. The descents were the most harrowing parts of the journey, with turns and flowing water against my stock 13 inch wheels. The intensity of the rain never subsided. There was certainly a moment or two of real (or imagined) hydro planing, and I was never so glad to reach the exit.
Once off the interstate, I realized that the rain had eased a bit and that I had been fighting mostly truck spray for the last 15 miles. The journey was 62 miles, and it took one hour and forty minutes. Sitting at a traffic light, with plenty of street lights and the wipers operating adequately, the world seemed to be saying “what was all the fuss about? People have driven across India in the monsoon with an Austin A40!” Another voice was saying “you need to order that LED conversion kit and have it shipped overnight express”. I released the white knuckle grip on the wheel, and relaxed the abdominals. The light turned green, and I made the turn into the hotel. This was going to be one helluva good night’s sleep.