IN WITH THE NEW.

The BMW 1502 was late on the scene but arrived at precisely the right time. It first appeared as production of the “small” BMW was drawing to a close and thrived as a basic model alongside the new 3 Series. It extended the huge success enjoyed by the 02 for a further two years and for many people became their first BMW.

The shock was intense, its impact lasting. The oil crisis of autumn 1973 resulted in driving bans, leaving roads suddenly deserted as transportation ground to a halt. The Club of Rome think tank proclaimed the end of growth. Drastic speed restrictions were discussed throughout the media and even abandoning cars as a means of transport was mooted. While the 1960s had been about putting the pedal to the metal in an entirely carefree manner, suddenly it seemed as if this was the end of “higher, faster, further”. A new market for modestly-specified model variants was the result, one that would now strike a reasonable balance rather than touting superior performance only.

The new entry point.

In January 1975, the new BMW 1502 was added to a model range which had been writing BMW history for nine years already. Rather than coming in at the top of the line-up, the new model represented a new entry point and cost exactly 1,000 marks less than the 1602, previously the most affordable BMW. The 1502 was basically a 1602 with fewer appointments. Although the model designation suggested otherwise, its engine was no smaller. At 1,573cc, capacity was exactly the same, but the compression ratio was lower and it produced 75 hp rather than 85.

It was the only BMW model to be satisfied with regular petrol, which was definitely an argument in its favour for buyers on a budget. Much more astonishing was its performance, which was not far short of its bigger brother’s. In a test for the 3/1975 issue of auto motor und sport, it covered the 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) sprint in a nifty 13.3 seconds and reached a top speed of 159.3 km/h (98.97 mph) – only just shy of the 1602’s figures (12.9 seconds and 161 km/h [100 mph]). The editor Werner Schruf was pleasantly surprised by the “lively impression” made by the 1502.

Could we have a bit less?

The 1502 is immediately recognisable by its lack of wraparound chrome trim strip, which was otherwise a typical feature of the model range. The standard steel wheel rims with hub caps didn’t look particularly sporty, but buyers had plenty of optional extras to choose from in that department should they wish. Many of the options for the 1602 could also be ordered for the 1502, with only the rotating pop-out quarterlights in the doors not included on the list. Overall, the 1502 had a more no-nonsense appearance, although the vibrant colours available – such as orange, yellow and sky blue – easily countered that. Without a doubt this was still a genuine BMW, a premium car with a high technical specification and driving characteristics not to be underestimated.

Saying goodbye proves less painful.

In the autumn of 1975, the 1502 – not yet a year old – was handed the task of consoling drivers who were finding it hard to let go of the long-standing 02 Series, by then in production for nine years. By early summer, all the other 02 model variants had sold out. The E21 emerged to fill the void, a job it did very well. But it had to build up a new community of fans.

The 1502 quickly started doing the very thing it was created for: attracting new buyers who had never previously considered BMW, primarily for cost reasons. Thoroughly engineered and nicely balanced, it proved to be a robust companion for day-to-day driving.

The curtain finally came down on the 02 model range in July 1977, eleven years on from its debut.

These days, the 1502 has long since emerged from the shadow of its highly coveted siblings, notably the 2-litre 2002. Well maintained examples in original condition are now achieving collectors’ prices in the region of its aforementioned stablemates. So it seems the inherent balance of the 1502 has lost none of its charm through its ascent into classic cardom.