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ClarionBuilds builds a 1974 BMW 2002

ClarionBuilds looks to the past to promote its modern hardware.

With constant chatter inundating the airwaves and social media outlets, it becomes increasingly more difficult to rise above the fray of white noise that clouds the ether.Clarion, long a player in the car audio and OEM parts arena, just might have figured out a way around the cacophony. With the blessings of their Hitachi overlords, the company introduced us to their new ClarionBuilds division.

Part marketing arm, and part restoration contractor, the group is headed by Clarion marketing VP Allen Gharapetian.

What happened?Tired of building up a donked-out, 24-inch bedecked hooptie that everyone says, "wow, great, nice to see ya, where are the booth babes, and are you giving away any free stuff?,” ClarionBuilds is the group within the company that shows more practical utilization of the firm's audio systems. Instead of building out a dollar car from a manufacturer, Gharapetian thought it would be smarter to construct a car that would essentially be a daily driver showing off the company's best practices while utilizing their latest and greatest entries into the world of car audio. And why waste it on a car company's newest model? Wouldn't it be a better idea to take an iconic ride like a classic cult-based car and modernize it with technology, while still respecting its heritage? Gharapetian thought so, and we wholeheartedly agree.

ClarionBuilds is the result.

The first such project for the brand is a 1974 BMW 2002. A cult classic in its own right, it is the ride that made the ultimate driving machine, well, the ultimate driving machine. Found after an exhaustive search, it was a model that had seen a bit of modification and parts swapping before Clarion found it for the less than princely, but affordable by any self-respecting auto journalist, sum of $6,000.

Gharapetian said that Clarion's intention was to get the car done the way it was 41 years ago, but with minor improvements. "We now have new cars with all the greatest features, but they aren't as fun to drive as they used to be.”

"This project was started with that in mind. We've scoped out future projects too. We are very encouraged about the way it came out. We have received a great deal of attention from social media exposure.”

He continued, "This project is not about money. In fact at the end, the car will earn money for a charity. We plan to auction the car at one of the nationally-televised auctions.”

The program is a collaboration of 17 partners. "When we approached the others, they were so excited because for once, this was a case where we wouldn't be doing what everyone does for the SEMA show each year in Las Vegas. You know, where you put a car together and all the people come to see it and look at it and say wow, cool! But the reality is that typically, you cannot drive those cars because they ride on 24-inch wheels and tires, or what have you. So our idea was this 2002 would be a driver. Plain and simple. When we went to Coupe King in Wilmington, CA, they initially didn't want the project, saying they had enough work and besides, they don't like building show cars. They want to build drivers. When we told them we were on the same page, they said, yes, we will do it!

"We have seventeen partners in this project,” which include Pandora, Mothers, Koni, ToyoTires, and SiriusXM, among others.

We haven't gone crazy with the head unit. Our idea was to make it useful, comfortable and up to date.

Now that Clarion has dipped its toes into the water, we wondered if they might become known as restoration specialists too? "Well, people are all excited about this, but still, it is a skunkworks operation. We knew we were on to something but I just needed the president's approval. I got that, and I got a go,” said Gharapetian.

We asked of his response. "He was very pleased! We will be showing it at the SEMA show, November in Las Vegas, and that will be the last thing before it goes to auction. After that, we are looking at a '57 Thunderbird and will follow that with a BMW 3.0 CSL.”

Couped upSince ClarionBuilds does not actually have a shop in which to do the teardown, their capacity is more like that of a contractor to find the best subcontractors to do their bidding for them. In this case, they chose CoupeKing, which is famous for their BMW 3.0 CSL and 2002 restorations, and whose shop is located a stone's throw from the Union Pacific rail yards in Wilmington, California.

CoupeKing principal Erik Sliskovich and his team tore the '02 down to its bare unibody bones. A bit of rust was repaired or replaced in some cases with new body panels, while the naturally-aspirated iron-blocked 2.0-liter M10 engine was ported and polished, and equipped with an Ireland Engineering manifold sporting two side-draft Weber DCOE 40 carburetors. Ireland also supplied the camshaft, while the engine's iron crankshaft came from a standard BMW parts bin. CP Racing custom pistons were set on Ireland's connecting rods to round out the internal fixings. The whole package breathed easier through a custom, and rather trick looking, K&N air filter.

A BMW/Getrag 245 5-speed manual transmission with overdrive turns out to be a common conversion for refining the operations in a 2002. Utilizing a gearbox normally found in a 1980-era 320i also enabled the use of a stronger driveshaft and a 320i limited slip differential at the rear.

Koni adjustable struts with Eibach springs made up the front suspension while CoupeKing utilized Konis at the rear along with Ireland Engineering five-inch race springs in back. For stopping power, Wilwood slotted rotors and brakes were positioned at all four corners to bring the 15-inch Toyo Extensa HP tires to a halt.

At the end of the day, CoupeKing was able to increase the 1974 2002's power from 80- to 140-wheel horsepower over the stock engine. Torque from the new mill checks in at 150 lb-ft.

Interior DesignThe fjord blue BMW's interior has a relatively stock-looking vibe to it. What you won't see here are highly bolstered sports seats in black leather. Instead, oyster colored leather covered the very comfortable - and flat-- front and rear seats. A classic Nardi steering wheel sprouted from the original equipment dashboard, which featured a cleaned up look that appears to have just driven off the assembly line in Munich. But not content to leave well enough alone, you just knew that Clarion was going to have a top-shelf audio system in the center of the 2002's dash. They started with a tasteful build-out of a gauge-filled center console.

A Clarion NX605 head unit with DVD and seven-band EQ filled the cabinet and offered control of this system that was pushed by a Clarion XC6610 six-channel amplifier. In a nod to contemporary owner hardware, they added a USB and mini-phone plug port for smartphone attachment and charging. In the rear deck and trunk area, Clarion tweeters, mid range and sub-woofer speakers helped to punctuate the airwaves with their various frequencies.

The package fits together as tightly, if not tighter than when the original rolled off the assembly line, more than 41-years ago.

Proof of ConceptTwo-time Formula Drift Champion Chris Forsberg knows his way around twisty racetracks including Adams Motorsport Park in Riverside, California. A karting track that lets in cars for time-attack and drifting exercises a couple of nights a week, it is a tight, old-school mom and pop operation that has been around for 56 years. Forsberg was on hand to help ClarionBuilds shake down the 2002 following its rebirth.

"The car tells you everything at once through the chassis. You are more connected to the ground through the manual steering setup. The brakes are not as overpowered, so it's easier to drive it to its limit versus such modern rides like the 2015 BMW 320i, which help to ‘fix your mistakes' and make you faster, more consistently. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it might not be as fun.

"What we were surprised with was the fact that times between the 320i, which is essentially a spiritual, but not direct descendent of the 41-year-old 2002, were just a couple of seconds faster than its older relative. There's no traction control, no ABS , no TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine in there. It's just fun to be connected to the car through the pedals. The modern car weighs about 1,000 pounds more but only has 40 more horsepower.”

BMW loaned us a 2015 M235i while in California, to compare and contrast the old and the new. While the 2002 pushed 140-horsepower to the rear wheels to motivate its 2,300-pound curb weight, the M235i managed to more than double it to 320-horsepower and 330 lb-ft of torque. Rack and pinion power assisted steering helped to guide it while all the other bits and pieces helped to bring its curb weight up to 3,505-pounds.

Comparing the ride quality between the two, displayed a modern-day sports coupe that was refined and reserved at the same time, following the "talk softly but carry a big stick” school of thought, holding back on its power reserves until fully needed.

While most drivers could handle the M235i in "asleep at the wheel” style, the 2002 actually involved driver inputs that had us pointing the car where we wanted to go. Extended stints behind the wheel would eventually lead to what we call "Popeye arms,” that resulted from muscling the manual steering around the tight turns at Adams. Acceleration was impressive, considering there was no boost under the flip forward hood. For all the tweaks the engine had received, the new brake system was equally up to the task. Still, we were cautious behind the wheel, tempered by the fact we didn't want to be remembered as folks who destroyed a company's new classic car.

Even though the Clarion name was displayed quite liberally around the cabin and the trunk, with its head unit, amplifier and speaker installations, the real music came from Magnaflow-based exhaust system. The entire package, as restored by CoupeKing, was tightly constructed and did not hint at the more than four decades of life this car had seen.

The vibe behind the wheel of the 2002 brought to mind the turnaround in that chestnut by the Grateful Dead titled "Truckin'.” "What a long, strange trip it's been.”

Leftlane's bottom lineClarionBuilds looks to the future of aftermarket marketing by paying respects to automotive history. It's an innovative road less traveled, which along the way, may turn out to be an effective marketing tool.

Photos by Mark Elias.

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