Photography by Matt Petrie @crosshair_nightmare
The World Rally Championship is the modern benchmark for staged, all-terrain competition. It’s predecessor, however, the European Rally Championship, predates that by two decades. Since 1953, the ERC took place across the continent, pushing the limits of manufacturers and drivers from all over the world. One of those drivers, Sobieslaw Zasada, brought three championship titles home to Poland starting in 1966. Each of the three championships had their own significances, but the last was a multifaceted victory for driver and manufacturer.
In 1967, he was awarded with both the ERC title as well as being honored with the prestigious commemoration of “Poland’s Sportsman of the Year”. No stranger to podiums or championships, he won dozens of other tournaments and races all over Europe throughout the mid to late 60’s. A few years later in 1971, despite an alleged sabotage during one of the rally stages, Sobieslaw won his third and final ERC championship. Not only did this complete the hat trick of ERC titles for Sobieslaw, but the significance was important for BMW as well since it was their first and only ERC title.
While this is not the original 1971 championship title car, this 2002 was built by a Polish motorsports enthusiast named Piotr in 2012 as a tribute to the legend’s final title year. When the time came to restore his 2002, building a conventional street car was out of the question. Instead, he set out to alter the restoration into a performance-oriented, track-ready 2002. He spec’d out the commission for both the chassis and drivetrain to be based on the 1971 championship winning 2002ti. In paying homage to the Polish racing legend, he also earned a Polish National Historic Motorsports Pass upon its completion.
The engine was completely rebuilt from the bottom up using new BMW pistons (9:5 compression), Schrick 292 cam, Ireland Engineering hardened valve springs, and Weber 45 side draft carbs. The car was fitted with an E21 five speed transmission and 40% locking differential, which leads out to 13x8 Compomotive wheels stuffed under the flares. Gaz Shocks coil overs and full polyurethane bushings throughout the chassis tighten up car. The steering is much more responsive and the snappiness in rear can easily kick out if those Avon tires aren’t warmed up properly.
Of course, we can’t talk about stiffening the chassis and not mention the OMP homologated full roll cage. The interior also houses the matching OMP Legend sport seat pair. A Terratrip Classic 202 Halda tripmeter is fixed above the center console, but in true, vintage rally fashion, a cage mounted lamp and pen holder over the dash provides the navigator with the resources needed to guide the driver through the stages.
Piotr sourced the correct Alpina pig cheek flare kit for the project and he told me “the wide body is my favorite part of the car . Stickers or not, I love the appearance, but installing it proved to be one of the most difficult tasks of the project.” It took the body shop a few attempts to get it perfect, but the perseverance paid off.
During the build he had briefly seen Sobieslaw a handful of times, but it wasn’t until after he completed the car that he had a formal sit-down with the rally driver. It was there that Piotr revealed to Sobieslaw that he had built a spec tribute car to his former championship BMW some decades ago. Delighted, Zasada, said laughingly, “nice BMW, looks very much like mine.” Reminiscing on his championship car with a clean revision before him, he signed the hood and dashboard before they parted ways. Piotr went on to participate in rally events as soon as the car was completed until 2017.
Fast forward a couple of years later, where a customer of AutoCouture Motoring in New Jersey was on the hunt for a 2002. For months she had searched for all types of 2002’s across the spectrum. From ratty, original project cars to fully built race cars, nothing was ruled out. She test drove a few different examples and then this car popped up on ‘BaT.’ Winning the closing bid when the electronic hammer came down, she had Piotr’s tribute rally car purchased and shipped from Poland to the states. As soon as it arrived, she had Sports Car Restoration in Connecticut prep it to make sure it was ready to hit the streets of the greater tri state area. The car then briefly made a stop at AutoCouture where we buttoned up a few extra maintenance items while she dropped in to show us her latest acquisition. Even in a shop overflowing with modern M cars, Mclarens and GT Porsches of different varieties, the Polish rally car was a fan favorite by the majority of the customers who came in for those few days.
That is just the effect this car has on people. The color combination and aggressive stance is enough to attract people old and young. Piotr said that his favorite part of this car are the wide arches and for the right reason. The appearance and sound match the car’s performance in perfect harmony. Even while I was shooting this set, as remote as this location was, people still approached me to get a closer look and discuss the details around it. That is exactly what the current owner is looking forward to the most. She is embracing this car as a driver, but more importantly she loves passing on the history and what this car represents.