BMW 1600’s Journey from eBay Find to Grigio Telesto Masterpiece

Photography: Drew Manley

  • BMW’s 1600 and 2002 models were lightweight offerings from the 60s and 70s.
  • They’re the genesis for the lightweight, motorsport-focused models of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.
  • With one low bid on eBay during a distracted day, Ben Lau won this car without knowing.
  • The Lamborghini-derived Grigio Telesto paint blends vintage accuracy with modern style.

For the majority of automotive enthusiasts, their personal preferences for their own motoring pleasures are a sum of their experiences in the hobby. There may be a current Type R driver that remembers being strapped to a car seat in an Odyssey, given a tired Accord as a first car, and got their first taste of modifying after discovering the nearly limitless possibilities of their seemingly pedestrian vehicle. A 4×4 driver may be able to trace his or her affinity back to that first time they rode in a vehicle where the drive really began when the tires left the pavement. But while some of these stories are linear, others involve a series of seemingly unrelated, and at times divergent, instances that all come together to arrive at one particular car.


The owner of this particular BMW 1600, Ben Lau, spent his youth as a Honda guy. Owning a CRX, Integra Type R, and S2000 — he certainly enjoyed the greatest hits of the Japanese brand. However, a job at euro-focused Pelican Parts exposed him to a different segment of the automotive world. Seeing BMW and Porsches up close forced him to gain an appreciation for the brands and to research and learn about their respective legacies. In the early 2000s, as the vintage craze of today was still decades away, Ben learned that the heritage models were an affordable way to get into the community. He set his sights on a BMW 1600 or 2002 model, a lightweight offering from the 60s and 70s that would ultimately be seen as a genesis for the lightweight, motorsport-focused models of the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s.


After leaving his role at Pelican Parts, Ben stayed in touch with his co-workers. More importantly, he had assured them that he was still interested in German automobile ownership. One day as he was leaving to meet his family for lunch, he received a text from a former co-worker with an eBay link to a promising 1600. The car had obviously been well cared for and had already been upgraded with the more powerful two-liter engine, as well as parts from the later 320i. He placed his bid and went about his errands, not expecting his low bid to be the winner. Distracted by the day, he later received a phone call from a friend, telling him to check the app. The car was now his for a tick under $2,000.


Even with 15 years of ownership of the BMW under his belt, he remembers the journey to get the car as his favorite memory. Loading up in his wife’s Mini Cooper, he made the nearly seven-hour drive home with a leaky motor, poor insulation, inoperable gauges, and no windshield wipers. They stayed in the city that night, parking the car in a lot downtown, hoping it would still be there in the morning. While the car had been cared for by a German car expert, it was not without its flaws. The motor mounts were dead, and there were both leaks and electrical issues that needed addressing. He admitted, “I think after making our journey back home to Los Angeles and not breaking down was probably the triumphant time that I will never forget.”


Since that day, Ben has built and rebuilt the car three separate times. Beginning the process in the early days of online automotive communities meant that sourcing parts was a challenge. He notes that as the internet has grown, it has become much easier, but that “sometimes the journey is better, [with] the hunt and the anticipation.” Despite the demystifying of the hunt for parts, one can’t argue with the build that Ben has put together. The M10 engine has been fully built, stroked, and mated to a Getrag 5-speed from an ‘82 BMW 320is. An Alpina-style header with custom Magnaflow exhaust lets the classic engine sing.


The exterior remains simple, allowing the classic lines to define the look. A set of Ground Control coilovers give the car a lower stance while also working with a combination of aftermarket sway bars to bless the historic model with modern composure on the road. Ben’s favorite modification to the car is the Lamborghini-derived Grigio Telesto paint. The color matches the heritage aesthetics while also coming off as thoroughly modern, with automakers’ recent return to non-metallic colors for their more popular models.

Looking back at this project, Ben suggests, “There are so many years to this build. I even sold it to a friend and bought it back a few years later. I think the most memorable is how much time I’ve had with this car; the memories are endless. When I think about it… it was more about the journey and how time goes by so quick… it was always with me, but the time and effort is spread across many years.” For many enthusiasts, the limiting factor for any project is ultimately time. Ben’s decision to invest time to not only restore this car, but to modify it, was born out of those days at Pelican Parts, that trip to San Francisco, and the time spent with his Hondas in those early days of the hobby. Fifteen years with a single car is unheard of these days in an attention-starved culture, but time ultimately breeds quality; not despite, but because of, those inevitable twists and turns. Ben’s 1600 is a product of every story in its past and is better off for it.

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