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The Son of Cobra 2002 is the Definition of California Cool
BY Mike Maravilla //
September 8, 2023
Photography: Viet Nguyễn
Owner: Paul Lefevre
  • Released in 1968, the BMW 2002 coupe made a marked impression as a bigger displacement version of the 1602.
  • The “02s” were two-door adaptations of the company’s “Neue Klasse” sedans, a segment that was responsible for saving BMW from financial woes.
  • Son of Cobra founder, Paul Lefevre, has summoned an impressive resume of creative work to reimagine a 1969 2002 on his terms.
  • The result was extraordinary and it opened doors for Son of Cobra’s unique duality: a lightweight composites manufacturer for BMW 2002 components and a coveted surfboard artisan shop.

It’s a bit ironic that the phrase “perfect is the enemy of good” had its origins in France. Indeed, “l’ennemi du bien est le bien” is a weapon that cannot be wielded by most; the majority who try will never reach the finish line. But the Frenchman behind this BMW 2002, Paul Lefevre, is someone who has aimed for magnificence and achieved it time and time again.


Lefevre was born and raised in Normandy. But unlike other stories here, his affinity for the 02 was not the result of some epiphanic moment of childlike wonder. It was always an appealing car to him — one that he aspired to own at one point in his life — but he’ll be first to admit that his first passion was on the water. Amidst and after art school, Paul was hellbent on learning how to fix, paint, and build surfboards. His commitment took him all the way to Australia, back to France, and eventually to California where he lives today.

It was his arrival stateside that allowed his automotive tinkering to flourish. As I mentioned before, he’s always loved the 2002, but he’d be the first to admit that owning one in France wouldn’t be as romantic. California’s natural aura, bustling car culture, and summer-all-the-time climate made classic car ownership more approachable. Here, his 2002 story began. Soon after, he started shaping the car using materials and processes he’d typically use for building surfboards.


Before he knew it, he created his first product: carbon fiber widebody fenders. The shape was immediately eye-catching; the first time I saw the car at Monterey Car Week, I must’ve lost nearly an hour admiring the car’s new proportions. I’m probably in the minority, but I always found the 2002 Turbo fenders to be a bit clunky — a bit too loud, even with the best intentions. Lefevre’s work was more reminiscent of Alpina’s treatment, but his work was more fastidious; he didn’t just blend the 2002’s natural beauty in with wider body panels, he created a feeling. That work is hard to quantify, but it’s inside this grey area where magic is made. In a world that is predicated on fast food as much as it is on fast media, it speaks volumes that Paul’s 2002, in all of its clever subtlety, is the goosebump-inducing, pupil-dilating showstopper that tops them all.


Lefevre was born with an incredible eye for detail. But I’d like to think that his patience and dedication were honed on the water. After all, the perfect wave seldomly shows its hand. From surfing, Paul has become incredibly proficient at identifying opportunities. And he used his cumulative skill set — from graphic design to product ideation, and artisan manufacturing — to create beautiful, modern solutions for a platform that was partially responsible for keeping BMW around today. That’s significant.

Despite all the attention that Lefevre received, his trajectory to create new products remained constant. “I’m really picky and I’m never quite satisfied with what I’m doing. I always see the little errors in everything that I make,” confessed Lefevre. “I’m chasing the perfect curve, the perfect everything…there’s always room for improvement instead of just trying to pump out more products.” Admittedly, the obligation to feed the insatiable (social media) beast is a tempting lure, but Paul’s discipline prevailed. Today, his product catalog is purposefully slim: the widebody fenders morphed into a new roof, rear quarters, and a complete, custom front end for the single 02 platform. It has allowed him to keep constantly refining the products he’s passionate about as his understanding — and the creativity behind it — builds. His credo is simple: “There is always something to improve.”

Improvement is a drastic undersell. Paul’s 2002 now weighs a scant 1,800 lbs, over 200 less than the factory curb weight.


Up until this point, we’ve only mentioned Paul’s exterior handiwork, but a truly complete build addresses much more than that. A peek underneath his own carbon fiber hood revealed a worthy powerplant: an S14 engine from the venerable E30 M3. He’s managed to coax 210 horsepower out of that 2.3-liter engine and moved it three inches aft to improve weight distribution even further. That exercise led to a more rigorous weight-loss program: lightweight aluminum wheels and brake calipers, bucket seats, a period-inspired Renown steering wheel, KW suspension coilovers, and drilled door handles all became mandatory add-ons. 

But it isn’t all about being light. Paul confesses that, especially on a car like this, it’s important to strike a calculated balance between modernization and preservation. Although most of the 02’s underpinnings and visual bits are uprated substantially over stock, the Neue Klasse aesthetic and temperament are still respectfully preserved. That all might sound crazy, but to Paul, this was the only option to echo his uncompromising commitments elsewhere. 

Hearing Lefevre talk about his journey was inspiring. It’s been a multifaceted emotional grab bag of discovery, challenge, and experimentation. And at the end of all of that, triumph. Still, Paul will confess that an isolated improvement can set a new course for the entire car. It’s a constantly evolving yardstick whereby only Paul can truly measure himself against because, for the rest of us, perfection has already been achieved.





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