bmw 2002

Seat Belts, for Safety

Sep 07, 2015

Early model-year 2002s like mine feature lots of cool little design touches that the late models don't sport. The two big examples are the iconic round tail lights and the lithe chrome bumpers (the latter predating the US federal regulation for 5 mph bumpers). There's a bunch of other touches here and there, too, and many of them share a theme with those two standouts: the late-model replacements sacrifice design flare for improved safety and functionality.

So, too, with early model seat belts. I've always been amazed that my '71 2002 was still sporting its original Klippan seat belts when I took ownership 35 years into its life. The Klippans are so unsafe and unreliable compared to just about any alternative that you're hard-pressed to find an 02—short of an originalist's concourse car—that still sports them.

I pulled those Klippans out a long time ago, didn't even bother to replace them with anything. They were ill-fitting lap belts that were difficult to clasp, difficult to adjust, and even more difficult to get out of! More than once they trapped me in the driver's seat until I banged on them sufficiently to knock something loose. Even when you eschewed using them, they flopped bulky and awkward on the floorboards, just always in the way. I yanked them out and never looked back.

But of course, you need seat belts. So, when a fellow enthusiast posted to the FAQ for sale a new set of belts, it piqued my interest. He apparently has a small side-business assembling three-point inertia reel front seat belts that retrofit fairly easily. Based on his asking prices, it's more a passion project than a money-making venture. The quality looked high, and I really wanted a shoulder belt, so I bought a set. I live in Georgia and turns out he lives in North Carolina, so we met up in Winston-Salem at The Vintage. He wanted to install the belts right there in the parking lot! Alas, I didn't bring my 2002; it's just not in that condition yet. But that boded well for ease of installation.

The clasps mounted to the stock locations perfectly. These don't have the panache of the original Klippan chrome ring post, but they are high quality items, and far safer.


The car continues to earn the name Webby, though I just call it "the oh-two".


The new driver's side belt. Top-right is the inertia reel retractor with mounting hardware and a plastic belt guide. I'll have to drill holes to mount this to the floor railing. There's a guide that gets mounted to the stock location on the beltline (just behind the B-pillar) that forms the over-the-shoulder portion of the belt. Then there's the buckle with an adjustable stay. And lastly on the bottom-left is hardware to secure the belt to the stock location on the floor railing next to the seat, forming the lap belt. The webbing, reel, and hardware are all top notch quality.


With the back seat and interior panels removed, there's great access to the beltline and floor railing. Just under the window at the top is the stock mounting position (a little blurry) that is threaded. I used a level to mark a line on the floor railing straight down from there. This is where the retractor will be mounted.


Each retractor needed two holes drilled through the floor railing: a medium-sized hole for the M10 bolt that secures the retractor, and a small hole for a post that the retractor has to prevent it from spinning on its bolt. I drilled the small hole first, seeing as it was on the curve of the railing so the drill bit was more likely to walk off my line. It did a little, but not too bad (and I was able to align the other holes without problem). After measuring and remeasuring, I drilled the medium-sized hole for the mounting bolt beneath the small hole.

A third, larger hole now needed to be made to provide access to the inside of the railing so the retractor's bolt could actually be secured with a nut. It's not the most elegant solution, but given that this is a retrofit, sometimes that type of thing is necessary.

The three holes are a tad off my original vertical line, but not too bad. Lots of measurements kept the two mounting holes properly spaced, which is the important part. I made the big hole up top large enough to accommodate a box wrench to hold fast the mounting bolt's nut when tightening.


The retractor was an awkward little doohickey with pieces and webbing flopping all over, but I was eventually able to get everything bolted into place.


And here's the final positioning across my aging FloFit seats. A modern three-point harness, both safe and attractive. (That beautiful beer can comes from Creature Comforts Brewery here in town. No worries—no test drives today.)


As with all things, after cutting my teeth on the driver's side, I got the passenger's side belt installed in about one-third the time.

Honestly, I was worried that the guide forming the shoulder belt would be mounted too low, that it would be necessary to fab a means of mounting it to the B-pillar to get it higher up. But when I repositioned the driver's seat, sat in it, and buckled up, my worries faded. Frankly, these belts feel so secure, I can't imagine replacing them with anything other than a straight-up harness.

One step closer to making the car a true driver.