In the Seventies, in the scruffy Trenchtown neighborhood of Jamaica’s capital, Kingston, you wouldn’t see a lot of finely engineered German cars on the street. So denizens took notice of the red BMW 1602 parked there. That car belonged to the most famous Jamaican singer-songwriter ever born—Bob Marley. Even in this notoriously crime-ridden ghetto, he kept the doors unlocked because he knew no one in Trenchtown would touch his ride. Marley was no gearhead and had little passion for anything costly except his guitars (he played Gibson Les Pauls, Fender Stratocasters, and an occasional Washburn or Yamaha). For Marley, the car was all about the name.

This story originally appeared in Volume 15 of Road & Track.

“I have a BMW,” he famously said. “But only because it stands for Bob Marley and the Wailers, and not because I need an expensive car.”

B for Bob. M for Marley. W for Wailers.

For a guy who grew up in abject poverty, simple transportation was a luxury. In “No Woman, No Cry,” he sang of those early days when he was strapped for cash: “My feet is my only carriage, and so I’ve got to push on through.” Marley’s first single, from 1962, was called “One Cup of Coffee.” By 1973, his music was catching on in the States. “It’s Here—Reggae Rock,” the New York Times announced that year, in the earliest mention of Marley we could locate in mainstream American print. By the mid-Seventies, Marley could have afforded any car on earth. He chose the 1602.

BMW launched the 1602 (originally called the 1600-2 for its 1600-cc engine and two doors) in 1966, and it was a game changer for the Bavarian marque. Road & Track declared the car “a great automobile at the price.” Most notably, the 1602 was the progenitor of the 2002, which debuted to rave reviews in 1968 and launched the Euro sports-coupe phenomenon that remains today.

At one point, Marley upgraded to a four-door BMW E3 2500, known in the U.S. as the Bavaria. The E3 was the predecessor of the 5-series, packing a 150-hp 2500-cc inline-six. BMW built it from 1968 to 1977. You might guess that Marley needed a roomier vehicle because he fathered at least 11 children. But apparently, he just liked the car for its initials.

Marley died of cancer in Miami in 1981 at 36, ending his magical career way too soon. His BMW E3 2500 is rumored to be in someone’s garage in California. It probably still stinks of ganja.

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2023-03-08T14:54:12Z dg43tfdfdgfd