1937 BMW 328
Year of manufacture1937
Number of seats2
1937 BMW 328 Cabriolet Project
Registration no. Not UK registered
Chassis no. 85043
Engine no. 85043
BMW's emergence as a manufacturer of fine sporting motor cars can be traced back to the annual Eifelrennen event held at the Nürburgring on 14th June 1936, when Ernst Henne beat a field that included 1½-litre monoposto racing cars driving the prototype of what would become one of the most iconic sports cars of all time the legendary '328'. The fact that this overwhelming victory had been achieved only eight years after BMW's establishment as an automobile manufacturer is all the more remarkable.
It had been the acquisition of the Dixi works at Eisenach in 1928 that provided BMW, hitherto a manufacturer of aero engines and motorcycles, with a foothold in car manufacturing. Dixi's built-under-license version of the Austin Seven was gradually developed and improved, ending up with swing-axle suspension and overhead valves, and then in 1933 came the first true BMW - the six-cylinder 303. The latter adopted a twin-tube frame and abandoned the rear swing axles in favour of a conventional live axle, while up front there was a superior transverse-leaf IFS and rack-and-pinion steering. These features, along with the four-bearing, overhead-valve engine, would provide the basis for the more powerful and sportingly inclined models to follow.
Lacking the resources of larger and longer established rivals, BMW adopted an evolutionary, 'mix and match' approach to model development. Thus the 328 employed the tubular chassis, transverse-leaf independent front suspension and live rear axle of the 319; the cylinder block and hydraulic brakes of the 326; and a body incorporating stylistic elements of the 319/1 Sport and 329. With the 328, BMW's Chief Engineer Fritz Fiedler turned accepted chassis design on its head, coming up with a frame that combined lightness and stiffness in equal measure - virtues that permitted the use of relatively soft springing with all its attendant advantages. In short: the 328 was the first truly modern sports car.
The 328's six-cylinder engine featured an ingenious new cylinder head, designed by Rudolf Schleicher, which incorporated hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves without recourse to overhead, or twin camshafts. Instead, the Type 326, 1,971cc engine's single, block-mounted camshaft and pushrod valve actuation were retained, thus avoiding an expensive redesign. Two rocker shafts were employed, one situated above each bank of valves, giving the engine an external appearance almost indistinguishable from that of a twin-overhead-cam design. Down-draught inlet ports contributed to the motor's deep breathing, and its tune-ability made it a popular choice for British racing car constructors, most notably Cooper, during the 1950s. The 328 engine produced 80bhp, an exemplary output for a normally aspirated 2.0-litre unit at that time, with more available in race trim.
The two door-less 328 prototypes and the first batch of cars were lightweight racers with aluminium coachwork intended to establish the model's competition credentials before production proper got under way. Available from the late summer of 1936, the production 328s featured doors and a convertible hood, and were well equipped and very comfortable in the manner of the best Grands Routiers. On the racetrack the 328 reigned supreme, winning its class at the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Spa 24 Hours and Britain's Tourist Trophy. In 1940 an example fitted with special aerodynamic bodywork won the Mille Miglia outright.
The most advanced sports car of its day, the 328 remained competitive for years after the war, a state of affairs that only served to further enhance its reputation, which was out of all proportion to the limited number produced. Between 1936 and 1939 only 426 BMW 328s were made, of which fewer than 200 are estimated to exist today.
Chassis number '85043' was despatched new to BMW dealer Fendler & Luedemann in Hamburg on 22nd May 1937. It is believed that the body is by Verieinigte Werkstatten of Munich, though this has not been confirmed and no records exist of its pre-war history. The car's post-war history is recorded in accompanying Czech registration documents, the earliest known owner being M Synek of Brno, who registered the car on 28th February 1949 with the number 'OZ-90-13'.
The present owner purchased the BMW on 23rd July 1968 from Jan Vyska of Prague, and subsequently drove it to the UK to escape the repression imposed by the occupying Soviet forces, which had invaded on the night of 21/22 August. En route, the cylinder head gasket failed in Southern Bohemia and the owner returned hastily to Prague to purchase new one using a borrowed motor scooter. UK import duty of £18 17s 2d was paid on 11th August 1969 (documents on file) but the BMW was not subsequently registered in this country.
Born in 1940, the owner trained as a motor vehicle mechanic at Prague Transport College and worked for the Prague Science Museum, entering museum cars in various events. With two others he purchased 1913 Bugatti, which was entered in various events including the 1966 Targa Floria. The Bugatti was transported from Prague to Palermo dismantled, the parts being carried in and on top of two borrowed FIAT 600s! After the move to England he raced at Prescott and worked for Skoda and Alfa Romeo as Zone Manager, and subsequently for Hexagon Motors of Highgate.
'85043' appears to be unmodified apart from a racing filler cap and additional wheel studs added to the splined shafts to conform with Czech legislation. In 1969 the BMW was laid up due to low oil pressure. The engine was dismantled and parts purchased from Bristol Motors to convert it to shell bearings, together with a new oil pump, etc. However, the car has not been re-assembled and thus is offered for restoration.
Generally regarded as one of the very few pre-war models that drives like a post-war car, the BMW 328 is eligible for all the most important historic events including the Mille Miglia, Nürburgring Oldtimer GP and Le Mans Historic.