1938 Frazer Nash BMW 319/2
Year of manufacture1938
Chassis number85HF 260217
Engine number85HF 260217
Number of seats2
The ex-Billy Cotton
1938 Frazer Nash-BMW 328 Roadster
Registration no. JHX 339
Chassis no. 85HF 260217
Engine no. 85HF 260217
With his 'Wakey! Wakey!' catch phrase and 'Somebody Stole My Gal' signature tune, bandleader Billy Cotton was one of Britain's most popular radio and television entertainers of the 1950s and 1960s. What most of his audience didn't know was that this multi-talented man was also a boxer, amateur footballer, cricketer, yachtsman, aviator and racing driver. Enlisting underage to fight in WWI, Cotton had learned to fly while serving in the Royal Flying Corps, and like many young men of his generation, turned to motor sports when hostilities ended, no doubt hoping to re-experience some of the thrills enjoyed in combat.
An habitué of Brooklands from its reopening after The Great War, Cotton commenced his motor sports career at the Surrey track aboard a Norton motorcycle. There he got to know the star drivers of the day including Count Zborowski, Sir Malcolm Campbell and Sir Henry Segrave. He borrowed Segrave's Talbot for his first motor race at Southport Sands; drove a Riley in the HRDC 500 Mile Race at Brooklands, competing against the likes of Freddie Dixon, John Cobb and Earl Howe; and fielded an MG Magnette in the Long Handicap event. Encountering engineer W E 'Wilkie' Wilkinson at Donington Park, Cotton asked him to tune the MG and the pair would go on to enjoy a long and fruitful relationship.
One of Cotton's subsequent acquisitions was a Frazer Nash-BMW 328 - 'JHX 339', the car offered here - which was first registered to him on 27th July 1938. The Anglo-German marque had been created in late 1934 when AFN Ltd concluded an agreement with BMW for the importation of their cars into the UK where they were sold as Frazer Nash-BMWs, some with coachwork by British firms and others with German-made bodies.
BMW's emergence as a manufacturer of fine sporting motor cars can be traced back to the 1936 running of the annual Eifelrennen event, held at the Nürburgring on 14th June, 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.
Cotton's BMW 328 was tuned and prepared by Wilkie Wilkinson in readiness for the 1938 RAC Tourist Trophy, only for the event to be cancelled due to the Munich crisis. The car's next known owner was Charles Maurice Dunn of South London, who acquired it in July 1947 (see copy old-style logbook on file). 'JHX 339' remained in Mr Dunn's hands until it was purchased by the immediately preceding owner in May 1959. The BMW was totally restored by Bristol Cars Ltd between 1991 and 1992, and in December 1993 was offered for sale at a UK auction where it was purchased by Gordon Willey. While in Gordon's ownership 'JHX 339' has benefited from a 'no expense spared' policy with regard to its further restoration and maintenance, there being a substantial quantity of invoices on file from specialists TT Workshops and Jonathan Wood (close inspection recommended). The history file also contains a V5 registration document, the 1993 auction invoice, an expired MoT certificate (1999) and a photograph of Billy Cotton's son - Sir Bill Cotton - sitting in the car at an exhibition.
The most advanced sports car of its day, the BMW 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 were made, of which fewer than 200 are believed to exist today. 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.