1938 BMW Type 328 Sports
Until 1928 BMW's main line of business was aero engines and it did not make cars until it bought the Dixi company which made Austin Sevens under license. Although BMW was late on the scene, it established a towering reputation in a very few years. A six cylinder engine was made in 1933 and from 1934 onwards its Typ 319 sports model began to appear in competition results, first as a 1 1/2-litre car, then as a two-litre, which led the company to look seriously at racing and to explore ways of increasing performance.
Rudolf Schleicher designed a new cylinder head, cast from aluminum, which gave most of the advantages of a twin cam layout but without major retooling. It used the existing camshaft to activate six pushrods to short rockers which operated the inlet valves, while another six pushrods went to rockers which then operated short pushrods across the top of the head to another set of rockers which activated the exhaust valves. With triple Solex carburetors, power increased to over 80 bhp – and up to 135 bhp would be seen on tuned engines.
It was a brilliant solution and although it sounds complicated, the engine was exceptionally reliable. After the war it was adopted by Bristol and stayed in production until 1961, by which time it had a fabulous record of competition successes. Great names such as Frazer Nash, Cooper, Lotus, AC and Lister won hundreds of races and continued to do so even after the engine was phased out.
In 1936 Schleicher's engine was fitted to a chassis designed by Fritz Fiedler (who later designed the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica) and so was born the immortal BMW Typ 328 sports car, which established new standards in the two-litre class. In a short time, BMW had gone from a maker of Austin Sevens to the firm which made the best all-around sports car in the world.
Such quality, of course, was not cheap. In Britain few enthusiasts could afford the 328’s £695 price tag, against the £395 asked for a Jaguar SS100. Between its 1936 debut and the turbulent days of 1940, BMW built just 461 examples of the 328. Forty two were sold in Britain, including seven in chassis form (six of which were infact only completed after the War) and one car each went as far afield as the USA and even India. BMW themselves also sold cars in chassis form for the home market, these being clothed in generally more luxurious style by, amongst others, Glaser in Dresden, Drauz in Heilbronn, Authenreith in Darmstadt and Wendler in Reutlingen. Most famous of all, of course, were the special bodied 328s built for the 1939 Le Mans 24 Hours and the 1940 Mille Miglia, won by Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Baumer in the aerodynamic 328 streamlined coupe (weighing just 780kg!), one of the most evocative automobiles in motor racing history.
As Eberhard Kittler wrote in his book Essential BMW Roadsters and Cabriolets: “No other BMW has had such a beneficial influence on the image of the company as the 328, and the model has entered the record books as the most successful European sports car of the period.”
Here we are pleased to introduce probably one of the last remaining 328s in largely untouched condition, direct from its believed third owner from new.
According to BMW factory records chassis ‘85158’ was originally sold via their Dutch importer Stokvis and Zonen firm in Rotterdam, with trademark white coachwork, on 17th February 1938. We believe the car remained with the first owner until acquired by the second, a Dutch businessman who required a replacement car for his business engagements, in 1947. It stayed with his family until 1999 when sold by private treaty via Simon Kidston to the current owner, believed to be the third.
At the time the car had not run for many years and had been stored by the family following the death of the owner. The car was inspected prior to purchase by German technical expert Klaus Kleophas who found it to be completely original but requiring a thorough mechanical overhaul before it could be used. This work was duly undertaken by the present owner’s full time mechanic, the brief being to leave the cosmetics of the car completely untouched. The engine, gearbox, clutch, suspension, steering and brakes were all rebuilt. All metalwork is original and the paintwork, which shows its age throughout, probably dates to the wartime period. The leather upholstery, now stained a deep cognac colour, is beautifully mellowed. The face of the original instruments has yellowed with age and the steering wheel is the correct black Bakelite type. The wheels are of course steel with Rudge knock-off spinners and are shod with Avon tyres in serviceable condition. The black canvas hood and tonneau cover appear in good order although many years old. The bonnet is secured with aged leather straps and underneath three correct Solex ‘1F’ carburettors with the standard ‘pancake’ air filters sit atop the six cylinder BMW engine, the number of which matches the chassis. The factory plug wrench is still in place on the bulkhead. Although not test driven, we are informed by the owner’s mechanic that the car is ready for use and it fires up first time with a crisp and sporty rasp from the exhaust.
Previously registered in Holland (‘RV-49-XJ’) and now in France, the car comes with a FIVA passport (class ‘A2’), official experts report (stating that it is in superb original condition), Controle Technique (noting various minor imperfections, but still passing the test) and sundry documents. Whilst researching this write-up it struck us just how few BMW 328s have been offered publicly in recent years. Just how good they are to drive probably explains why so few owners ever want to sell theirs. It will probably be a long time until another 328 of comparable originality is offered for sale again.