At Brooklands on April 15th, 1937, a prototype of the BMW 328 was driven for an hour by race driver/journalist S.C.H. “Sammy” Davis under the observation of the Royal Automobile Club. The resulting 102.226 mph average was widely acclaimed in the sporting press and considerably ballyhooed by Bayerische Motoren Werke. Yet skepticism followed. Such performance from a smallish, unsupercharged engine in a luxuriously turned-out roadster was impossible, the naysayers poopoohed. The car had to have been a factory racing special. Not long thereafter, a private owner took his 328 BMW to Brooklands and did 101 mph for the hour. The naysayers shut up.
The 328 BMW was an all-new idea of what a competition car could be. In an era of boisterous race engines, the 328s were civilized. Its twin-tube chassis with independent front suspension was cloaked in a sleek, streamlined body that was the antithesis of contemporary sports racers. Removing headlamps and fenders – the way many went racing in those days – would have been impractical with this BMW and was unnecessary anyway. 328s always ran fully equipped, only the leather straps that secured the hood hinted that this boulevardier might have motor sport in mind.
To recount the BMW 328’s victories would be tedious. This car was simply overwhelming in its class, with wins and team prizes in the Tourist Trophy, Le Mans and the Mille Miglia amongst a legion of others. Just 459 BMW 328s were built. Most owners raced theirs, and usually found other 328 owners their only real competition.
Overwhelming, too, was the influence of the BMW 328. Markedly ahead of its time, this beguiling Bavarian bombshell enjoyed the flattery of imitation over a decade later when the 328 engine – appropriated by the British as war reparations and built by Bristol cars – found its way into a variety of postwar sports cars, and postwar sports cars began to take on the sleek 328 look.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham was one of the first to use two-way radios at Le Mans in 1950 by installing them in both the LeMonstre and the Petit Pataud. You can see both cars at Revs. Learn more