1939 BMW 328
- One of 464 examples built
- Only two owners since the late 1980s
- Rally, tour, and vintage racing veteran for a quarter-century
- Exceptionally well-maintained and recently serviced for further use
- Documented with over 100 pages of invoices and correspondence
- A rare example of BMW’s pre-war racing legend
While marques like Bugatti, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, and Alfa-Romeo are typically considered in conversations of the most sporting pre-war automobiles, few cars can compare to the BMW 328 at the lighter end of the scale. Initially solely a manufacturer of motorcycles and aero engines (its famous logo is actually a representation of a moving propeller), BMW only entered automobile production in 1929 after acquiring the German firm Dixi, which was already building licensed versions of the four-cylinder Austin 7.
In 1932, BMW began developing its first proprietary inline six-cylinder engine, which was initially produced as a 40 horsepower, 1.5-litre unit in the company’s Type 34. Undergoing gradual enlargement over the next few years, the motor received its most important upgrade in 1936 with the application of a new hemispherical head with lateral inclined intake valves and crossover push-rods for the exhaust. These innovations easily lifted power to 80 horsepower, notably making the motor one of very few that doubled its initial output capabilities and was considered very advanced for the day.
Now displacing nearly two liters, the hemi-headed engine was dropped into a lightweight two-seat roadster built around a tube-frame chassis with an independent front wishbone suspension. While of a smaller scale, the factory coachwork was stylish yet more aerodynamic than any of the roadsters concurrently produced at Sindelfingen or Molsheim.
Officially entering production in April 1936, the BMW 328 was extensively campaigned by the factory, with chassis number 85001 debuting to a 1st overall finish at the Eifelrennen Nürburgring while driven by Ernst Henne. In April 1937, the first customer cars were delivered, and both factory and privateer entries racked up wins by the end of the year, with additional checkered flags taken at the Eläintarhanajo in Finland, the GP des Frontières, the Bucharest Grand Prix, and the Eifelrennen Nürburgring again.
In 1938, the 328 really hit its stride, winning some 125 events, including 1-2-3 finishes at the Mille Miglia, International Avusrunnen, GP des Frontières, and two victories at the Nürburgring. These successes were followed by a three-car team entry at Le Mans in 1939 (which finished 5th, 7th, and 9th), and outright dominance at the shortened 1940 Mille Miglia, where team cars finished 1st and 3rd, and privateers finished 5th and 6th. By this time, the 328 could be tuned to reach 60 mph from a standstill in 8.8 seconds, and a top speed of over 110 mph. British BMW importer and privateer H.J. Aldington was once clocked hitting 117 mph at Brooklands.
By September 1939, 464 examples of the 328 had been produced, and the model would remain dominant in club racing though the 1950s, with many receiving engine upgrades from England’s Bristol after the airplane company was granted the rights to the design as World War II reparations. Bristol-built and upgraded 328 motors soon became a favorite of British club racers, powering a spate of chassis from ERA, Connaught, and Cooper.
Today, the 328 is overwhelmingly considered the most important and collectable pre-war BMW, claiming innovation in engineering and styling, and a lengthy pedigree of world-class competition successes, adding cachet to this, the 100-year anniversary of the marque.
CHASSIS NUMBER 85351
This late-production 328 is very well known among historic racing enthusiasts, having been a regular participant at vintage events for several decades. While 85351’s early history currently remains unknown, by the late 1980s, the car had come into the care of Ralph Day, the former owner of a BMW dealership in Concord, California. Mr. Day was known to frequently enter the roadster in major events, including the 1988 Mille Miglia Storica, and the 8th Interstate Batteries Great American Race in 1990, a Gumball Rally style coast-to-coast marathon that ran from Westchester County, New York, to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.
In 1996, the 328 was purchased by the consignors, and the couple spent many hours over the following two decades participating in vintage tours and races, including several runnings of the California Mille and the Colorado Grand. The car competed in the Monterey Historics in 1999, 2000, 2005, 2011, and 2012; and ran in the Classic Sport Racing Group’s Thunderhill in 1999 and 2000; and at Concord Hill in 1999. It also appeared at the 2000 Sears Point Wine Classic, the 2007 Wine Country Classic, and the 2012 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival (the new event created by Monterey Historics founder Steve Earle).
Consistently enjoyed and maintained over the last 30 years, this BMW is documented with service and restoration invoices dating to 1998. It features a proper period BMW engine in 328 configuration, rebuilt by expert Shawn Thomas, complete with later updates for improved power and reliability. Notably, it has been equipped with a lovely Volvo synchromesh gearbox (though a period-correct BMW gearbox is included with the car). While the 328 is currently fitted with a driver’s-side racing windscreen, it is accompanied by the more traditional two-piece windshield, as well as a convertible soft-top, tonneau cover, and a pair of rear-wheel skirts.
Recently serviced by the respected Kevin Kay Restorations in Redding, California, this sensational 328 has spent the last three decades in the forgiving climate of California, consistently maintained as needed by two dedicated owners. It is ideally prepared for further tours or racing, and though not a show car by concours standards, would present proudly at any gathering of sports car enthusiasts
As one of only 464 examples produced, and one of far fewer roadsters that remain in competitive racing condition, this rare 328 represents a rare opportunity for any collector with an eye out for a sorted pre-war event car, in this case an iconic model in its most user-friendly form.