I'd call it heavy and ungraceful, but not ugly. As if a Bavarian housewife had muscled in on the turf of a Brazilian lingerie model


BMW began life as an aero engine manufacturer in WWI (check out the propeller on the badge) and branched into heavy trucks and motorcycles in the early 1920s.

The company's first car was the diminutive 1929 Dixi, based on the English Austin 7, but BMW soon developed its own models, adopting the familiar kidney-shaped grille in 1933 in the Typ 303.

The company favored 6-cylinder engines, and the 315 of 1934 was designed by Fritz Fiedler, who would stay with BMW for 30 years. His 326 four-door sedan bowed at the 1936 Berlin Auto Show, but it was the tube-framed 328 roadster that put BMW on the map.

The 2-liter, 6-cylinder engine featured a hemi head and was capable of over 100 mph, winning its class at the 1939 Le Mans 24 Hour race and the 1940 Mille Miglia outright.

Coachbuilder George Autenrieth started by building bodies for Opel and Rohr but designed cabriolets and coupes for the new BMW 326/327/328 series in 1936-37.

This 1937 BMW Cabriolet was bought from the fourth owner in the 1970s and completely restored in the following decade-mechanicals, body, and woodwork. The engine was rebuilt again in 2005 with a billet crank and Carillo rods, bearing shells, new pistons, rings, and valves.

More graceful than the contemporary roadster, the deep red paint is set off by tan leather interior and matching canvas top. The spare tire is recessed into the trunk lid, while the rear wheels are covered by embossed skirts. As one of only 462 328s manufactured before WWII, it makes a comfortable and individual statement.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1937 BMW 328
Number Produced:465
Original List Price:7500RM ($3,024)
Tune Up Cost:$2,000
Distributor Caps:$500
Chassis Number Location:Plate on the firewall, also stamped on right front chassis rail near suspension pick-up point
Engine Number Location:Stamped on right front side of block
Club Info:BMW Car Club of America, 640 South Main St, Suite 201, Greenville, SC 29601

This 1937 BMW 328 Cabriolet sold for $302,500, including buyer’s premium, at RM’s Automobiles of Amelia Island, Florida, event on March 14, 2009.

In less than ten years as an automobile manufacturer, BMW produced an automotive tour de force which redefined the modern grand touring car. That car was the 328 roadster. Blessed with a cleverly designed ladder frame chassis, using twin tubes on the sides with torsion bars on the ends, it was nimble in the style of a Lancia B20 or Fiat 8V, but almost 20 years ahead of them.

BMW had very little money, so it had to be clever. Using a 326 block, which displaced 1,971 cc, a talented team of dedicated designers placed the camshaft high in the block, and with short horizontal pushrods created a hemispherical combustion chamber head. Initially the 2-liter mill produced “only” 95 hp at 5,500 rpm, but keep in mind the year was 1935.

With mild tuning, 130 Bavarian Clydesdales were at hand. This package was wrapped in a very handsome alloy body and tipped the scales at a shade over 2,000 lb.

Engine shortage led to cannibalizing 328s

An estimated 462 328 roadsters were produced, and relatively few survive. The engine was partially responsible for that. Out of the ashes of WWII, people started to build race cars, and the shortage of suitable engines led to cannibalizing the 328 roadsters. Veritas comes to mind, but there were plenty of other racing specials produced in Germany, Belgium, France, and Holland that carried the immortal 328 powerplant.

Furthermore, the engine and the car itself are responsible for the birth of many makes: Frazer Nash (pre-war Nashes were RHD 328s, German-built but with the Nash badge); Veritas, which was a serious modern race car for the immediate post-war period; Bristol; AC Bristol; and EMW.

This last one merits a few words. It was actually an East German-built copy of the 328, based on the fact that the original factory was there. God knows the Russians did not leave much of the original factory standing, but the East Germans managed to produce cars anyway, doing anything to get hard currency.

Who knows why the Russians (not exactly stalwarts in observing copyright and intellectual property rights) didn’t insist on calling their East German re-creation a BMW. Still, they changed the name to EMW, though a number were imported to the U.S. as BMWs in the early 1950s, and distinguishing them from original cars is a daunting task.

Coachbuilt cars

Racing costs money, but there were plenty of Reichmarks doled out by a branch of the Gestapo called the Supreme National Sports Authority; its most lasting legacy was the creation of a lightweight body for the 328. The records are non-existent, but I think the old boys’ network knows where they are. The new body reduced weight by 200 lb or so.

In addition, a starter racing series was created for National Socialist youth, and a lot of them shone as stars after WWII. With Touring Superleggera bodies, the 328 scored class wins in all the major races. But to me that was insignificant-like the L.A. Lakers beating a bunch of pygmy basketball players. The huge amounts of Nazi money made those victories meaningless.

An unknown number of chassis also went to popular German coachbuilders. Generally speaking, they were unremarkable when compared to the factory roadster, being heavier (ash wood sub-frames are heavy) and bulkier. And contrary to popular practice, they sold for much less than factory cars. (Trust me; I have painful memories on that subject.)

So what about the Autenrieth cabriolet that sold at RM’s Amelia Island auction? It was well presented; its restoration was old enough for the age of consent, and it showed very well. Not flashy, but far from shabby-solid and tidy, I would say. I didn’t really examine the car that closely for flaws, but unique-looking air cleaners come to mind, and if I recall correctly, Phillips screws attached the firewall chassis plate. But that’s all trivia; the car sold extremely well, encroaching on factory roadster prices in spite of its rather chunky cabriolet body.

I’d call it heavy and ungraceful, but not ugly. As if a Bavarian housewife, beer belly and all, had muscled in on the turf of a Brazilian lingerie model. Extremely well sold, I say, and I wish the new buyer many happy cheese and wine events, having the only Autenrieth 328 cabriolet in the room.

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