1939 BMW Typ 327/328

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-liter car, then as a two-liter, which led the company to look seriously at competition 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 DOHC head 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 produced 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 chasses designed by Fritz Fiedler (who designed the Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica) and so was born the BMW Typ 328 sports car, which established new standards in the two-liter 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.

Its other production cars were equally impressive, being well-made and elegant. The body of the Typ 327, which was supplied by Ambli-Budd, became the basis of the postwar Bristol 400 and that was considered advanced in the late 1940s. To this day the chassis of all Bristols may be traced back to the 1936 BMW Typ 326 – the 327 is a shortened version.

While the 328 satisfied the sports car enthusiast, the 327 fitted with the same extraordinary engine catered for customers who wanted a Grand Touring car. It fulfilled every requirement of a true GT; it was stylish and elegant (the hood disappeared from view when down), it was well-appointed with a radio as standard fitting, it could cover long distances at speed and in comfort. In short it was the sort of car which made its buyer look for excuses to drive across France and over the Alps into Italy and would turn heads in any company. Frazer Nash was proud to put its badge on those it imported into Britain.

It was also a comparatively rare car. During its production life of 1938-40, only 482 cabriolets were made together with 86 coupes. Like all quality cars of the day, one could buy a bare chassis and have one’s own body made, but so superb was the standard product that only one customer did this. The number of survivors is unknown, but many were lost during the war and, afterwards, others were converted into competition specials because the 328 engine was the unit to have.

The car pictured here is said to be in excellent all-round condition. It has not been cosseted because it begs to be driven and, last year, it complete the Liege-Rome Rally. it has recently been refurbished, the engine has had a complete rebuild and the interior and paintwork are exceptional. It is suitably finished in two tone grey with a contrasting red leather interior.