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An Overlooked Pre-War Gem - The BMW 328

An Overlooked Pre-War Gem -  The BMW 328

Race car or road car? You decide. The BMW 328 was a huge step forward back in the day, where its two-liter engine produced more than 80 horsepower. Yes, getting that much power from a two-liter was a significant development at the time. Having just celebrated its 80th birthday, we look at what it took to build this car, its remarkable history and what it's like to own one today.

Pre-War Significance

When World War II started, the efforts of BMW were fully directed towards supporting Germany. This led to an almost complete halt in car manufacturing, for nearly a decade. By the end of the 1940s, car production still hadn't begun. Only in 1951 was the first post-war BMW released: The BMW 501. The 328 was one of the last BMWs built before the war started when car development halted. The 328 was so good, that it was still winning some cars races years after World War II had ended.


A Masterpiece On Wheels

The BMW 328 is similar in appearance to the F1 cars of the fifties, such as the Mercedes W196 from Fangio and Moss times. Rarely these days do we see the eloquent curves used on vintage cars of the past. Now figures like fuel efficiency, and power to weight ratio have more say than charm. Something that's very present in the 328. The design wasn't just for the looks. The streamlined shape and closed wheels have an influence on reducing aerodynamic drag. You'll notice leather straps to buckle the hood. Plus, a spare wheel lying in clear sight on the roadster version. Something that is rarely seen on today's automobiles, except for the iconic BMW logo. Which is unchanged to this day.


A Dominating Race Car

Today, the Bavarian car manufacturer is involved in motorsports. The early dominance of BMW started with the 328. It achieved over 200 victories as a race car, including the Mille Miglia in 1940, a 1000-mile endurance race held in Italy. The car used in the race produced 130 bhp and was naturally aspirated. It was also a class winner in the 1939 Le Mans 24-hour race. Finishing 5th overall, only a few laps behind competitors with bigger and more powerful engines. It didn't stop there, with the 328 winning into the 1950s. In a sport like motor racing, where manufacturers have constantly innovated to perform, the BMW 328 proved it was a car ahead of its time. The 328's body was also very intelligently designed. An advanced chassis and suspension led to fine handling, and its lightweight construction made it weigh in at under 800kg. BMW recognized early that weight reduction was a priority. 


BMW 328 Performance

Performance wise, the 328 has no comparison with cars of today. However, the sound of the straight 6 engine is unmistakable. You can really hear the pistons of the engine working when it's running. The 328 uses the same engine from the BMW 326, but with some upgrades.


BMW developed new cylinder heads and opposed valves, which increased the power output by nearly 50%. This took the power it produced from 55 bhp to 80 bhp. With its lightweight body, it could reach a top speed of 150 kmh. Other than just top speed. The innovative tubular frame improved torsional rigidity, allowing it to be nimble in corners and have more responsive handling. All this along with an aerodynamically efficient design, helped the 328 become a winning race car from the start.


The Interior

At first glance, you may notice the BMW 328 has a massive steering wheel. This was common with cars of the era, to compensate for the lack of power steering. The finish is of very high-quality and has all the gauges you'd expect to find on any modern car. Other than that, it's quite tight inside for two people and doesn't come with a convertible roof.


The Driving Experience

This is a car that doesn't feel like a car of its age In a well maintained 328, the feeling is very close to driving any relatively modern stick shift car. There isn't a hint of wobble or shoddy construction. Overall, it's an efficient car, reaches a decent cruising speed, can take on hills, and do around 400+ km on a full tank. Munich to Brescia non-stop. The BMW 328 doesn't have an electronic control unit (ECU) to maintain optimum fuel mixture. That's mostly your job to monitor. For it to run well, the engine and carburetor need to be tuned properly.



A Collector's Car

Only 464 BMW 328's were produced. 70 years later, less than 200 remains. You'll probably find one lying in collector's garages, the Goodwood Festival of Speed, or in a historic car auction somewhere. The going price is around $700K - $900K. (Yes, it's close to impossible to buy this car today). The roadster, an open-top car with two seats, works better for summer weather, as the roof (if attached) isn't very thick. It still has enough power and can be comfortably driven, even though it's a race car from the thirties.


The Story Continues

The influence of the 328 has helped BMW establish itself as a leader post-war. All these decades later they're still a dominant manufacturer of luxury and sports cars worldwide. The more recent and successful 3-series are still sporty cars, with classic rear wheel drive and a lot quicker of course. You can still see a little of the 328 in today’s BMWs, with design elements such as the long bonnets, responsive handling, remarkable reliability and performance.



#7 John Bates 2018-01-15 15:56
Yes, an impressive power output, but it doesn't match MG. The 847cc PA engine (1934) gave 36 bhp and the PB (1935) with 939 cc gave 43 bhp. These were just standard road cars. The smaller 'blown' P type engine (fitted in the Q Type) gave 113 bhp, Now that's impressive!
#6 James Holland 2018-01-15 12:20
Since when has the BMW 328 been "overlooked"?
I'm surprised the number of survivors is so small but then again a great many were used as the basis of early post war German racing cars such as Veritas and AFM.
#5 HILL Donald 2018-01-15 10:20
En effet Frazer Nash a continué en 1948 avec leur version de 328 nommé High Speed et puis Le Mans Replica.
#4 Frazer Torode 2018-01-14 16:59
WHAT? No mention of Frazer Nash.
And “flat six”?
#3 Graham Smith 2018-01-14 11:40
A flat six engine in a BMW 328? Most unlikely!
#2 Steve Bousfield 2018-01-14 10:36
The 328 engine was a straight 6, not flat 6 as stated under thr 'Performance' heading.
It is that engine that, after the war, was the basis of the engine built by Bristol and used in Bristol, Frazer-Nash and AC cars.
Indeed the early Bristol cars were based heavily on the prewar BMW 328.
#1 Bart 2018-01-14 08:12
Flat six? You probably Mean straight six
Power output varied with type of fuel used.

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