BMW 328 Turns 80 – The Little Roadster That Could

BMW 328 Turns 80 – The Little Roadster That Could

With a body designed by Peter Szymanowski (although some attribute it to Kurt Joachimson) and the technical bits taken care of by Fritz Fiedler, the 328 was encompassing all the major elements that were to be found in virtually all BMW roadsters produced since then.

It had above average dynamics, high power to weight ratio and a perfectly balanced inline six-cylinder unit that sits way behind the front axle. In other words, the 328 encompassed all of BMW's core values for the very first time in history, paving the way for the company's future premium genes.

At a time when the battle for supremacy in German motorsport was mainly fought between Daimler-Benz and Auto Union, with their ginormous supercharged Silver Arrows, there came a small manufacturer which was primarily known for its motorcycles than for its cars and had a go at stealing the spotlight. As we mentioned before, the 328 was first launched in its racing version, gathering motorsport know-how for the road going variant that appeared almost a year later. From Racing Tracks to the Public Roads
Weighing just under 800 kilograms (1763 pounds) and with a normally aspirated and high-revving two-liter inline six under the long and curvaceous hood, the racing version of the 328 was as antithetic as it could be to some of the supercharged multi-cylinder monsters it was meant to battle. Despite its David credentials, it managed to beat its Goliaths in the very first race it participated in.

It was the 14th of June, 1936, and most of the quarter of a million spectators present at the International Eifel Race at the Nürburgring didn't have a clue what was the deal with the midget (compared to most of its competitors) BMW 328 roadster.

This was because, unlike most German car launches at the time, the 328 didn't even get to have a proper press release or a launch event. It simply showed up at the track, ready to win the race in its class. Which it did, despite being its very first.

From the five cars that BMW entered in the two-liter class of the race, there was only one 328, but it was enough to beat all its competitors. Thanks to a track that was completely soaked by the heavy rain of that day, the vast performance differences between classes somehow blurred, so the BMW 328 underdog even managed to beat the fastest time of the race.

This was only the beginning, though, since it managed to win more than 200 races in the next decade alone, becoming the winningest racing BMW in history. It was not all about racing, though, since the road-going version had its equal share of game-changing moments, mostly thanks to the motorsport know-how acquired by its racing brethren.A Preview of the Future
A bulbous front end, adorned with the typical BMW double kidney grill, headlights integrated into the body for better airflow and a long hood, these were the main design elements which somehow transcended through time and influenced many BMW (and not only!) cars to come after the war. Its design wasn't exactly ground-breaking, though, and the highly-advanced features for its time were actually technical, not design-related.

We're talking about a tubular space frame and a feature that was to become a synonym for the most feared Dodge/Chrysler muscle cars: hemispherical combustion chambers. Although it was originally designed purely for racing, the road-going 328 Roadster was a "powerful everyday car for travel and sport", as the pre-war BMW ads put it.

A year after series production had commenced, over 200 cars had been built, yet until production stopped in 1940 only 464 examples were produced. This means that the 328 has now become a sought-after rarity in classic car circles, especially since just over a couple of hundreds still actually exist, of which approximately 120 reside in Germany.

During its production span, the BMW 328 had a significant number of special versions, some of which became famous in their own right, but still attributing that success to the original lightweight roadster. The most beautiful of them all was probably the streamlined 328 Coupe by Carrozzeria Touring Superleggera.

The aerodynamic coupe inspired the Bavarian engineers to create their own version of a streamlined car, so the BMW 328 Kamm Coupe was born. With a drag coefficient of only 0.25, the car was even more streamlined than the original Touring version of the Coupe, thanks to the efforts made by Wunibald Kamm in the then newly formed "Artistic Design" department.

Apart from the two coupes mentioned before, another legendary version of the 328 was the Mille Miglia Roadster, which even managed to snatch overall victory at the 1940 edition of the Italian race, despite again being an underdog because of its small size and overall power.

On June 14 this year, no less than 80 years will have passed since the original BMW 328 Roadster first saw daylight in public and the same number of years since its very first racing success. We suspect both BMW and its 200-something current 328 owners will celebrate the birth of a legend in style as the snappy roadster rightfully deserves.

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