BMW’s new sports car, the BMW 328, debuted in the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring on 14th June 1936. With motorcycle world record-holder Ernst Henne behind the wheel, it took its first commanding victory in the 2-litre sports car class. Although just three units were built, they were frequently to be seen at racing events, especially in the international arena.
The inevitable teething troubles were soon overcome, and wherever these cars turned up they instilled trepidation in their rivals. It soon became obvious that the foreign car marques weren’t a patch on the BMW 328. Once serial production had started in 1937, more and more privateers began lining up on the grid with their new sports cars, and in less than a year Germany’s 2-litre class was firmly in the grip of the BMW 328s. On international circuits they similarly managed to rake in one win after another.
The car’s original output of 80bhp had already been raised to around 110 bhp in the competition engines – a remarkable figure for these long-stroke units. But no more significant increases could be expected in that regard. Nor was there much scope for paring down the weight of the car, which was already on the light side in its standard version. The only way to boost maximum speed was by reducing aerodynamic drag.
It was only when the German and Italian sports authorities decided to launch a high-speed race on the recently built motorways between Berlin and Rome as a tangible testimony to the Berlin-Rome axis forged between the two Fascist governments that the BMW technicians came under pressure to produce a suitable car.
The race was scheduled to take place in October 1938 and, hardly surprisingly, the German motor industry was obliged to pull out all the stops on behalf of this event. For BMW it meant developing a high-performance sports car to a tight deadline – a car which would not only make its mark but also have a realistic chance of securing overall victory.
For political reasons the Berlin – Rome race was repeatedly postponed. However, the dates scheduled in 1939 for the substitute Mille Miglia event and the Le Mans 24 Hours were looming ever closer.
Fritz Fiedler, in charge of vehicle development, used his Italian contacts to place a rush order for a streamlined body with Milan-based coachbuilders Carrozzeria Touring. The company were already working on a very similar project for Alfa Romeo and were able to draw on their experience with a similar body from the previous year. Without too much effort, this streamlined body based on the patented “superleggera” construction method could be adapted to the standard chassis of the 328. Indeed, the Italian coachbuilders worked their magic to finish the superstructure in a matter of four weeks. Despite the fact that Touring lacked a wind tunnel, the team of designers applied their instincts and an empirical approach to come up with just the right shape.
The Touring Coupé made its debut at Le Mans in June 1939. Sharing the wheel were Prince Schaumburg, as he was known at the factory, and BMW engineer Hans Wencher. At the end of a 24-hour battle and a distance of 3188 kilometres, they had won the 2-litre class with a sensational average speed of 132.8 km/h. In the overall classifications they achieved an outstanding fifth place against competitors with far more powerful engines. For the first time, the superiority of streamlining had been demonstrated here by a BMW.
The came the Mille Miglia. Notwithstanding the war, a 1000-mile circuit race had been planned for the 28th of April 1940 by the Italian officials, though it would not be run on the Mille Miglia’s historic circuit but on a triangular course between Brescia, Cremona and Mantua, which had to be covered nine times. The race was won by the Touring Coupé, driven by Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer,
The Touring Coupé made its mark once more in the Ruhestein Hill Climb of 1946 with Hermann Lang at the wheel, clocking the fastest time of the day. It then went to the United States, where it made an appearance in a few more races.
After a decade of hibernation it was rediscovered, and has since last year been the jewel in the crown of BMW Mobile Tradition’s historic vehicle collection.