Glorious #1938 #BMW-328-Stunning
southern hemisphere pre-war classic still in regular use. This glorious #BMW-328
is the only one in the southern hemisphere and is still exercised on a regular basis as Chris Nicholls recounts.
Photography and word by Chris Nicholls. Southern Comfort. This wonderful pre-war 328 is reputed to be the only one left in the southern hemisphere.
It’s a beautiful sunny spring day in Melbourne , Australia , and the warm breeze blows through my hair. All around people are looking, waving and smiling. My cheeks hurt from the permanent grin I’ve been wearing since we started out towards our shoot location. This is the joy of driving in its purest form. This is what the 1938 328 can give you.
Designed in an era of classical fussiness, the 328 stood out for its clean, simple design. Not for the rational Germans the highly decorated and adorned surfaces of its rivals. Neither the pretty but impractical design touches that made others harder to work on than necessary. This was German design in its purest form and a symbol of what BMW would go on to be famous for – simple beauty and a focus on the very best driving experience.
Funnily enough, the 328, despite its inclusion as one of the ‘Cars of the Century’ by a mix of experienced motoring journalists, has always been seen by many as actually too good to have a soul as a result. Its immense practicality, highly influential engine and excellent handling meant it lacked character to some.
This is of course rubbish. I defy anyone to climb in, go for a drive and not come away with an insane grin. The roar of the triple downdraught Solex carbequipped 1971cc OHV straight-six at full bore, the rock solid mid-corner grip and availability of throttle- induced oversteer even in the dry is a fantastic combination, and that’s before we get to the pure pleasure of driving such an iconic car in modern day traffic. Yes, you have to deal with the actual traffic itself for a little while, but even then people just love seeing such cars on the road, and the joy you give them is a part of what makes driving a classic sports car like the 328 so special. And once you get to the twisties, you really see where BMW’s famous DNA came from. There’s a hint of initial understeer (mainly due to the tyres), then balanced mid-corner poise and the aforementioned twitch of the tail on command as you exit. The engine never feels weak on the straights either, even by today’s standards. Admittedly this example is running a sports cam and puts out a resulting 100hp or so, as opposed to the 80 it came with from the factory, but even in standard form, with only 830kg wet weight to push around, this car wouldn’t have hung about.
The race results show just how effective a sports car the 328 was in its period, too. As many readers will no doubt know, the 328 came first in class at the Eifelrennen at the Nürburgring in 1936, then went on to take over 100 class wins in #1937
before winning its class at Le Mans, the RAC Tourist Trophy, the Alpine Rally and the Mille Miglia in ‘38. By the standards of the day, it was a rocket ship, and the fact current caretaker, Ken Bedggood of the Penrite Collection, has had it down the standing quarter at 17.2 seconds highlights that fact.
Remarkably, as mentioned earlier, for all its speed, it’s still a very practical car. The boot, while it lacks rear access, is cavernous, and fitting in all my camera gear (and there was a lot) was easy. It could have held more, too. The rear-hinged ‘crocodile’ bonnet and quick-release clasps on the leather straps mean working on the engine is a breeze, and even the seats come out with a simple tug to ensure you can sit and enjoy a picnic without ever getting your clothes dirty.
Of course, the completely unsecured seats, scalloped doors, lack of belts and the enamelled dashboard being only a small distance from your chest means should something bad ever happen, you’re probably toast, but that’s part of the thrill. Plus, you’re likely to be driving this a bit more carefully than your average family hatchback anyway.
Having said that, this particular example gets driven with some enthusiasm on a regular basis, thanks to Bedggood’s philosophy that cars are meant to be used. A former champion rally driver here in Australia and manager of the Team Penrite historic racing team when he’s not running the museum and building/maintaining the cars, Bedggood has both the skills and experience to handle machines like the 328 and should he ever get hit by someone when he’s out driving, he at least has the skills to repair it himself, being a qualified fitter and turner.
The fact this 328 does get driven almost everywhere is perhaps all the more remarkable when you consider this is the only one in the southern hemisphere. That’s right, of the 464 produced, this is the only remaining example south of the equator, and probably one of only a couple of hundred left running. (there was one other here for a while, but that was on loan to #BMW-Australia
Welt, and has since gone back). It’s so rare that Bedggood says he’s had ‘ludicrous’ offers for it in recent years, but thankfully for Australians, the owner, Penrite Oils CEO John Dymond, has no intention of parting with it.
“Because all the Europeans have been buying them up [in recent times], we have so few of these classics here in Australia any more; we have to keep the ones we’ve got. I mean, I understand those who do sell, as it’s basically their retirement fund, but we’ve got to hold onto some, otherwise what’s going to happen to the next generation? We can’t pass on that passion,” says Bedggood.
That’s why he takes it out as often as he can. Whether it’s the Geelong Speed Trials, where it ran its 17.2 quarter, or the famous Phillip Island Classic, where it competed in the regularity field a few years back, Bedggood ensures it get used as intended. Just a few weeks after this shoot, it went out in the Breast Cancer Foundation Rally, and later in 2016 it will be in the parade contingent for the Clipsal 500 V8 Supercars season opener in Adelaide.
Sadly, due to a small oil leak, it’s likely not going to be driven interstate for that, but the very fact it gets driven almost everywhere else is almost a miracle, and definitely something car lovers in Australia should be grateful for. It’s also something that shocked BMW Australia when both this 328 and its example turned up at one show together. “It’s funny, we took it to this event once and the employees from BMW Australia trailered theirs in a covered trailer and we just drove all the way there and they looked at us when we arrived as if they were like ‘what are you doing?!’.” Not that all this driving doesn’t have risks.
Bedggood relates another story where the team was invited to show it off it as part of the historic parade at the Melbourne F1 Grand Prix one year, and only realised when they got back to the pits that the fuse box cover had come off mid-lap.
“I thought to myself, ‘oh no! Where am I going to source a genuine Bakelite Bosch fuse cover from 1938?’ but afterwards, a marshal came up to me and said “I think this came off your car just near where I was marshalling” and handed it back to me. Unbelievably, it was in perfect condition.”
Indeed, the whole car is in remarkably good nick, considering its age and history. Previously owned by Chris Browning in the UK, current owner John Dymond came into it after Browning sadly fell ill with cancer and passed away. Dymond, a close friend of Browning, always talked to him about wanting the car, and Browning agreed to it before he passed. It then competed in a Frazer Nash Rally to Milan before being shipped to Australia and has been used regularly ever since. Even after all that, mechanically, the only issue right now is the aforementioned slight oil leak, which will no doubt be fixed, and the fact the alloy head already has 36 welds holding it together. Ideally, Bedggood would like to keep this part original, but has a Bristol head waiting in the workshop should he ever need it, as spark plug sizes aside, they’re identical (for those who don’t know, the Bristol engine was based on BMW designs taken by BAC and Frazer Nash representatives from the bombed factory after World War II). And given the car already had an overdriveequipped Volvo Amazon synchro box – a common and highly regarded upgrade over the fragile stock Hirth ‘box that, uniquely among other options, bolts on with no body modifications – fitted prior to Dymond’s purchase (the original came with it too), matching numbers is not so much of a pressing issue. At least the ultra-purists will be happy knowing the original toolbox is still intact. And in a lovely touch, the Victorian number plate is actually the same as the one it wore in the UK.
Aesthetically, the wonderful cream paint outside is almost entirely unblemished, apart from a patch missing on the bonnet due to the straps not being done up properly prior to a road rally and the bonnet flying up and hitting the windscreen, and a bit of peeling around the now useless crank handle hole (the car was converted to 12 volt electrics while in the UK). Inside, a paint chip at the bottom of the dash and around well-used knobs and one of the VDO gauges is about all you can see. The unusually plain Bakelite three-spoke wheel obviously has some marks, but overall, it’s a stunningly well-looked after machine. It really is testament to the care Bedggood and the other museum staff impart.
Machines like the 328 are, by definition, rare. Not just because of the limited production numbers and scarcity down under in this case, but because cars that get things this right only come along once in a proverbial blue moon. Whether it’s style, performance, handling or ingenious design, the 328 ticks all the boxes, and car lovers should be grateful such cars still exist, let alone get driven and put on show regularly like this one. It’s a source of pure joy, and my time with it was an experience I will never forget.
Plenty of original equipment remains intact on the Penrite 328 such as its factory tool kit.
TECHNICAL DATA #1938 #BMW-328
ENGINE: 1971cc #OHV #straight-six
based on #BMW-326
block (66mm bore, 96mm stroke). Alloy head, 7.5:1 compression ratio, inclined inlet valves operated by pushrods and rockers, exhaust valves operated by secondary pushrods and rockers, triple downdraught #Solex
carburettors, sports camshaft, 100hp (estimated), 80hp (standard).
all-synchro four-speed with added overdrive (Hirth four-speed originally).
CHASSIS: Tubular ladder-frame steel with aluminium body panels.
FRONT: Independent by transverse leaf spring, lower wishbones and hydraulic dampers
REAR: suspension: Live axle, semi-elliptic springs and hydraulic dampers
BRAKES: 280mm hydraulic drum brakes. Automatic footbrake adjustment
This particular example gets driven with some enthusiasm on a regular basis.
I defy anyone to climb in, go for a drive and not come away with an insane grin.
The interior is in remarkable condition with the perfect patina; plenty of lovely details too, such as the stylish gear knob.
This 328 gets regularly exercised and is a hoot to drive thanks to a sports camshaft and 100hp.