Pre-War Bimmer Winner

Developed before WWII and modified after, the 1946–47 Frazer Nash-BMW 328 was an Anglo-German collaboration that won every race in sight

Before we examine this unique car, let's take a look at its origins. In 1934 BMW's first sports car, the very nimble 315, made mincemeat out of the British Aldington brothers and their "chain gang," chain-drive Frazer Nash sports cars in the Alpine Rally.

The brothers thought if they couldn't beat the BMWs, they should join them and a new "British" car was born—the Frazer Nash-BMW, sold in England under license. Unlike other better-known Third Reich manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW was a modestly financed company, and had to resort to clever thinking to achieve maximum results with minimal expenditures.

This cunning approach came to a climax when the legendary BMW 328 was created. It was, and still is, a milestone car, and has been referred to as the first modern sports car. Instead of heavy steel rails (suitable for bridges in third world countries) to give the chassis rigidity, the 328 used a strong but light tubular chassis with welded (and not bolted) floors, cross members, and such.

This allowed the use of softer springs and shock absorbers, which allowed the driver to keep his tooth fillings, and go through corners much quicker than any other make of that period. Yet the chassis was already refined, because it was borrowed from the bread-and-butter BMW 319, so there was no need for new tooling.

The engine block and hydraulic brakes were from the BMW 326, another mass-produced model from designer Dr. Fritz Fiedler. The secret to BMW's powerplants lay with their hemispherical combustion chambers, which originated with Hispano-Suiza and Peugeot before WWI. Hemis give the most efficient, highest volumetric efficiency—or if you prefer, most ponies per cubic inch.

But a hemi head called for two overhead camshafts, which was a complicated and costly arrangement. This is where Fiedler used his genius: the camshaft was placed high on the left side of the block, operating intake valves with short pushrods. Small rockers running on a shaft in an all-new alloy head operated short transfer pushrods that worked the exhaust valves. Thus, a perfect hemispherical chamber was created, with valves inclined at 90 degrees, and the spark plug in the middle.

This brilliant and inexpensive arrangement produced 80 hp at 4500 rpm, which for the period was fantastic. A live rear axle with transverse leaf spring, and front suspension with rack-and-pinion steering underpinned an attractive and aerodynamic body. In 1936, the prototype (and the only example made) with an all-alloy body won its first race with motorcycle ace Ernst Henne at the wheel. The BMW 328 had arrived.

In the short period prior to WWII, the 328 won everything in sight, including the holy trinity of sports cars: Le Mans, the Mille Miglia and the Tourist Trophy. After WWII, Frazer Nash kingpin "Aldy" Aldington brought designer Fiedler to England where he updated the 328 design for Bristol as the 400, 401, 402 and 403 models and helped Frazer Nash develop the sought-after Le Mans Replica, Targa Florio, and Sebring models.

Dickie Stoop, the original owner of our subject car, S/N 85427, was a WWII fighter pilot and dedicated Frazer Nash owner. After owning other pre-war Frazer Nashes, Stoop bought the car in 1946. The chassis was one of a batch believed to total six, which survived WWII in a British Government impound yard. It became available for completion at war's end. Stoop later traded S/N 85427 back to the factory for a Frazer Nash Mille Miglia in 1952.

Stoop left the Royal Air Force after the war and joined the auto industry, eventually becoming Chief Engineer of the Rootes Group, which manufactured Hillman, Sunbeam, Singer, and Humber automobiles. He remained an enthusiastic sports car racer, entering the Le Mans 24-hour race ten times and dying of a heart attack in 1968, while racing a Porsche 911 in Yorkshire at age 47.

In recent years, S/N 85427 has languished in the Swiss Rosso Bianco Collection since 1988, with negligible use following a thorough restoration.

The SCM Analysis

This Frazer Nash was well sold by Bonham's for $474,345 at the Goodwood Revival sale on Sept. 1.

I personally doubt the story of six complete chassis being sold to England without bodies. After all, a Frazer Nash-BMW was a 328 converted to right-hand drive, with a different radiator and radiator badge.

BMW factory records are scarce, which is understandable, since our Liberator bombers pounded the factory many times. I have been told by marque experts that there were only six coachbuilt cars (excluding race cars with Touring bodies), mostly done by German coachbuilders like Wendler.

But be that as it may, the car is considered a pre-war example, and is accepted by the Vintage Sports Car Club, which is a big plus. It can race and beat up on other, lesser pre-war cars. The body, attributed to minor English coachbuilder Leacroft of Egham, Surrey, is reasonably attractive and will accommodate a taller driver than would a standard-bodied car.

Creating custom bodies or re-bodying cars was common practice and had no stigma in the period. If I understand the long and not very helpful auction write-up, the car acquitted itself very well in its only race, finishing 6th in class and 12th overall in 1949 at Spa-Francorchamps. A very short race history, but Spa was a very serious event and every factory team was there, so that's a plus.

Last but not least, this car underwent a superb restoration and is still in excellent condition. Was it well bought? Well, I just saw a 1939 Ford Deluxe Woody Station Wagon bring a huge $260,000 at auction, so the market has its own craziness right now. What's another $200,000 for a true classic that an owner can have some fun with on rallies and tours?

I do know that a very nice pre-war 328 would sell for about the same money as the car here, so we'd have to call this well bought.

Years Produced: 1936–40

Number Produced: 465

Original List Price: RM 7,500 (approx. $3,000 in 1940)

SCM Valuation: $190,000–$475,000 (at time of print)

Tune-up Cost: $1,500

Distributor Caps: Once you find it, pay whatever the seller wants

Chassis # Location: Left chassis tube, near front suspension pick up point

Engine # Location: Stamped on the right side of the block

Club Info: John Marsh, Company Secretary, Frazer Nash Car Club Ltd, The Rookery, Rookery Lane, Chedworth, Cheltenham, Glos. GL54 4AJ. john@marsh-surveyors.co.uk

Web Site: http://www.frazernash.co.uk

Alternatives: 1936–39 Jaguar SS 100, 1938–39 Alfa Romeo 6C 2300MM, 1936–39 Aston Martin 2-liter

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