Mechanically, competition cars and their road-going variants were rather similar back in the Thirties which meant there was no better place to prove performance and reliability credentials of a production car than in the thick of motorsport action. But even BMW might have been surprised by the success that the little 328 enjoyed over its rivals.
Designed by Fritz Fiedler and Peter Szymanowski and built by Ernst Loof and Alex von Falkenhausen, the 328 — produced from 1936-40 — is one of the most famous roadsters from the pre-war era. It debuted at the Nürburgring on 14 June 1936 (series production began a year later) rather than under the spotlights at any old motor show, and BMW’s new, naturally-aspirated roadster — piloted by Ernst Henne — demolished its supercharged competitors thanks to its sublime combination of superior engine power and a cutting-edge chassis. Its second victory came in August with British BMW importer H.J. Aldington sweeping all before him in the Schleißheimer Dreiecksrennen race and soon enough reports of victories continued to flood into Munich from every corner of Europe. This was the dawn of a new era; BMW’s motorsports history can be traced to this car.
Its 2.0-litre straight-six-cylinder engine may have only produced 80 horses but since overall it weighed just 830kg and boasted a top speed of 180kph, the 328 proved too quick and agile for the rest. Its lightweight design and perfect weight distribution allowed it to participate in 172 national and international races and take 141 victories to become the most successful sportscar of the Thirties on the racing scene. It even secured the overall victory at the Mille Miglia in 1940.
Production cars featured windscreens consisting of two halves that could be folded down individually while the two leather belts strapped over the bonnet provided a particularly sporty touch. Only 464 units were produced making it an extremely sought-after model today.