BMW's emergence as a manufacturer of fine sporting motor cars can be traced back to the annual Eifelrennen event held at the Nürburgring on 14th June 1936, when Ernst Henne beat a field that included 1½-litre monoposto racing cars driving the prototype of what would become one of the most iconic sports cars of all time the legendary '328'. The fact that this overwhelming victory had been achieved only eight years after BMW's establishment as an automobile manufacturer is all the more remarkable.
Lacking the resources of larger and longer established rivals, BMW adopted an evolutionary, 'mix and match' approach to model development. Thus the 328 employed the tubular chassis, transverse-leaf independent front suspension and live rear axle of the 319; the cylinder block and hydraulic brakes of the 326; and a body incorporating stylistic elements of the 319/1 Sport and 329. With the 328, BMW's Chief Engineer Fritz Fiedler turned accepted chassis design on its head, coming up with a frame that combined lightness and stiffness in equal measure - virtues that permitted the use of relatively soft springing with all its attendant advantages. In short: the 328 was the first truly modern sports car.
The 328's six-cylinder engine featured an ingenious new cylinder head, designed by Rudolf Schleicher, which incorporated hemispherical combustion chambers and inclined valves without recourse to overhead, or twin camshafts. Instead, the Type 326, 1,971cc engine's single, block-mounted camshaft and pushrod valve actuation were retained, thus avoiding an expensive redesign. Two rocker shafts were employed, one situated above each bank of valves, giving the engine an external appearance almost indistinguishable from that of a twin-overhead-cam design. Down-draught inlet ports contributed to the motor's deep breathing, and its tune-ability made it a popular choice for British racing car constructors, most notably Cooper, during the 1950s. The 328 engine produced 80bhp, an exemplary output for a normally aspirated 2.0-litre unit at that time, with more available in race trim.
The two door-less 328 prototypes and the first batch of cars were lightweight racers with aluminium coachwork intended to establish the model's competition credentials before production proper got under way. Available from the late summer of 1936, the production 328s featured doors and a convertible hood, and were well equipped and very comfortable in the manner of the best Grandes Routières. On the racetrack the 328 reigned supreme, winning its class at the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, Spa 24 Hours and Britain's Tourist Trophy. In 1940 an example fitted with special aerodynamic bodywork won the Mille Miglia outright.
This particular BMW 328 was purchased by John Coombs in the USA in 2000. Information supplied by the BMW Historic Motor Club UK, obtained from the BMW Factory Archives held in Munich, states that '85302' was supplied new on 19th September 1938 to the Hopstein & Kaiser dealership in Köln (Cologne) Germany. Correspondence on file states that the car is believed to have gone to the USA in the 1970s. According to Club records it was owned there by one Russell Schwartz and then by Oscar Davis, the well-known and respected collector.
Once in the UK the car was completely stripped to the last nut and bolt, the work being supervised by Barry Beeson, who has worked for over 25 years at the John Coombs Motor Garages. The chassis was straightened and then the rebuilt suspension and axles were reinstalled. The rear axle retains its original crown wheel and pinion assembly, which was found to be in excellent order. In similarly good condition, the body's ash frame only required some new timber in a few places, while the metalwork was in good shape also, requiring only the bottom third of the radiator surround and door bottoms replacing. The all-important number stamps are still visible on the glove box lid, wing corners and scuttle.
The engine was rebuilt utilising the original block, which has been re-sleeved to restore the original 66mm bore size. New white metal bearings were fitted and the motor upgraded with Bristol con-rods and a later Bristol fin-type worm oil pump. The compression ratio is 9.0:1. The carburettors were rebuilt with new spindles, floats, etc and the gearbox overhauled, including new bearings and a new clutch. The brakes were totally rebuilt and new linings installed in the reground original drums. Contracta Paint (John's favoured painters) repainted the car while the interior was completely re-trimmed by Mike Thomas (another of John's favoured specialists) circa 2005/06. Additional works include fabricating and chroming a new windscreen frame, and fitting an after-market toolbox. Patrick Henry rebuilt the instruments. Registered in the UK in 2010 and issued with a V5C document, the BMW has covered only 200 miles since the restoration's completion and is presented in concours quality condition.
The most advanced sports car of its day, the BMW 328 remained competitive for years after the war, a state of affairs that has only served to further enhance its reputation, which is out of all proportion to the limited number produced. Indeed, it is generally regarded as one of the very few pre-war models that drives like a post-war car. Between 1936 and 1939 only 426 were made, of which fewer than 200 are believed to exist today. They come to market only infrequently; thus the availability of John Coombs' fully restored example represents a rare opportunity for the discerning collector to obtain one of these iconic sports cars, eligible for all the most important historic motor sports events: Le Mans, Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, etc.