Ultimate Machine: Bayerische Motoren Werke’s Pre-War Flagship

The pre-war motor that drove like a post-war era racer.

William Driscoll |

With its unmistakable propeller-inspired brand found on everything from futuristic electric vehicles to endlessly adept, continent conquering sport bikes, it is important to reflect on the roots of the company known as Bayerische Motoren Werke. Founded in 1917, then producing cars initially in 1928, BMW had only been around for a short number of years before turning its hand to racing. Competing in events like the Mille Miglia, Le Mans, and the RAC Tourist Trophy, the plucky little Bavaria-based firm at the time went on to accomplish some remarkable achievements in-period competition, considering its short existence.

Today’s subject car, a gorgeous BMW 328 roadster, was the German manufacturer’s first real foray into motorsport, and proved a remarkable success, achieving over 100 wins in various competitions in its first year alone. The little-known marque was starting to establish a name for itself in the world of competitive driving, something which it has continued to do since the now-famous model left the factory. It was, to put it simply, the genesis of BMW motorsport. Fresh from a concours-quality restoration, this iconic BMW 328 Roadster will cross the block in Monterey this August:

1938 BMW 328 Roadster offered at RM Sotheby’s Monterey live auction 2022

1938 BMW 328 Roadster


Estimate: $700,000 - $850,000 USD


As a continuation of the 327, the 328 set new standards in the way cars drove and handled, establishing a precedent for the modern cars that were to come out in the post-war era. With its headlights integrated into the front fascia (a design flourish that Bugatti also implemented later in the 1930s), and now-familiar twin kidney grilles, the 328 Roadster also established an aerodynamic design language that has inspired BMW’s styling department ever since. The tubular-framed roadster was quick by 1930s standards, hitting 80 bhp in road-going specification, with the potential to be tuned to 130 bhp on the racetrack.

Interior and engine of 1938 BMW 328 Roadster offered at RM Sotheby’s Monterey live auction 2022

It is therefore clear then that this was not an ordinary 1938 production car, as the 328 became highly formidable on the track, clocking wins at Le Mans, achieving a 1-2-3 victory in the two-litre class. Standing as an antithesis to the sport-racers at the time that opted for large, heavy engines, the more-nimble 2.0-litre, inline six-cylinder powerplant paired with a remarkably light body, resulted in a mere 1691 lb total weight. However, the results spoke for themselves and the 328 became known as one of the most successful pre-war racers. Such was the success of the 328 that Bristol Cars in the UK took one home for testing and came out with the Bristol 400, a highly imitated model of BMW’s formula.

Chassis number 85144’s seven-year restoration has certainly given it the status as one of the finest 328 roadsters in existence. Combining this remarkable restoration with FIVA identification papers gives the next owner of this example the chance to participate in a broad variety of prestigious events. Taking this BMW back to the Mille Miglia, especially considering the model’s 1-2-3 victory in 1938, would certainly be a well-deserved homecoming for this 84-year-old example. This kidney-grilled 328 is a rare icon of BMW racing heritage, which set the precedent for BMW as innovators. A reputation that lives on to this day.

BMW themselves have returned to the elegant lines and classic stance of this pre-war roadster, with brand-new concept designs in 2006 and 2011 created as homages to the legendary 328. Even though the efforts of the BMW design division are no doubt striking and intriguing, they cannot claim to be as truly classic as this tasteful black-over-red example, especially after its comprehensive, seven-year restoration. Admire this fine pre-war roadster and many other exemplary examples of the finest cars in existence at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction in August.

Driving shot of 1938 BMW 328 Roadster offered at RM Sotheby’s Monterey live auction 2022