19-20 August 2016

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Lot 123

1939 BMW 328

  • Chassis no. 85351
  • Engine no. 361954

Sold for $550,000

Please note that this vehicle is titled as a 1940.

80 bhp, 1,971 cc overhead-valve inline six-cylinder engine with three Solex carburetors, independent front suspension with wishbones and transverse leaf springs, rigid rear axle with semi-elliptical leaf springs, four-speed manual gearbox, and four-wheel drum brakes. Wheelbase: 94.5 in.

  • One of 464 examples built
  • Only two owners since the late 1980s
  • Rally, tour, and vintage racing veteran for a quarter-century
  • Exceptionally well-maintained and recently serviced for further use
  • Documented with over 100 pages of invoices and correspondence
  • A rare example of BMW’s pre-war racing legend

While marques like Bugatti, Bentley, Mercedes-Benz, and Alfa-Romeo are typically considered in conversations of the most sporting pre-war automobiles, few cars can compare to the BMW 328 at the lighter end of the scale. Initially solely a manufacturer of motorcycles and aero engines (its famous logo is actually a representation of a moving propeller), BMW only entered automobile production in 1929 after acquiring the German firm Dixi, which was already building licensed versions of the four-cylinder Austin 7.

In 1932, BMW began developing its first proprietary inline six-cylinder engine, which was initially produced as a 40 horsepower, 1.5-litre unit in the company’s Type 34. Undergoing gradual enlargement over the next few years, the motor received its most important upgrade in 1936 with the application of a new hemispherical head with lateral inclined intake valves and crossover push-rods for the exhaust. These innovations easily lifted power to 80 horsepower, notably making the motor one of very few that doubled its initial output capabilities and was considered very advanced for the day.

Now displacing nearly two liters, the hemi-headed engine was dropped into a lightweight two-seat roadster built around a tube-frame chassis with an independent front wishbone suspension. While of a smaller scale, the factory coachwork was stylish yet more aerodynamic than any of the roadsters concurrently produced at Sindelfingen or Molsheim.

Officially entering production in April 1936, the BMW 328 was extensively campaigned by the factory, with chassis number 85001 debuting to a 1st overall finish at the Eifelrennen Nürburgring while driven by Ernst Henne. In April 1937, the first customer cars were delivered, and both factory and privateer entries racked up wins by the end of the year, with additional checkered flags taken at the Eläintarhanajo in Finland, the GP des Frontières, the Bucharest Grand Prix, and the Eifelrennen Nürburgring again.

In 1938, the 328 really hit its stride, winning some 125 events, including 1-2-3 finishes at the Mille Miglia, International Avusrunnen, GP des Frontières, and two victories at the Nürburgring. These successes were followed by a three-car team entry at Le Mans in 1939 (which finished 5th, 7th, and 9th), and outright dominance at the shortened 1940 Mille Miglia, where team cars finished 1st and 3rd, and privateers finished 5th and 6th. By this time, the 328 could be tuned to reach 60 mph from a standstill in 8.8 seconds, and a top speed of over 110 mph. British BMW importer and privateer H.J. Aldington was once clocked hitting 117 mph at Brooklands.

By September 1939, 464 examples of the 328 had been produced, and the model would remain dominant in club racing though the 1950s, with many receiving engine upgrades from England’s Bristol after the airplane company was granted the rights to the design as World War II reparations. Bristol-built and upgraded 328 motors soon became a favorite of British club racers, powering a spate of chassis from ERA, Connaught, and Cooper.

Today, the 328 is overwhelmingly considered the most important and collectable pre-war BMW, claiming innovation in engineering and styling, and a lengthy pedigree of world-class competition successes, adding cachet to this, the 100-year anniversary of the marque.


This late-production 328 is very well known among historic racing enthusiasts, having been a regular participant at vintage events for several decades. While 85351’s early history currently remains unknown, by the late 1980s, the car had come into the care of Ralph Day, the former owner of a BMW dealership in Concord, California. Mr. Day was known to frequently enter the roadster in major events, including the 1988 Mille Miglia Storica, and the 8th Interstate Batteries Great American Race in 1990, a Gumball Rally style coast-to-coast marathon that ran from Westchester County, New York, to Disneyland in Anaheim, California.

In 1996, the 328 was purchased by the consignors, and the couple spent many hours over the following two decades participating in vintage tours and races, including several runnings of the California Mille and the Colorado Grand. The car competed in the Monterey Historics in 1999, 2000, 2005, 2011, and 2012; and ran in the Classic Sport Racing Group’s Thunderhill in 1999 and 2000; and at Concord Hill in 1999. It also appeared at the 2000 Sears Point Wine Classic, the 2007 Wine Country Classic, and the 2012 Sonoma Historic Motorsports Festival (the new event created by Monterey Historics founder Steve Earle).

Consistently enjoyed and maintained over the last 30 years, this BMW is documented with service and restoration invoices dating to 1998. It features a proper period BMW engine in 328 configuration, rebuilt by expert Shawn Thomas, complete with later updates for improved power and reliability. Notably, it has been equipped with a lovely Volvo synchromesh gearbox (though a period-correct BMW gearbox is included with the car). While the 328 is currently fitted with a driver’s-side racing windscreen, it is accompanied by the more traditional two-piece windshield, as well as a convertible soft-top, tonneau cover, and a pair of rear-wheel skirts.

Recently serviced by the respected Kevin Kay Restorations in Redding, California, this sensational 328 has spent the last three decades in the forgiving climate of California, consistently maintained as needed by two dedicated owners. It is ideally prepared for further tours or racing, and though not a show car by concours standards, would present proudly at any gathering of sports car enthusiasts

As one of only 464 examples produced, and one of far fewer roadsters that remain in competitive racing condition, this rare 328 represents a rare opportunity for any collector with an eye out for a sorted pre-war event car, in this case an iconic model in its most user-friendly form.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more