Frazer Nash-BMW type 328

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In resurgam

In November 1938 Lieutenant AIdenhoven of Loughton in Essex took delivery of a brand new Type 328 Frazer Nash-BMW from AFN Limited of Isleworth, the importer of the German cars. Built at the Eisenach works of BMW, these very advanced 2-litre cars were imported into the UK in right-hand-steering form, and marketed under the name of Frazer Nash-BMW, in accordance with an agreement drawn up by BMW (Munich) AG and AFN Limited, in 1934.

Aldenhoven’s car was a standard two-seater and sold under the English designation of 328 TT, in recognition of the works team success in the Ulster Tourist Trophy on the Ards circuit in 1936. It was painted black, and cost £695 in 1938, slightly more than the price of an average London semidetached house!

The lieutenant used it as a normal road going sports car, for the 328, even in competition form, was a well-equipped and very complete machine. It was equally as home going round Brooklands at 100 mph, competing in speed trials or hill-climbs, taking part in off-road reliability trials or merely giving immense pleasure on the open road or in town. The car in question may have been used for some mild club competition motoring, for most 328s were, but nothing has been recorded for the car up to the outbreak of war in September 1939.

After the war the Frazer Nash-BMWs were much sought-after as being about the best all-round sports car that could be used in the variety of competitions which saw the sport getting back on its feet. Naturally, there were no new ones coming from Germany, for not only did production cease in 1939, but the post-war division of Germany saw Eisenach in the East Zone and no longer part of the Munich firm.

Good 328s were fetching £1000 or more on the English market in 1946, and Aldenhoven’s car had survived the war in excellent condition. It had been registered in Middlesex by AFN Limited in November 1938 with the number KHX 173 (its facto, chassis number being 85.297) and appeared in one of the earliest post-war speed trials in the hands of a new owner.

This was Raymond Way, the north-west London used-car dealer, and the event was the speed trial held at West Court, Finchamstead in Berkshire, organised by the newly-formed Hants & Berks Motor Club. The event was held on September 15, 1946, and KHX 173 performed well on the loose-surfaced drive of West Court.

Raymond Way competed regularly with the car in those immediate post-war days, taking in almost anything that was available — the versatility of the 328 being demonstrated adequately as it took part in mud-trials, speed hill-climbs, driving tests and aerodrome racing.

By 1948 the competition scene had become quite serious and new cars were appearing, but sadly none from the Munich car makers. In Germany many 328 BMWs had been given a new lease of competition life by small tuning establishments, such as AFM and Veritas, and in the same way some Frazer Nash-BMW 328s were being “breathed upon” in the search for more performance. The post-war Frazer Nash appeared, clearly developed from the 328 model, with engine by Bristol from the original 328 BMW design, and while the 328 cars had been fully equipped, almost luxurious, sports cars, the post-war competition Frazer Nash was much more an out-and-out racer. Raymond Way attacked KHX 173 with lightening tools, removing the complete body and mudguards and substituting a lightweight two-seater with the bare minimum of road equipment, the resulting rebuild looking not unlike a Le Mans Replica Frazer Nash.

He reduced weight wherever possible and tuned the engine in line with Bristol development. So KHX 173 was endowed with a lot more performance, though it suffered a bit from lack of rear-wheel grip, due to its rigid axle mounted on half-elliptic leaf-springs and insufficient weight over the rear of the chassis.

By 1950 it had parsed into the hands of the northern 328 exponent Gillie Tyrer, who had competed successfully with two different 328s before acquiring the Raymond Way special. Tyrer had excellent workshop facilities at his garage in Liverpool, and got even more performance out of the car than Raymond Way had.

One of the things he did was to replace the heavy steel BMW wheels with Elektron wheels made by Ron Willis, who was specialising in BMW tuning at his garage in Essex. Apart from being much lighter, these Elektron wheels saved more unsprung weight over the standard wheels as they were retained by four small nuts on simple studs, whereas the standard arrangements had knock-off hubs and heavy steel hub centres.

Having a fetish about registrations with the number 9, long before the business of “cherished” or “personalised numbers” was dreamed up, Tyrer re-registered the car with the number NKA 9, KA being a Liverpool registration. During the winter of 1952-53 Gillie Tyrer attacked 85.297 about as drastically as Raymond Way had done, until apart from the chassis frame tubes and the suspension, little of the original 328 remained.

The 6-cylinder BMW engine was removed and replaced by a 4-cylinder Fiat engine, as used by Cisitalia, and a supercharger was added. A new smaller, lower and lighter body was made of aluminium, but the Willis Elektron wheels were retained.

In this form it was virtually a pure racing car, though it still retained its NKA 9 registration and could be used as a sports car. In this form Gillie Tyree did a lot of competition with the car in northern events, from airfield sprints to sand-racing. After he pensioned it off it passed to Harry Sutcliffe, who did little with it; it began to deteriorate, for a competition car that is not used somehow seems to fall apart at the seams much more quickly than a robust sports or touring car.

From the mid-1950s the car disappeared and was believed to have been broken up or destroyed. In fact it had merely been left in a shed to quietly rot away, its useful competition life being over.

In 1983 the derelict remains were acquired by a German BMW enthusiast, together with another Frazer Nash-BMW 328, and the two lots went to Germany. A year later the remains of 85.297 (alias KHX 173 and NKA 9) came back to England, having been acquired by a member of the Vintage Sports Car Club. The intention was to use the chassis frame and such bits as were salvageable to build up a 328 for VSCC racing, and to have the chassis put back to Fraser Nash-BMW specification. A BMW engine was built up from parts to replace the Fiat engine, and to clothe it was a new 328 body.

Naturally, there were no original 328 bodies available, so an entirely new one had to be created from scratch. As it was intended to be a pure “racer” with little or no idea of using it as a road-car, it was decided that all the body and the mudguards could be of thin-gauge aluminium, whereas a standard 328 had steel mudguards and aluminium body panels. No doors were to be fitted, in the interest of body stiffness; a single aero-screen would suffice for the driver; and the engine was to be set up with the highest compression-ratio possible, in order to run on methanol fuel. This last decision affected the body finish, for methanol is a great eater of cellulose paint, so the whole car was polished to a high degree, with no protective covering for the aluminium.

The mechancal work and bodybuilding was undertaken by John Giles and Tony Hutchings at their TT Workshops business at Westbury in Wiltshire, but before it was completed the London dentist who had commissioned the job was forced by domestic problems to pull out. As there was little likelihood of finding a buyer to carry on the “pure racer” project, it was decided to continue the rebuild and make the car much nearer a normal 328— the way it had been when it was new.

There being no drawings of a standard 328 available, TT Workshops had rebuilt the body from its knowledge of other 328s, and from photographs of one of the original three prototype cars, built in 1936 by the BMW factory. These three cars differed from the production cars in not having doors, having a single-pane full-width windscreen rather than the production two-piece vee windscreens, and housing the spare wheel inside the tail — so the tail itself was competely smooth, with just a small central petrol filler low down at the rear just above the number plate. Production 328s on the other hand, had a deep recess with an aluminium cover in the tail, in which the spare wheel sat, while the fuel filler was a much larger affair and protruded from the tail to the right of the number plate.

The TT Workshops special followed the prototype cars in general shape and detail, with the spare wheel mounted internally, a single-pane windscreen and central filler. In deference to usability, a door was fitted to the passenger’s side of the cockpit and the car was then painted dark green, very similar to the three works cars which ran in the 1936 Tourist Trophy.

Such things as wheels and hubs were acquired from Germany, where the German BMW Club is getting parts made, and the engine was built up on a BMW cylinder-block, with Bristol internals and three down-draught Weber carburetters, together with a 12-volt electrical system replacing the original 6-volt, and a free-flowing six-branch exhaust system. A contemporary four-spoke spring steering wheel was used, rather than the rigid three-spoke wheel of the standard 328, and new seats were made.

While the finished job is not KHX 173 as it was built, it does repesent an acceptable Frazer Nash-BMW 328, though of somewhat bizarre specification, being a mixture of 1936/1938/1985. As an “entity” it is still Frazer Nash-BMW chassis number 85.297, delivered in November 1938 and registered KHX 173, but it now retains its 1952 registration NKA 9, which had been part of its history.

To the casual viewer, or to someone unversed in BMW 328 lore, it looks to be a rather nicely restored car, which in effect it is: but to the connoisseur of the 328 it is a question of “Here, hold on a bit. Why only one door? Where is the spare wheel? Why no two-piece vee-screen, and why is the petrol filler in the middle?”

Though some people might be excused for thinking it is one of the three 1936 prototype cars, the chassis number 85.297 tells the truth. It left the BMW factory in September 1938, a standard black two-seater sports Frazer Nash-BMW, and was sold by AFN Limited of Isleworth on November 8, 1938, with the registration number KHX 173. DSJ

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