Wartime Alliance

Browse pages
Current page

1

Current page

2

Current page

3

Current page

4

Current page

5

Current page

6

Current page

7

Current page

8

Current page

9

Current page

10

Current page

11

Current page

12

Current page

13

Current page

14

Current page

15

Current page

16

Current page

17

Current page

18

Current page

19

Current page

20

Current page

21

Current page

22

Current page

23

Current page

21

Current page

24

Current page

25

Current page

26

Current page

27

Current page

28

Current page

29

Current page

30

Current page

31

Current page

32

Current page

33

Current page

34

Current page

35

Current page

36

Current page

37

Current page

38

Current page

39

Current page

40

Current page

42

Current page

43

Current page

44

Current page

45

Current page

46

Current page

47

Current page

48

Current page

49

Current page

50

Current page

51

Current page

52

Current page

53

Current page

54

Current page

55

Current page

56

Current page

57

Current page

58

Current page

59

Current page

60

Current page

61

Current page

62

Current page

63

Current page

64

Current page

65

Current page

66

Current page

67

Current page

68

Current page

69

Current page

70

Current page

71

Current page

72

Current page

73

Current page

74

Current page

75

Current page

76

Current page

77

Current page

78

Current page

79

Current page

80

Current page

81

Current page

82

Current page

83

Current page

84

Current page

85

Current page

86

Current page

87

Current page

88

Current page

89

Current page

90

Current page

91

Current page

92

Current page

93

Current page

94

Current page

95

Current page

96

Current page

97

Current page

98

Current page

99

Current page

100

Current page

101

Current page

102

Current page

103

Current page

104

Current page

105

Current page

106

Current page

107

Current page

108

Current page

109

Current page

110

Current page

111

Current page

112

Current page

113

Current page

114

Current page

115

Current page

116

Current page

117

Current page

118

Current page

119

Current page

120

Current page

121

Current page

122

Current page

123

Current page

124

Current page

125

Current page

126

Current page

127

Current page

128

Current page

129

Current page

130

Current page

131

Current page

132

Current page

133

Current page

134

Current page

135

Current page

136

Current page

137

Current page

138

Current page

139

Current page

140

Current page

141

Current page

142

Current page

143

Current page

144

Current page

145

Current page

146

Current page

147

Current page

148

Current page

149

Current page

150

Current page

151

Current page

152

Current page

153

Current page

154

Current page

155

Current page

156

Current page

157

Current page

158

Current page

159

Current page

160

Current page

161

Current page

162

Current page

163

Current page

164

Current page

165

Current page

166

Current page

167

Current page

168

Current page

169

Current page

170

Current page

171

Current page

172

Current page

173

Current page

174

Current page

175

Current page

176

Current page

177

Current page

178

Current page

179

Current page

180

My right leg and foot are shaking from adrenalin. It’s okay, I tell myself; the marshal at the start of the Goodwood hillclimb can’t see. Nor can the 100,000 visitors who’ve come to watch man and machine do battle with the hill. Up come the marshal’s fingers. Five, push the clutch; four, steady the revs; three, look down the road to the first right-hander just after the foot bridge; two, take a deep breath and remind myself not to bin it; one… go!

Up comes the clutch. Down goes the accelerator. The skinny tyres spin merrily and the BMW’s straight-six engine is soon putt-putt-puttering as it bounces off its retro-fitted rev limiter, added as a result of the rev counter being somewhat slower-witted than the crankshaft.

The author steps shyly into the shoes of Mille Miglia winners von Hanstein, below left, and Bäumer, below

Second gear comes and goes with a bob of the nose and a dip of the achingly beautiful tail. There’s time for third gear, before a spot of braking for the next right-hand bend, opposite the Gurney Pavilion, and down to second gear. Damn! It’s too low. Again, the engine runs out of revs, midway through the bend. Note to self for the next run: use third.

Molecomb has been on my mind ever since the collecting area, let alone as the 328 Coupé Touring settles down along the sort-of-straight, skipping past Goodwood House and the Aston Martin DBR1 that appears to be exiting Gerry Judah’s sculpture like a kid’s Hot Wheels car firing out of a loop-the-loop.

We make it through without any drama. By now my nerves have subsided and thoughts have turned to how on earth the drivers that won the 1940 Mille Miglia, in the process well and truly putting BMW on the world’s motor racing map, managed to carry so much speed in such a dainty little thing.

At the holding area at the top of the hill, I gingerly ease myself out of the cramped confines of the 328 Touring Coupé and cast my mind back to the race that BMW considers its most significant victory in motor sport – a victory that well and truly put the young car manufacturer on the map. The 1940 Mille Miglia played out like a story embellished by Hollywood’s most imaginative script writers. The race had been reinstated after a year’s ban, following an accident which killed 10 people, seven of them children, when a Lancia left the road. Meanwhile, fans were hearing rumours that Enzo Ferrari was entering his very first racing car – albeit one that couldn’t bear his name – after parting ways with Alfa Romeo and ingeniously finding a way around ‘non-compete’ clauses in his former employer’s contract.

Prepare to win: Walter Bäumer, one of the winning drivers, leans on the Touring Coupé before the 1940 Mille Miglia

War had broken out between Germany, Britain and France, following the previous winter’s invasion of Poland. Mussolini hadn’t yet joined Germany in war but for 1940 he lifted the ban on racing on public roads in built-up areas. France had banned its drivers from taking part but nonetheless two Delages were dispatched, with Italians in the driving seats.

“Few bet against Alfa, yet it was the Munich upstarts that won”

Roadside pause as the team makes its triumphant way home from Italy

Alfa Romeo is the odds-on favourite for the reconfigured and renamed race – the Gran Premio di Brescia – which is held over a triangular 104-mile course with Brescia, Mantua and Cremona at the corners. From Milan, four 6C 2500 Tipo 256 models are dispatched with orders to bring home the silverware. Few bet against them, given that the company counted 10 victories at the Mille Miglia to its name. Yet in the end it was the upstarts from Munich that won.

Reaching that point had been a long-held objective for BMW. The company had launched the 328 roadster in June 1936, at the Nürburgring – where else? – a matter of weeks ahead of the infamous Berlin Olympics. There it would take part in its first race, the International Eifel Race, and win its class in front of 250,000 spectators, setting the fastest overall lap in the process.

Winning on home soil was one thing, however. It would be quite another to take the spoils at international events. At least, that was the view of Harold John Aldington, founding partner of AFN, BMW’s importer in Britain. Aldington had spotted the potential of the car’s predecessor, the 319, and brokered a deal for BMW to ship cars over in right-hand-drive form as Frazer Nash-BMWs. After racing a 328 to victory in the Schleissheimer Dreiecksrennen, Aldington used his connections at BMW to persuade the powers that be to give the car a run outside Germany.

The light and agile 328 started to clean up in its class, taking wins wherever it appeared, including at the Tourist Trophy, Alpine Rally, RAC Rally, Le Mans and more.

For 1938 four 328 roadsters took part in the Mille Miglia, racing from Brescia to Rome and back, two entered by the factory and two by NSKK, Nazi Germany’s National Socialist Motor Corps. To the surprise of the millions of Italians who came out to cheer a field mostly made up of home-grown entries, the little BMWs breezed it, taking a 1-2-3-4 in the 2-litre class and securing eighth overall against far more powerful machinery.

On display in the square – although this wartime version of the race was titled the Brescia Grand Prix of the Mille Miglia

Gratuliere!’ proclaimed the top brass; ‘Now we want to win the race outright.’ The engineers knew that the drag of the 328 roadster’s open body was a hurdle too far: a new coupé body was needed to make the car faster still. They knew as much because they had been experimenting with closed cockpits. Wunibald Kamm, an automotive engineer and aerodynamicist, conducted BMW’s first wind-tunnel tests with a 328. It might have been exceptionally streamlined, but to drive it was something of a disaster. The car reportedly wandered about like it had knocked back six steins of Bavaria’s strongest Bockbier.

More development was needed. But running out of time and under pressure from the NSKK, to which it was obliged to supply competitive cars for races including the 1939 Le Mans, BMW turned to Carrozzeria Touring. The Italian coachbuilder had no shortage of experience in the field of lightweight specials and was instructed to set to work on a 328 spaceframe chassis.

Within four weeks, the Touring Coupé was born. It was – and still is – beautiful. An exquisitely proportioned thing that you could quite happily spend all day admiring. It may not cut through the air as efficiently as the Kamm Coupé but it still did the job: at Le Mans it won its class and finished fifth overall. Over the 24 hours, its average speed was 84mph. This showed just how little weight the 2-litre naturally aspirated straight-six engine had to propel, with the car a modest 780kg, while the bodywork was as slippery as a fish.

For 1940 the target was clear: win the Mille Miglia

That engine had been subject to much development during its competition life. Reinforced crankshafts now featured nine counterweights to eliminate the risk of bending. The control of larger valves was improved with a new cylinder head, and the engine was capable of spinning to 6000rpm and produced 136hp, compared with around 4500rpm and 80hp for the standard motor.

For 1940, the target was clear: win the Mille Miglia. The new 103-mile course was a triangular formation linking Brescia, Cremona and Mantua. With a new circuit came a new name, the First Gran Premio Brescia delle Mille Miglia.

Drivers pose with both coupés in Brescia. Note the Kamm’s heavier lines (front). Right: built in 28 days, the class-winning coupé averaged 84mph at Le Mans

Three roadsters started, tasked to make sure they got to the end so BMW could claim the manufacturers’ cup. The Kamm Coupé and Touring Coupé also ran, and the hope was they could strike out for the lead.

The race started at 4am with cars leaving the line in one-minute intervals. The first BMW started off at 4.40am. By the end of the first lap, Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, in the Touring Coupé, was 90 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer. He never looked back.

So wired was von Hanstein that he had to be persuaded to hand over

In fact, so wired was von Hanstein that he had to be forcefully persuaded to hand over driving duties to his co-driver Walter Bäumer, as per the team’s agreed strategy. The 328 Touring Coupé won the race outright, 15 minutes ahead of an Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 (Tipo 256), a feat that was as much an astonishment to Alfa as it was to the millions of Italians who heard the news on the wireless and read about it the next day in La Gazzetta dello Sport. After nearly nine hours of driving on public roads, its average speed was an eye-watering 104mph.

Today, BMW views the 328 Touring Coupé as one of the most significant, if not the most significant, car in the brand’s competition history. Little wonder. It opened the company’s eyes to the potential influence of motor sport, both as a spectacle and as a way to develop world-class cars.

It isn’t only because of its past pedigree that I was apprehensive about driving it; the car I am entrusted with at Goodwood is entirely original, unlike the Kamm Coupé, which is a replica commissioned by BMW in 2010, after the original Kamm went missing during the post-war period.

Hanstein, left, and Bäumer

Back at the top of the Goodwood hill, I slide back into the 328 Touring Coupé’s cockpit and can now feel the heat soaking upwards through the floor. Then car’s hand-crafted aluminium bodywork could, should you choose, be lifted away entirely allowing the 328 to be driven naked down the hill. Onlookers might imagine you had committed vandalism of the highest order but actually the construction was designed so that the car could be easily worked on. Carrozzeria Touring had even developed a second spaceframe that held the body to the chassis.

Within the cabin there is precious little space. Wearing a helmet – something not period-appropriate but nowadays obligatory – my head is canted over to the middle of the car. The slung hammock-like cord seats are dainty affairs, while crash protection is nowhere to be seen: that simply didn’t exist on racing cars in those days.

Delicate-looking instruments with black-on-white graphics and hand-turned needles peer back at me. The speedometer (marked to 180kph) and rev counter (marked to 5000rpm) are inverted, while the odometer shows 15,366km. In this confined space, and set against the small instruments, the black three-spoke steering wheel seems almost overbearing.

BMW 328 roadsters would take 1-2-3 in class in the 1939 Le Mans 24 Hours

A return down the hill allows me time to experiment with the brakes, get a better feel for the engine’s torque and weave about to build my confidence in the steering, which has some initial slack to it before the nose responds.

When my second run up the hill comes around, there is no more trepidation. Sure enough, the 328 Touring Coupé leaves the line perfectly, and my mental note about the slow-witted rev counter means each gear change is timed to perfection. The second right-hand bend goes by much faster in third this time, and the tail does a little hop, skip and jump as the combined effect of body roll, full power and skinny tyres rears its head.

It isn’t scary, though. The car remains stable, with just a slight slackening of the steering required rather than any dramatic correction, and it maintains its rasping and roaring dash toward Molecomb.

Through we go, then comes the flint wall, followed by the incline toward the finish line. The car keeps its momentum surprisingly well and feels entirely faithful from the driver’s position, accurately telegraphing what’s going on down below so that the driver can judge precisely how much he can get away with before the 328 relinquishes its hold of the road.

Now I’m a little closer to understanding exactly how this car managed an average speed of 104mph for nearly nine hours on public roads, in 1940. The drivers may not be with us any longer to share their secrets of driving in a partially resurrected Mille Miglia race – but thankfully BMW’s 328 Touring Coupé is. 

Moment of victory, with an unexcited flag waver. An Alfa win had been expected
digital extra

Related articles

Related products