An ultra-rare 1938 BMW 328 'Special Competition' Roadster with an incredible pre-WWII racing history that somehow slipped passed some prior owners is now up for auction at RM Sotheby's Monterey, California event this August.
The 328, built from 1936-40, was succeeded by the gorgeous 507 roadster, a car that nearly bankrupted BMW due to its high production costs. But the 328's history, especially in motorsport, cannot be ignored. It dominated the 2.0-liter class from '36 until '39 for several reasons, such as its lightweight tube frame construction with welded floors and stressed aluminum bodywork. Power came from an inline-six engine paired with a four-speed manual transmission. The design and technology were truly ahead of their time.
This specific 328, however, was one of the more extreme versions BMW provided to the German national racing team, called the Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahrkorps (NSKK). In 1938, the NSKK used three 328 Roadsters to win almost every racing event in Europe, and three more were ordered later that year for the next racing season.
Chassis number 85335 - the car shown here - was one of them. All three had lightweight bodywork, upgraded Solex 30 IF carburetors, a larger fuel tank, a high-compression engine, additional cabin instrumentation, plexiglass wind wings, racing windscreens, reinforced suspension components, metal covers for the passenger and rear spare area, hydraulically assisted drum brakes, and 17-inch light alloy wheels. Total output came to only 135 horsepower, but the cars weighed no more than 1,830 pounds.
Chassis #85335 took part in several grueling endurance events, such as the 963-mile Mille Miglia Africana along the Libyan coast, where it was driven by an actual German prince and finished 5th overall and 2nd in class. It then went on to compete in the 1939 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it finished 2nd in class once again.
The trio of roadsters made their final race appearance in September '39 at the Belgrade Grand Prix, where 85335 finished 2nd in class one last time. After that, the car went missing for decades. Its chassis siblings were purchased by collectors.
Many wrongly assumed 85335 had been scrapped for parts, but it turned up in 1963 when a collector in New Jersey somehow managed to acquire it. The guy didn't know what he really had. It was sold to a Ferrari collector in New York a couple of years later, who also failed to recognize the car's history because it had been converted to resemble a regular road-going 328.
But, it came with several boxes of original pre-war competition spare parts, thus quietly revealing its true identity. It was passed to another owner in the '80s, who had it restored for competitive vintage racing, and over the next couple of decades, BMW enthusiasts regularly informed its owner about its pre-war history.
This naturally caught the attention of BMW. It sent its in-house 328 racing expert at the time to inspect and confirm the car's identity. The owner's family agreed to sell in 2017, and BMW began the restoration process by sending it to D.L. George Historic Motorcars in Cochranville, Pennsylvania, where it was restored to its 1939 racing configuration. No amount of money was spared, as invoices from 2018 until 2022 prove, with over seven figures invested. At its debut showing, it won the Early Le Mans class at the 2022 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.
BMW has been building roadsters for decades, leading up to today's Z4, but chassis #85335 is truly special, along with other surviving 328s. Anyone wishing to place a bid better have deep pockets because a seven-figure price tag (if not more) is all but guaranteed.