#0022 - BMW 327 Cabriolet by Autenreith, 1938
Photographed: Radnor Hunt Concours d'Elegance, 2007. Owner: Michael G. Tillson, III
Modular Design: Early on in BMW's automotive endeavors, chief designer Fritz Fiedler believed that the best way to grow a profitable company was to fabricate a platform consisting of one basic workhorse drivetrain, and then design a few chassis around it to fit different needs. His modular approach was successful on two accounts. In the first place, BMW grew into one of the most successful auto makers in pre-War Germany, and did so without the decades of experience that benefitted Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union. And in the second place, BMW not only took a decent market share, but developed this modular platform into some truly remakable cars.
The 327: The great pre-War BMW is, without question, the 328. However, the somewhat obscure 327 is arguably a masterpiece of equal worth. Both cars are based on the same 326 platform and its odd inline 6-cylinder of 1,971cc displacement. BMW called it an even 2 litres, which figure lends itself as the middle digit in each model designation. Power in the 326 (the sixth 2-litre car in the third series) was a mere 50 brake horsepower, but of course the hotted up 328 (the eighth 2-litre car in the third series) started at around 80 brake horsepower, and might be further tuned from there, though most private racers seldom found the use. In between, the 327 (the seventh 2-litre car in the third series) began with 55 brake horsepower thanks to a boost in compression.
Beyond the mere power figures, the 327 shared the two-door 326 wheelbase of 94.5 inches, and was available as either a cabriolet or a coupe. The 4-speed gearbox came from the 326, a no-frills Hurth unit, although this could be substituted with a ZF synchromesh 4-speed for more spirited intentions. Curb weight for a cabriolet was a not too shabby 2,425 lbs., and price was about 7,500 marks. For 8,130 marks, this same cabriolet could be outfitted with the tri-carb competition motor from the 328, deriving the apt but awkward title of BMW 327/28. A 327/28 could lumber to nearly 80 miles per hour, while delivering over 19 miles per gallon—admirable performance for a touring car.
In this respect, the BMW 327 was much like the American Auburn speedster, a mid-range car with top-shelf pretentions. Both vehicles wore graceful bodies that fit the trends of the classic era, and both offered formidable driving performance. Of course, Auburn's fortunes were not well seeded over in America, and on the German market BMW sold few 327 cars. The 326 was really the bread and butter of the Bavarian marque, with a production of many thousands for each variant, as compared to a reported 482 examples of the 327. A small percentage of that figure were fitted with the 328 tri-carb motor. Yet, the 327 was a viable option for the German enthusiast who wanted the elegance and performance of a Bentley or Mercedes-Benz, but didn't wish to spend quite so much, and added significant prestige to the brand in the luxury touring segment.
Luxury & Livery: Autenreith's remarkably clean coachwork is tailored to two-tone liveries, as we see here. Color being the sort of stylistic and commercial tool that it was in the classic era, the 327 is one particular car whose charming reputation was formed around the dazzle of its paint work. From high metallic flakes to high contrast color combinations and unconventional blends of earth tones, hardly any BMW 327 is a boring sight. Charm is also the provenance of the dashboard, with its banjo steering wheel and irregularly shaped gauges. A contemporary Mercedes-Benz dash panel is more complex and more exotic, finished with walnut and fine metals, maybe with shell inlay, brass, and leather. But such finery can't quite match good design, and that's exactly what this BMW seems to bank on.
Morphology: In shape, the 327 is progressive in a way demonstrated by very few classic era cars. Many streamlining cues were shared with the competition derived the 328, in particular the integrated headlamps. Faired into the smooth metalwork that flows from the front skirts to the bonnet, these headlamps will appear after World War II on early BMW styling attempts, as well as on a number of Bristol automobiles, (the British marque would borrow much more from BMW than just the inline 6-cylinder).
As on the 328, rear skirts are minimized. Perhaps only Alfa Romeo were showing a similar interest in paring down coachwork components into one flowing form, as they were wrapped up in the Italian ala spessa approach. In fact, the Italians get a lot of credit (as they should) for leading the way in this respect, but BMW is also commendable; with the 327, they showed a clear understanding of where automotive design was headed. Part of that foresight is evident in the rear deck, where an integrated spares compartment much like that found on the Audi Front 225 Roadster is blended with Italian sports roadster proportions. Whether on the coupe or the cabriolet, an integrated spares compartment was a sign that the days of continental kits were on their way out.
Another trick shared with the 328 is the absence of bonnet louvres. While romantic, louvres are more obsessive than practical. For cooling, BMW designed a handsome cut-out in the bonnet sides and fitted it with a black-out screen in a chrome frame—a simple, yet elegant solution. Also, the wheels are not spokes. BMW cars rarely ran on wire wheels, opting for discs instead. On this example, note that the wheels, too, are two-toned, with steel rims carrying the dark ochre shade while the wheel centers are sunny yellow.
What You See... Well, it may be what you get, but in the posh jungle of concours judging (which I won't pretend to understand), I overheard an animated conversation about whether yellow is the proper color for this car. Feeling bemused, I stared at the car for a moment—the brightest, happiest sight on any concours lawn—and decided the judge in question had no sense of charm. Surely, the same gentleman would be incapable of loving a Nash Metropolitan. All one needs to do is think of the year, 1938, and question what else could look so well put together. The late Alfa Romeo 6C Berlinetta cars of 1939, Touring bodied, are equally sleek. And I think our concours judge would drool readily. Here we have the same design principals at work, but with so much German charm—the stellar metal dash with banjo wheel, two-tone paint with matching metal wheels, and that characteristic floppy cabriolet hood. Everything comes together so well. I just suppose some people can't stomach the color yellow.
"BMW—Bavaria's Driving Machines" by Jan P. Norbye, Publications International, Ltd. 1984, p.46-47, 61-64, 68-69
RM Auctions: Having sold similar examplesBack to Index