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Lot 076: Fraser-Nash BMW Special

Classic Car, Motorcycle & Automobilia, Brightwells Auctioneers and Valuers (24 June 2009)

The BMW 328 was one of those rare cars that comes along once in a generation and immediately makes everything else look old fashioned and obsolete. A triumph of pure engineering over lazy tradition, it was a clean sheet design that came with none of the stylistic baggage that inevitably settles around most established cars  ever bigger and heavier bodies, larger and less efficient engines. Like the VW Beetle, it was emphatically a machine not a status symbol, but one dedicated to going fast rather than carrying the shopping.

Light, nimble and aerodynamic, it made extensive use of alloys and Germanic ingenuity to run rings around the lardy opposition. With features like a tubular steel chassis, independent front suspension, rack-and-pinion steering and hydraulic brakes (all in the 1930s, don't forget), it made the contemporary Wolseley or Morris look like a chest of drawers by comparison, and its chassis dynamics were not significantly bettered for decades. The fact that it also turned out looking beautiful is just proof of the old engineering truism that if it looks right, it is right. No wonder that British firms like Frazer-Nash and Bristol were so keen to seize the BMW design rights when Anglo-German relations took a turn for the worse in the early 1940s...

While this particular car is not a BMW 328 (and would carry ten times the estimate if it were), it is something of a tribute to the model and represents the best efforts of a gifted British engineer to emulate the qualities of the original. Ivor Halbert was interviewed by Stefan Cembrowicz in May 2008 and this is what he had to say about the genesis of this Frazer-Nash BMW Special:

I was always interested in sports cars before the war and when the BMW 328 appeared in this country we were amazed at it's beautiful appearance, it's handling and it's performance. I was really excited when Bristol Cars were awarded the design rights for the BMW at the end of the war. I watched with interest the development of the car when handled by a company who were more interested in perfection than profit.

I eventually bought two BMW 328s in bits from Tony Mitchell. One had a proper chassis and only one had provenance in the form of a log book. I had one new body made by TT Workshops for GHX 514. The other one [EMK 824] had steel wings but no proper chassis left and I bought a chassis for it from a firm in Devon. I put an ENV axle in and a Bristol engine and gearbox. The rear woodwork was rotten so I replaced it with some lightweight aircraft tubing we had left over in the factory. This improved it a lot.

A Bristol panel beater made me a new tail section which was a fantastic piece of work and there is no filler in it at all. The original wheels on these cars were poor quality wartime steel. Hitler had all the best steel for armaments purposes and the BMW wheels tended to break up under pressure so I also put Bristol wheels on the car which were much better. It's possible that some of the bits in this car came from a Le Mans car, it had an Elektron sump.

I put Alfin drums and an overdrive gearbox in as well. The original dashboard was of poor quality mild steel by BMW and this rusted through so I made up a stainless one and also made up the castings for the windscreen myself. I found the handbrake was in an awkward position so I moved it between the seats which is a much better spot. I've had this car since the 1960s and originally had a 100 B2 engine in it. I'm not competitive by nature but we used to go to Prescott and I have driven up the hill in it unofficially.

From information supplied to us at the time of cataloguing, we believe that the car is currently fitted with a Bristol 2-litre engine and brakes. The chassis is said to be fully galvanised and from a 1936 Frazer-Nash BMW 319 while the bonnet is believed to be a modified 328 item. The car comes with 10 old MOTs back to 1995 (the last one expiring in June 2006), an old V5 and a modern V5C (on which it is described as a Frazer-Nash Sports; taxation class Historic Vehicle; first registered 29/06/1936).

There is also a folder full of technical information about the BMW 328 and the Frazer-Nash BMW including many drawings and photographs, copies of contemporary road tests and a photocopy of an original owner's manual in English. While the car appears to be in excellent running order and certainly sounds wonderful, the cosmetic condition of the paintwork leaves scope for some improvement.

Lot Details
Auction Classic Car, Motorcycle & Automobilia
Brightwells Auctioneers and Valuers, Leominster
TypeCar
Lot Number076
Estimate£25000-£35000
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£71000
Hammer Price (inc premium)-
Year1936
Condition rating0
Registration numberEMK 824
Mileage-
Chassis number56553
Engine number
Engine capacity (cc)1971
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors