James Herne

The most valuable BMW

BMW 328 "Bügelfalte"

Between 1936-1940, the BMW 328 sports car was built in less than 500 examples. The model designation has no meaning in today's terms - it wasn't a 3-series beemer with a 2.8-litre engine. Parallels can be drawn in terms of engine configuration with the seventies BMW 320/6 (E21) and later 320i (E30, E36, E46): they all had 2-litre 6-cylinder inline engines. One of the 328 roadsters built in 1937 was assigned chassis number 85032 and the car entered the 1937 Le Mans 24 hour race under number 29.

1937 Le Mans: BMW 328 #29 with German license plate IIA-52114 was rented from the factory by English team Frazer Nash and driven by Harold John Aldington/Alfred Fane Peers Fane.

At the 1938 Mille Miglia ("Thousand Miles") race in Italy the BMW 328 with license plate IIA-52114 driven by A.F.P. Fane and William "Bill" James won the 2-litre category and in overall classification ranked eight after larger-engined cars. It was a very good result in a race with 140 starters. During the race there had happened an accident that claimed the lives of ten spectators and future Mille Miglias were banned. In essence, the Mille Miglia was a race on public roads and the winner covered the distance in 12 hours, despite the refuelling stops, with an average speed of 135 km/h. As the race was now banned, it didn't happen in 1939, but it was decided to organize a new race called "Gran Premio di Brescia" in 1940.

1939 German Alpine rally (Internationale Deutsche Alpenfahrt), driver Fritz Roth, co-driver W.Huber, BMW 328 IIA-52114, winner of sportscar category.

With the start in Munich and the finish in Vienna, the start and finish line were apart less than 500 km (less than 300 miles), but the 3-day competition covered a distance of 1000 miles/1600 km over 38 Alpine passes including six special stages.

In 1939, for the 1940 Italian race, the racing department of BMW started to build five aerodynamic special 328, two coupés and three roadsters.

The sceleton of the aerodynamic 328 Special roadster without the body panels

The first of the BMW 328 Special roadsters was built in the end of 1939 at the BMW's experimental department in Munich using the parts of the 85032. At the time, only the motorcycles and the aircraft engines were produced in Munich and the BMW cars were made at the Eisenach factory in Central Germany. The 85032 had also born (in 1937) in Eisenach.

The aerodynamic body was made from lightweight alloy sheet metal like on the regular 328. The engine was heavily modified and as a result, the power rose from 80 to 130 hp (note that for the 328, the 2-litre BMW engine was already uprated from 50 to 80 hp). Although up to 3-litre engines were allowed at the GP races, BMW had to use a 2-litre unit as their next engine in size had already 3.5 litres of capacity.

The light alloy sheet metal body of the 328 Special roadster is yet unpainted and the car only has the driver side windscreen. Standing by the car are BMW materials specialist Hermann Beissbarth and test department chief Alfred Kempter.

The first 328 Special roadster is now painted and a panel covers the passenger area. The photo shows testdriver Uli Richter testing the car in Munich.

As the plan was to build several cars for the Brescia GP and time was scarse, it was decided that the rest of roadster bodies will be outsourced from Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. These Italian-bodied 328 Special roadsters didn't sport the "trouser creases" on the front and rear fenders that the original car did. The hero of this story - the first 328 Special roadster - was called as the "Bügelfalte" ("Trouser crease").

In March 1940 a trip to Brescia was made to learn the conditions and to train for the race. Bügelfalte (IIA-52114, chassis 85032) is seen here with two separate windscreens. In the center is the future winner of the race, the white 328 coupé and on the right the silver 328 coupé designed by the aerodynamics engineer Wunibald Kamm.

On the way back to Germany from trainings in Italy. Rear wheel arch cover has been lifted and the lid of the trunk has been removed and placed on the rear of the car.

1940 Brescia GP, Italy

The Brescia GP could be associated with the previous Mille Miglia race with the same start/finish line in Brescia. On the 1940 photos it can be seen that the "1000 MIGLIA" signs are still up on the command tower from the 1938 race. While the track for the 1938 Mille Miglia was a 1630 km (1013 miles) long road from Brescia to Rome and back, the 1940 Brescia GP track was a 10 times shorter 165 km road circling Brescia-Cremona-Mantova-Brescia. This track was lapped 9 times which gave a total distance of 1492 km or 927 miles. It is likely that the race length was set at 9 laps on purpose as with 10 laps it would have been a thousand miles race, a Mille Miglia, which duce Mussolini had banned after the 1938 tragedy.

The fame of the Mille Miglia was used to breathe life into the GP of Brescia

#71 with German trouser creases can be seen behind its Italian-clad brothers #74 and #72. Note the Bügelfalte now having similar windscreen to others.

Bügelfalte wore number 71 at the 1940 Brescian Grand Prix. Positively surprising is the fact that the BMW racing cars were not decorated with Nazi-Germany flags although the war was already on. It had been almost a standard for years that all German technological achievements (racing cars, airplanes, airships etc.) had received a painted-on swastika flag. Maybe BMW wasn't strong enough in Hitler's mind. From twelve Mille Miglias between 1927-1938, Alfa Romeos had won ten and the last races in a row from 1932 to 1938. Hitler was not interested in Mussolini beating his flag. It was BMW's luck that it wasn't a top gun yet among the car manufacturers - the automobile department of BMW could stay relatively independent from Hitler (not like Porsche's design office, Mercedes or Auto-Union).

The photo made at the start/finish line of the Brescia GP shows well the "trouser creases". Hans Wencher and Rudolf Scholtz in the car.

The race winning BMW 328 coupé was driven by Fritz Huschke von Hanstein (as a Porsche historian I cannot skip mentioning that later he worked as racing and public relations manager at Porsche). Von Hanstein covered the 1940 Brescia GP in 8 hours and 54 minutes, which meant the achieved average speed was 166 km/h. The average speed of the best lap was even a more surreal 174 km/h! It sounds rather unbelievable considering the engine size was only 2 litres, the race was held on roads and not on a dedicated race track, and that refuelling also took some time.

The 328 Kamm coupé had retired, but the remaining four BMWs finished among the first six. The Bügelfalte was the last among the BMWs, so it finished sixth overall. Between the BMWs and right after them were the previously dominating Alfa Romeos. The number of competitors was two times less compared to the Mille Miglia held two years earlier. Was the reason in it not being the "real" Mille Miglia or the war... In April 1940 Italians weren't probably worried about the war reaching Italy, not at least any time soon. Germany had occupied Denmark in the beginning of April and was involved in conquering Norway at the time of Brescia GP.

BMW racing team parade in Munich after beating Alfa Romeos in Brescia. For some reason the conwoy is led by #71 Bügelfalte. The dent got at the race on the front wing and license plate has been repaired for the parade.

1940 Brasov GP, Romania

Bügelfalte's last racing number was 15, which it received for the Brasov GP. Although the contestants had already arrived in Brasov and trainings were held on the last day of August, the September 1st race was called off. It was likely due to development of WW II and German troops approaching Romania. It must have been unreasonable to expend fuel and machinery at that moment in time. It can be assumed that saving of all kinds of resources was dictated by Germany. Romania, which had attempted to stay neutral, had finally joined Axis powers in July 1940 in an effort to defend its territory from Soviet Union (it should be mentioned that nazis played a double game - in the secret protocol of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact Germany had promised not to hamper Soviet Union in occupying selected countries including Romania).

Bügelfalte on the way back to Germany after the canceled race in Brasov

There's a rumour that at the war time Hitler's personal architect Albert Speer had become the owner of the Bügelfalte, but I have not been able to find evidence of that. I know the car wore the racing number "15" throughout the war, so it gives a reason to believe the car was not used in traffic after the return from Romania (cannot imagine someone driving a car with racing number during the war).

In Soviet Union

Thanks a miracle, the car survived the war. After the war, Eisenach - and its BMW car factory - fell into the Soviet zone (which later became East Germany). BMW 328 Bügelfalte was taken to Soviet Union. In Moscow the car was initially used by military pilot Aleksey Mikoyan. His father was Anastas Mikoyan, USSR's Minister of Foreign Trade and his uncle was an aircraft designer Artyom Mikoyan. Every tech-interested person has heard of the "M i G" airplanes named after their creators Mikoyan & Gurevich.

As the Bügelfalte was a racing car, it didn't have the muffler and wasn't street legal because of the noise it made. In 1946 the Bügelfalte was taken to a large state-owned car repair shop near Moscow for the installation of an exhaust muffler, but no suitable items couldn't be located. Young Alexey Mikojan couldn't wait any longer and picked the car up before it was ready. The rumour says he drove to Kremlin (he had a special permission thanks to his father), revved the car heavily and did some drifting. The noise irritated Stalin and a culprit had to be punished. The young Mikoyan was not touched, but the manager of the repair shop was fired. In 1947 Bügelfalte changed hands. The new owner was a taxi driver Alexey Podkutov, a future racing driver. The car still bore its 1940 racing number "15" (numbers were removed from the nose and engine cover, but had remained on the sides). Podkutov didn't manage to race the car much as in 1948 a law was issued which prohibited soviet people from using foreign cars and motorcycles in races. The reason can be understood - after the war nobody wanted to see a "nazi-machine" beating soviet cars on their home soil and soviet racing cars would not have had any chances against Western cars.

In the seventies Podkutov exchanged the BMW with Latvian Gvido Adamsons for a Zhiguly/Lada 2101 (the soviet-built FIAT 124 that at the time was a new "western" car in the stagnating USSR, so rather valuable).

On this film frame Bügelfalte can be seen in Estonia at the "Tähesõit Pärnu '77" classic car event. As can be seen, the car was blue, probably painted during its Moscow epoch. Rear wheel covers are missing.

In the eighties Gvido Adamsons had the rear wheel covers made that were lost in Russia. The body was painted silver again and the car received number "71" decals in honour of the 1940 Italian race. Wheel rims were painted yellow during the restoration, but this mismatch was eliminated later. In 1990 Adamsons took part at the Mille Miglia Storica (Historic). After that he trusted the car to BMW's factory museum, but kept the ownership for the next ten years. For its museum, BMW made a replica of the Bügelfalte. In the museum it is incorrectly decorated with "Mille Miglia" written on the number plates.

Back in the West

In 2001 Adamsons sold the Bügelfalte, value of the trade was in a region of million euros.

The car has not been renovated in the West, it is still covered with the "orange peel" soviet paint from the eighties. Most likely this low quality paint serves better for the patina-look. On the other hand, there's no doubt BMW's paint shop did impeccable job already in 1939. As the font of the racing number applied on the car by Adamsons was a bit different from the original, the decals were removed in Germany and the "71" racing number was painted on. The number was applied by painting it also in 1940, but the question remains what paint did they use at the time and how did they remove it as there was a different number in every race.

The most paid for BMW in the world

Bügelfalte was the star of the RM Sotheby's auction in Monaco on May 1st, 2010. The car remained unsold as the highest bid of €4.300.000 didn't reach the reserve price set by the owner. The next day the German seller and a US buyer came to an agreement and the Bügelfalte changed hands, and the continent.

The value of expensive auction cars comes from their stories, not so much from them being technical masterpieces. The associated story is what usually gives the major impact regarding the sales price. Bügelfalte is unique and has a great story thanks to surviving the war and the time spent behind the Iron Curtain, but for the auction its story was enhanced with a bit of folklore. It is not perfectly correct to add "Mille Miglia" to the name of the BMW 328 Bügelfalte... Has the chassis number 85032 raced at the Mille Miglia road race - yes, it was at the 12th Mille Miglia in 1938 from Brescia to Rome and back. That was the original 328. Has Bügelfalte raced at Mille Miglia road race - no, the 1940 1st Brescia GP was not a thousand miles race. The Brescia GP was a 9 lap race on a 10 times shorter course and it didn't cover thousand miles. The auction catalogue said the first owner in Soviet Union was aircraft engineer Artem Mikoyan and that his son drove the Bügelfalte. In fact, Artem Mikoyan's sole son hadn't born yet and the two "A. Mikoyan" related to the car were Artem's brother Anastas and nephew Alexey.

It is an industry standard that the stories published by auction houses about rare unknown items become their new history. It might have been RM's luck that the car remained unsold at the official auction day, so they didn't have to worry about the impact on the value caused by the "new history" they had created. Bügelfalte's 2010 sales price was not revealed, but it can be guessed it stayed in the same range (€4.3M/$5.6M). This is the most valuable BMW ever. Although the value is madly high, world's most expensive cars - Ferrari 250 GTO - have been sold at the auctions for almost 10 times the price.

© James Herne

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