The BMW 328 Mille Miglia Touring Coupé Is A Work Of Art
Photos by Ted Gushue & BMW
It’s the only car to ever win the original Mille Miglia, and the modern day homage race. It was bodied by hand in Milan by Touring. It weighs 1,719 lbs (780 kg). It might well be one of the sexiest cars I’ve ever seen, and it was just sitting in the BMW Classic Vault.
In a separate piece, I’ll be writing about my experience in the 1937 Berlin Rome Touring Roadster, which is its own work of art, but first let’s just marvel at how gorgeous this coupé is. Touring famously had no wind tunnel to test its aerodynamic designs at scale, all it had was intuition and extremely daring racing drivers, namely Prince Max zu Schaumburg-Lippe. He commissioned the Superleggera design by Carrozeria Touring after being unable to secure a full car from BMW’s racing department.
The rest of the story is most elegantly told by BMW itself:
The Touring Coupé lined up for its debut race at Le Mans on 17 June 1939 with Prince Schaumburg and BMW engineer Hans Wencher entrusted with the driving duties. After 24 hours and 1,980 miles (3,188 kilometres), the pairing emerged triumphant in the 2-litre class with a sensational average speed of 82 mph (132.8 km/h). They even managed an outstanding fifth position in the overall classification, getting the better of much larger-engined cars along the way.
Spring 1940. In Italy all attentions are focused on bringing the Mille Miglia back to life. The legendary race had last been run over the historic course in 1938. However, after a rash of accidents it had been temporarily suspended. Now, two years later, the Mille Miglia was back in business, but the original route had been dropped in favour of a 103-mile (167 km) triangular course between Brescia, Cremona and Mantua. The drivers would complete nine laps of the new circuit, a move warmly welcomed by the watching pubic, who only saw the cars fly by once when the race followed its original route.
The new route was not as spectacular, though. It followed well-surfaced roads through flat countryside and included a lot of long straight sections which were expected to lead to high average speeds. In a nod to tradition, the race was once again billed the 1st Gran Premio Brescia delle Mille Miglia.
Planning for the German entry got under way with military precision in March 1940. BMW racing boss Ernst Loof travelled to Italy with a group of drivers, the two Coupés and a single Roadster to familiarise themselves with the route, work out a race strategy and organise the building of their garage. Working according to average fuel consumption of 11.76 U.S. mpg (20 litres per 100 km), the course was split into three 310 mile (500 km) sections. On this basis, the ideal location for a garage turned out to be Castiglione, some 15 miles (25 km) outside Brescia. This would be the topping-up point for fuel and oil, and Loof could take the opportunity to pass on any necessary instructions to his drivers here.
In the final three days before the race the drivers gathered with their cars for technical inspection at the Piazza della Vittoria in the centre of Brescia. Among them were the five German BMWs with their silver paintwork. The starting field was dominated in traditional fashion by the red cars of the local contenders. Seventy Italian driver teams would line up for the race in FIATs, Lancias and Alfa Romeos. They would be joined by two blue cars from French manufacturer Delage, also with Italian drivers at the wheel.
The members of the NSKK team were entered to drive the three streamlined Roadsters, having represented Germany with great success in races abroad over the previous two years. Car number 71, the first streamlined Roadster, was piloted by Hans Wencher and Rudolf Scholz, the two other Roadsters – car numbers 72 and 74 – were crewed by Willi Briem/Uli Richter and Adolph Brudes/Ralph Roese respectively. The three teams were under instructions not to push too hard, but to maintain a good speed and look after their machinery. Although the aim was to finish as high up the standings as possible, the main priority was to complete the race and win the team prize.
The two Coupés, meanwhile, were entered by the ONS (the highest-ranking national sports authority in Germany at the time). Fritz Huschke von Hanstein and Walter Bäumer would drive the Touring Coupé, while two outstanding Italian drivers – Count Giovanni Lurani Cernuschi and Franco Cortese – had been recruited to pilot the works Kamm Coupé. While the target for these two Coupés was overall victory, tradition suggested that the Alfa Romeo team was a far more likely winner. BMW’s Italian driver pairing were certainly in with a chance, though, the Kamm Coupé having displayed superior handling in testing and reached much higher speeds than the Touring Coupé.
28 April, 4.00 a.m.
The cars are sent on their way at one-minute intervals. Von Hanstein/Bäumer – in the first BMW – entered the fray at 6.40 a.m., followed by their team-mates and the Italian drivers in the largest-capacity class. The youngster von Hanstein set out his stall from the off, covering the first lap at a speed nobody present had thought possible. Already, the gap between the BMW driver and his closest pursuer in a Delage was one and a half minutes. Lurani/Cortese, meanwhile, were lying third in the second BMW Coupé, followed by one of the highly fancied Alfa Romeos. The three Roadsters were biding their time in seventh, eighth and ninth positions.
On the second lap the two BMW Coupés led the way, with the Italians locked in a battle with the charging streamlined Roadsters. However, the Kamm Coupé could not keep up such a breakneck pace for long. It was hit by problems first with the carburettor, then with the oil supply, and on lap 7 the hugely disappointed driver pairing were forced to retire from the race.
The Touring Coupé, meanwhile, was continuing to reel off the fast laps undeterred. Indeed, von Hanstein set the fastest time ever recorded in a sports car race with an average speed of 108 mph (174 km/h). However, there was the odd difference of opinion between von Hanstein and his co-driver Bäumer, as the ambitious baron was determined to win the race and ignored the pre-arranged driver changeover. In the end, Bäumer had to be persuaded to settle for the role of co-driver in order to make sure of the win. The Coupé was gradually building up an unassailable advantage over the chasing pack, though, and the two men finally swapped seats a few kilometres from the finish. In the end, it was Walter Bäumer who had the privilege of driving the Touring Coupé across the line to claim overall victory.
Unsurprisingly, celebrations were decidedly muted among the Italian crowd. Instead, the packed stands were immersed in a collective sense of bewilderment. What had happened to the red cars? Over 15 minutes passed before the Alfa Romeo of Farina/Mambelli came home in second place, followed by Brudes/Roese in third, Biondetti/Stefani in fourth, Briem/Richter in fifth and Wencher/Scholz in sixth place. BMW had topped both the team and overall standings, and great shows of excitement awaited the crew on their return to Munich.
Odeonsplatz and the Residenz (Royal Palace) provided an impressive setting in which to display the winning car to the people of Munich.
A special thank you to BMW Classic for providing the above historical release to accompany our photos.