Black tie cabriolet

Chosen for the illustrious field at Pebble Beach in 2013, Stephen Norman’s 1938 327 cabriolet is a study in elegance and a pleasure to drive.

April 9, 2014
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It’s one thing for a vintage two-tone touring car to look like it’s moving when it’s standing still. It’s another for it to feel like a much more modern vehicle at speed.

“This 1938 BMW drives nothing like I imagined it would,” I think to myself as I wield the large diameter, thin-rimmed steering wheel around a sharp curve.

The corner is taken easily, with an assurance that’s surprising for a 75-year-old vehicle. When the road opens up and I select third gear, the 327 cabriolet’s steering and independent front/live axle rear suspension settle into a steady groove. Even more impressively, acceleration proves brisk enough to merge with modern traffic.

The four-speed synchromesh transmission and 1,971cc inline six-cylinder engine prove very well matched. Power peaks at 4,500 rpm, quite high for a car built in 1938 and perfect for a fast, sporty touring car. The clutch is light to actuate and easy to engage. The ride is compliant, the chassis tight and noise-free. The leather seats feel luxurious, and they offer just enough bolster support to keep me in place. The only thing that gives the mechanical age away are hydraulic brakes that feel wooden by current standards, but which provide enough bite to bring the 2,420-lb. cabriolet to a quick and complete stop.

There’s something magical about piloting this pre-war 327 cabriolet. The view past the sculpted dash, with its white gauges and front-opening windscreen frame, speaks of elegant outings. The car seems to surge forward at every prod of the accelerator, eager to reach a fine establishment. It’s as if this BMW is letting you know that your arrival will be a special occasion. True enough: When my test drive ends, it’s hard to let go of the moment.

The origins of Premium

As BMW’s high-end prewar cabriolet, the 327 would seem, numerically, to have been a further development of the 326, the all-new model introduced in 1936 in three body styles: a closed-cockpit four-door, drop-top four-door and two-door cabriolet. The 326 was the first to get BMW’s new box-frame chassis, which it soon shared with the 320 and 321. Those cars, unlike their elder sibling, employed a leaf-spring rear axle, lower ride height and shorter wheelbase (by 4.7 inches, though it still measured around 108 inches) for more agile handling. The 327 used this shorter, sportier version rather than that of the larger 326, and it borrowed the 320/321’s sleeker, more elegant roofline, as well. As England’s The Motor reported in 1938, it also had equal track widths front and rear, “unusual in the BMW range,” plus independent front suspension.

Also from Issue 123

  • 2014 F32 435i Coupe road & track test
  • Laser lights, more carbon tech
  • Buyer's Guide: 5 BMWs for $14k
  • 2014 F56 MINI Cooper S first drive
  • 2014 Rolls-Royce Wraith road test
  • Neema Mazi's 2006 E92 335i
  • Chris Naguit's 2013 E92 M3
  • Gordon McDonnell interview
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