The Other Mille Miglia Coupe

In 1938, BMW built a radical competition coupe that put the latest aerodynamic principles into action and showed off the capabilities of a strong new design department.

July 13, 2010
The Other Mille Miglia Coupe 1
The Other Mille Miglia Coupe 2
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Among BMW fans, it’s no secret that the pre-war 328 put the white and blue roundel on the world stage. In its debut at the Nürburgring on June 14, 1936, the prototype 328 driven by Ernst Henne swept aside all opposition in the two-liter sports car class and established a precedent for dominant performance that wouldn’t end until World War II put an end to racing on the Continent. With a light tubular frame and an in-line six producing 80 bhp at 5,000 rpm—early cars had at least 90—the 328 sealed BMW’s reputation for speed with style.

Complementing the 328’s technology was clean-lined bodywork that was modern without being bizarre. Like the rest of the 328, it was the work of a technical department that was expanding rapidly and professionally.

Though previously based in Munich, BMW’s vehicle development group moved in 1934 from Munich to Eisenach, where car production took place. Its 20 employees would work under Fritz Fiedler, BMW’s chief engineer.

Reporting to Fiedler in charge of body engineering was Peter Szymanowski, who assigned Wilhelm Kaiser to draw up design plans for the 328. Starting from 1936’s hand-made prototypes, the aim was to design a body that used stylistic elements of the 326 and could be assembled with relatively modest resources from available panels.

Soon, however, it became evident that the body design operation was too underpowered to meet its many objectives. In 1937, BMW’s car development department moved back to Munich, where a new artistic design department was created. It opened its doors on September 1, 1938, and its chief was stylist Wilhelm Meyerhuber, recruited from General Motors-owned Opel.

Slender and sharp-featured, Meyerhuber learned his craft in the 1920s at General Motors and its Fisher Body Company, firms that pioneered the modern styling department. Wilhelm Kaiser moved over from engineering to join Meyerhuber, who also brought in Opel stylist Karl Schmuck. These three designers formed the core of the team that worked until wartime on the styling of all BMWs, including those planned for post-war manufacture. On the engineering of the bodies, they liaised with Szymanowski.

Also from Issue 93

  • E92 M3 GT4 imported to U.S.
  • 2011 F25 X3 preview
  • Interview: R. Steinberg on electrics
  • Buyer’s Guide: Best first BMWs
  • Active Autowerke E92 M3
  • Phil Ganderton’s R53 MINI
  • Kivanc Aslaner’s E30 318is
  • Eddie Ribeiro’s E12 528i
  • Paul Cain’s 2002 vs. E82 135i
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