Being There

Wherein our author imagines himself in Europe watching BMW prepare for—and win!—the 1940 Gran Premio Brescia della Mille Miglia, the last big road race before World War II.

October 12, 2010

Also from Issue 95

  • E92 335is Coupe road test
  • F01 750i xDrive road test
  • Not for U.S. F11 5 Series Touring
  • Active Autowerke E90, E92 M3s
  • Hamann X6 Tycoon Evo M
  • Mark David’s E30 325is
  • Jack Croul’s 328 at Mille Miglia
  • BMW NA’s ex-Polak 2002ti racer
  • Bimmerfest 2010
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Stepping back in time, author William Edgar plays fictional witness to BMW’s racing activities in the late 1930s, when the 328s were dominating racetracks and the world was edging toward war. But though the journal may be a literary invention along with the author’s presence, the facts and the photos it contains are real.

Wednesday, February 16, 1938

I’m sailing by steamer from New York for Le Havre, France, en route to Brescia, Italy and the Mille Miglia. I’ll also be visiting Munich and the Bayerische Motoren Werke, hoping to see how the racing program has progressed since Ernst Henne won at the 328’s Nürburgring debut in June of ’36. I’ve been following these cars ever since I witnessed that surprising victory in Germany two summers ago, and I’m eager to see them race in this year’s Mille Miglia.

I have with me my faithful Leica III and 50mm Leitz lens, and plenty of Kodak Panchromatic film plus a few rolls of Agfacolor-Neu, to capture what I see for reporting on BMW racing in Europe.

The newspaper I picked up before boarding has more on Adolf Hitler’s gall earlier this month to promote himself to Germany’s supreme military commander, which has added to the fear that he’ll heave his so-called “Third Reich” into war before long. Already there’s fighting in Spain, and so much is unstable all over Europe. But I must concentrate on why I am going there—for the cars, the racing. Am I delusional? Time will tell.

At dinner, I met an elder shipmate who knows BMW 328s inside and out. He insists they’re the most advanced of today’s sports cars, describing in detail Kurt Illmann’s class win driving one in last August’s Freiburg-Schauinsland hillclimb. He said, too, that these 2-liter cars had impressed even those who’d come solely to watch the grand Silver Arrows of Stuck, Caracciola and Rosemeyer. He added that Adolf Brudes set fastest sports car lap and won with the 328 at Hohensyburg, then he promised to introduce me to BMW racing boss Ernst Loof when in Munich. We toasted his pledge with Armagnac L’lzaute ’26.

We were later joined by an enthusiast from Marseilles who insisted Bugatti’s “Tank” is superior to all other cars in endurance and speed, as proven with its win at Le Mans last year followed by two Delahayes and a Delage—French, of course. He pointed out that all three German BMW-motored entries had retired, but I cited one that did not, a 328-powered Frazer-Nash in which Pat Fairfield collided with René Kippeurt’s Bugatti Type 44, killing them both. These have been dangerous, contentious times, on and off the track.

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