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1937 Frazer Nash-BMW 326

  • 1937 Frazer Nash-BMW 326
  • Fully restored during the 1990s
  • Brooklands Double Twelve class winner
  • Featured in Classic & Sports Car magazine
  • Well known in the BMW Historic Motor Club

Delivered new on 12 February 1937 to British importer AFN Ltd, this Frazer Nash-BMW 326 saloon was given the Middlesex registration FMT 517, which it still wears more than 80 years later. In its history file is a letter dated 29 September 1995, from renowned journalist Denis Jenkinson. ‘Jenks’ was heavily involved with the Frazer Nash Archives, and his information shows that FMT 517 – chassis number 77.443 – was serviced by AFN between April 1937 and August 1939, then again during 1948.

Its first owner was a Mr Hutson, and it’s thought he kept the BMW until March 1948, by which time it had covered 37,753 miles. It was then road-tested by Nelson Ledger, AFN’s service manager, for W Foster Ltd of Amersham. Ledger concluded his report by saying that ‘on completion of the work suggested… this should be a good motor car of its type.’

W Foster Ltd then sold the BMW to Arthur Stowe of Stoke Poges. Stowe’s daughter remembered the car as having been painted black by that time, and also suggested that it had been kept underground for the duration of World War Two. Photographs from this period show that FMT 517 was fitted with the single-blade bumpers that it seems to have worn for most of its life – and still does today. Ordinarily, the BMW 326 was fitted with twin bumpers at each corner.

By 1960, the car had passed to Frederic Mason, who was a major in the Parachute Regiment. Subsequent owners are unknown, but on 30 June 1989 FMT 517 was acquired by Woolaston Motors – a BMW dealership in Northampton. The car was restored in their workshop during the 1990s and then put on display in their showroom, but was sold in 2009.

By that time, the electrical system had been converted to 12 volts, but the six-volt starter was retained. Work carried out since 2009 includes a cylinder-head rebuild with new valves and guides. The pistons, rings and liners were replaced, and a sports camshaft fitted. The dynamo has been reconditioned and a new exhaust system installed.

The propshaft has been replaced and now uses a Hardy-Spicer coupling rather than a fabric coupling, while the rear axle was rebuilt and the final-drive ratio changed from 4.875:1 to 3.9:1. The effect has been to offer more relaxed cruising – 50mph now equating to 2400rpm rather than 3000rpm. The gearbox was also rebuilt and the freewheel on first and second gears was ‘locked up’ because it can often prove troublesome on these cars.

This Frazer Nash-BMW 326 has been enthusiastically used by its most recent custodian. It won its class in the 2012 Brooklands Double Twelve, has toured Belgium and Northern France, was featured in Classic & Sports Car magazine, has appeared in an episode of the Brooklands Museum’s Spinning Wheels film series, and is well known to the BMW Historic Motor Club.

Now being offered for sale by the Classic Motor Hub, it’s a comfortable, stable and civilised cruiser, and sounds like a car with a much larger engine than its 2-litre straight-six. It drives superbly, and is ready to be used and enjoyed in the same way that it has been over the past decade.

Model history

First unveiled at the 1936 Berlin Motor Show, the BMW 326 not only sold well for the rest of that decade, but following the war its box-section chassis formed the basis for the Bristol 400. The launch of the 326 also brought with it the introduction of the famous 1971cc straight-six engine that would be adopted and developed by Bristol in the 1940s and 1950s.

With its independent front suspension and rear torsion bars, much was made in period of the 326’s comfort and handling. ‘This springing comfort and safety,’ said the brochure, ‘obviously enable very high average speeds to be maintained without effort, even for the longest and most arduous journey.’ Hydraulic dampers and brakes were fitted, and there was even rack-and-pinion steering.

The pressed-steel body of the 326 was made by AMBI-Budd in Berlin before being transported to BMW’s Eisenach factory, where it was welded to the chassis to create a rigid structure. Other variants included the 320/321, the 327 cabriolet and fixed-head coupé, and the highly developed 328 competition cars.

Nearly 16,000 BMW 326s of all types left the factory up to 1941, with some being exported to the UK and sold as Frazer Nash-BMWs. With the Frazer Nash marque struggling, its owners – the Aldington family – had done a deal with BMW to become its official importer. That arrangement lasted until the outbreak of war, with right-hand-drive cars being sent over to Frazer Nash’s Isleworth base, where a new building was erected to cope with the influx.

Not only did the 326 play a role in the development of the Bristol 400 after the war, it was also modified into the EMW 340. That car was built at Eisenach, which was by then under Soviet control, and more than 21,000 were made before production stopped in 1955.

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