• 1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet

BMW’s entry in the sports tourer market

The BMW 327 was the German manufacturer’s foray into the production of more up-market sports cars that offered agreeable performance, elegant styling, and comfort. It shares much of the drivetrain with the 326 sedan, and some styling cues are shared with the more well-known 328 two-seaters.

The mid-size 327 arrived in 1937, one year after the motorsports-oriented 328 which was, in essence, a racing car for the road. The 327, however, was tailor-made for a different kind of customer. Be it in coupe or cabriolet guise, this car was a tourer in the true sense of the term, one that could withstand long journeys and offer seating for 4 adults.

It proved to be a popular car back in the interwar period with over with over 1,300 units being built in the Eisenach plant until 1941. The production of the 327 resumed at the same plant after the war but under Soviet rule. Those cars later became known as EMWs (Eisenach Motor Works). The 327 signaled that BMW had reached maturity barely a decade after the former aeronautical engine builder turned its attention to cars.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior
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The 327 was BMW’s response to the growing number of customers who were looking for a long-distance sports cruiser with the kidneys at the front. Basically, many posh clients turned to coachbuilders by 1936 to have their 326 sedans transformed into two-door sports cars. Ludwig Weinberger or Erdmann & Rossi were some of the established firms that offered elegant bodies for BMW’s first-ever sedan. Granted, BMW had the 326 readily available in open-top style with either the two-door or four-door layout but the design wasn’t particularly elegant or interesting.

That’s why the German manufacturer upped the ante one year later, in 1937, with the 327.

Featuring an aerodynamic bodywork by the Autenrieth coachbuilding company in Darmstadt, the 327 remains one of the best-looking BMWs ever built before the Second World War.

The BMW 327 has a familiar-looking front end, being similar to that on both the 326 and the 328. The elongated kidney grille is present, running from the peak of the narrowing nose all the way down to the bottom of the front fascia. The split bumpers aren’t fitted with any over-riders, the two-piece design being picked so as to not cover the kidney grille.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior
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The headlights are incorporated in the front fenders sitting below the top edge of the wheel arches and the hood line. Also incorporated in the fenders are the clear indicator lights.

The BMW logo sits atop the rounded nose section, just above the kidney grille which is divided by a chromed bar that runs from the edge of the split windshield all the way down, where it stops in line with the bumpers. The two-piece butterfly hood, a classic element of ‘30s and ‘40s cars on both sides of the Atlantic, is pierced on either sides by a slender air intake covered by a blacked-out grille with a horizontal mesh design.

The doors open towards the chromed A-pillars while the windshield itself is broken in two, with a wiper for each part.

The swooping line of the fenders lead the eye to the flowing rear of the 327. Some 327s actually featured rear wheel covers for an even more elegant profile. The example pictured here, however, comes without them, all four wheels being in plains sight. The wheels themselves match the two-tone theme of the bodywork and, unlike other luxury cars of the day, the 327 doesn’t have whitewall tires.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior
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Talking about the paintwork, the car in the pictures is painted in a combination of yellow and black. The fenders as well as the middle of the car around the back spare wheel cover are black while the sides are painted in yellow.

You could also get your 327 in red and black, green and black, and a few other color combinations.

At the back, the bumper is also split to match the one at the front. There’s one circular taillight on each rear fender which is mated with the indicator in the top half. The cover of the spare wheel sits on top of the trunk and is also colored in yellow and black with the chromed BMW-badged hubcap in the middle.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior Dimensions

Wheelbase 108 inches
Length 180 inches
Width 63 inches
Height 56 inches

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Interior

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Interior
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The straight-forward-looking interior of the 327 is covered in leather upholstery, both on the seats and on the doors panels. The example pictured here has yellow leather all-around with a white four-spoke steering wheel.

The mid-mounted odometer signals that this BMW will theoretically reach a top speed of just below 90 mph.

In actuality, no 327 with the basic 55-horsepower straight-six could hope to go above 80 mph.

The odometer has two more, smaller and more rectangular, gauges on either side. A few other white knobs and switches sit in the middle of the dashboard and two large-size knobs control the angle of the windshield. The gear shifter sticks right up from the transmission shaft since cars from this era didn’t have a center stack like cars we see and drive nowadays. While the seats up front were individual, the passengers at the back could relax on a plush bench seat.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Drivetrain

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Drivetrain
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The 327 shares the drivetrain with the mundane 326 sedan.

Under the hood, there’s the same M-78 push-rod 2.0-liter inline-six which produces 55-horsepower at 4,500 rpm.

That’s five horsepower more than in the 326 thanks to a higher compression ratio. The engine is fed by two Solex carburetors. Initially, the power was sent to the back wheels through a Hurth four-speed manual transmission with freewheeling between first and second gears, which allows gear changes without depressing the clutch at low speeds. Later on, a ZF synchromesh gearbox was available. It was the first time that a fully synchronized gearbox was offered on a BMW.

The dismal output of the M-78 engine left some clients appalled which is why BMW launched the 327/28 in 1938 which had the BMW 328s 80-horsepower engine under the hood. Very few of these faster 327s were built, somewhere between 480 and 640 units.

The car in the images is, however, a touch above since it received the 3.2-liter BMW 503 alloy V-8 which produces over 140-horsepower.

But that was never an option that was available in period.

The box-section ladder-type chassis, with a shorter wheelbase than on the 326 sedan, had the same suspension setup as the family car up front, independent with leaf springs, but came with semi-elliptic rear springs mounted on a live axle. This replaced the torsion bar of the sedan which was a close relative to the dead axle on Citroen’s Traction Avant. A hydraulic braking system was in charge of stopping the 327.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Specifications

Engine code M-78
Displacement 2.0-liter
Cylinders Inline-6
Fuel type Gas
Power 55 horsepower
Top Speed 78 mph
Weight 2,245 pounds

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Pricing

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior
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The basic 327 Sport Cabriolet cost around $54,000 in today’s money back in 1938. While that doesn’t seem like much, it was actually quite a lot of money back then. This was, however, to be expected because BMW was aiming to please the wealthier clientele with this model.

Currently, you can find a 327 Sport Cabriolet for as little as $130,000 if you’re looking for a restoration project.

On the other hand, if you want a fully-restored example, prices soar to as much as $250,000. It’s worth noting that most of the 27s were cabriolets, of which 1,124 were built. The fixed-head coupe models that debuted in 1938 sold in much fewer numbers, only 179 leaving the plant in Eisenach. As mentioned before, the 327/28 is also a rear beast and rarely comes up for sale.

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Competition

Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 Sport

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The 6C 2500 Sport was launched in 1939 as an update of the Vittorio Jano-designed 6C 2300. It was to be the final 6C road car and it featured the same DOHC six-cylinder engine but with the capacity enlarged to 2.4-liters. The suspension was independent at the front and there was a torsion bar independent setup at the back. It had steel drum brakes all-around and you could get it with two or three Weber carburetors. The cylinder head was also improved with the move from the 2300 for better aspiration. It all translated into a power output of 95-horsepower.

You could get your 6C 2500 with a light aluminum body by Touring or with a Pininfarina-penned coachwork. The former featured a larger grille with recessed headlights while the Pininfarina body had a narrower, triangular, grille with two more incorporated bumpers on either side above the full-size bumper. The Pininfarina body was much more modern than that of Carrozzeria Touring which looks like its rooted in the mid-‘30s. On the other hand, with the Pininfarina body, the 6C 2500 kept going into the early-‘50s. As with many other interwar (and slightly post-war) Alfas, the 6C 2500 can be expensive. Earlier Touring-bodied cars can sell for well over $1,000,000 but you can fetch a post-war Pininfarina model for around $350,000.

Bristol 400

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This is the first car built by the British Bristol Aeroplane Company. it was built shortly after the war and the reason it’s mentioned here as a competitor of the 327 is because the 400 uses the BMW 326 frame and the engine from the 328. With that 80-horsepower engine with hemispherical combustion chambers, the 400 reached a top speed of 92 mph. The engine as exhibited under the hood of the Bristol was difficult to maintain. The gearbox and suspension was also taken straight off the BMW 327.

Even the styling of the Bristol 400 is similar to that of the BMW. You can find the same curved nose and elongated kidney grilles, although some fixed-head coupe versions have four headlights instead of just two. You can pick up a 400 for as little as $35,000 in acceptable running order. More cared-for examples sell for $60,000 to $80,000 while Concours-level restorations demand prices north of $110,000.

Final Thoughts

1938 BMW 327 Sport Cabriolet Exterior
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The BMW 327 was BMW’s pole-bearer in the luxury sports tourer department before the war. It signaled BMW’s maturity as an automobile manufacturer and paved the way for the manufacturer that we know today: one that blends luxury with performance and style.

There’s no denying that there are few BMWs more stylish than the 327 which shares a lot of its design cues with period art deco creations from French or Italian design houses. The communists in East Germany kept building 327s after the war at the same plant well into the ‘50s under the EMW name. This shows, in a way, how appreciated the car was.

  • Leave it
    • Puny power from original the 2.0-liter engine
    • Not many survived the War

Further reading

2011 BMW 328 Hommage High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 2011 BMW 328 Hommage Concept.

Source: RM Sothebys

Michael Fira
Michael Fira
Associate Editor and Motorsport Expert - fira@topspeed.com
Mihai Fira started out writing about long-distance racing like the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans. As the years went by, his area of interest grew wider and wider and he ever branched beyond the usual confines of an automotive writer. However, his heart is still close to anything car-related and he's most at home retelling the story of some long-since-forgotten moment from the history of auto racing. He'll also take time to explain why the cars of the '60s and '70s are more fascinating than anything on the road today.  Read full bio
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