Okay, I’ll admit that we don’t spend a lot of time on pre-War German cars. The why is quite simple; outside of an occasional Mercedes-Benz model, there just weren’t a lot of pre-War German cars exported to the United States. Heck, there just weren’t a lot of pre-War German cars, period.
Contrary to popular belief, German wasn’t a nation of drivers until well after World War II. It was something that Mercedes-Benz and upstart conglomerate Auto Union lamented to a certain then-new German Chancellor by the name of Adolf Hitler. Hitler agreed; he wanted and needed the automobile industry in Germany to prosper to help resurrect the economy. But he also needed German car firms to take to new markets. The results you likely know; Hitler spurred the industry through lowering of automobile taxes, and more notable, the encouragement and funding of international-level automobile racing. It’s one of the few times in history that a government has undertaken full sponsorship of a race effort, and without a doubt it was the most successful and evocative. Should you care to on this blustery and very cold late December evening (at least here in New England, where temperatures are struggling to reach double digits), you can read all about it in my dissertation:
Motorsports Monday Special: Racing to Sell – The ‘Silberpfeil’: Part 6
The result of all of that racing and support of the automobile industry was that both Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union prospered – for a while. The unfortunate side-effect of the buildup for the Spanish Civil War and World War II, along with re-arming several areas of taken from Germany through the Versailles Treaty was that by the late 1930s, automobile production had ceased to accelerate because of artificial shortages of items like metal and rubber. Couple that with the fact that most Germans, though much better off in aggregate following the NSDAP takeover in 1933 than they had been during the Great Depression from 1929-1932, still weren’t very rich. So although both Auto Union and Daimler-Benz produced ultra-luxury models like the Mercedes-Benz 540 series and the Horch 853, few outside of high-ranking party officials could afford them. And even then, they were often gifts to gain favor with the notoriously corrupt government.
Today, some 80 years on from that time period, these incredible machines have gained a new appreciation in the market place. Long second fiddle to the pre-War stand-bys – Rolls Royce, Packard, Bentley, and Duesenberg, the rare models from Mercedes-Benz have come to surpass the value of nearly all pre-War cars outside of some real exotics, and Horch models, too, have come to be much more highly valued:
Looking for a 3-series to make a splash with at the next European car show? Want a BMW but really want to stand out from the crowd? Just like being esoteric? I’ve got the car for you – this BMW 326. You can go to a party of petrolheads and drop that designation; you’ll immediately stump the crowd, most of which will think you’re off by a few numbers. Surely, you have a 328 and just misread the badge, newbie? No, your car would be from the heyday of fledgling BMW – or, at the very least, the automobile branch of BMW. BMW was pretty well established by the outbreak of World War II as a top-tier producer of both motorcycles (the primary transport in Pre-War Germany) and airplane engines. But it had yet to really establish itself well in automobiles. The sporty 328 helped to change that, winning many sports car races in the shadow of the successes of the Silver Arrows Grand Prix cars. But the 328 was still quite expensive and compromised as a road car, so most would have chosen either a 326 or 327. The 327 was the sportier of the two, closer in purpose to the 328 but a little more forgiving in the ride comfort department. The 326, though, was the company’s first sedan, so this really is the first 3, properly. As with today, BMW also offered both two and four-door cabriolet versions of the chassis, and while they’re rare to find there is currently one for sale on eBay:
Update 1/17/19: After not selling in 2016 for $199,000, this rare 230 Cabriolet B has been correctly relisted as a 1937 model for $189,000.
I don’t usually look at a lot of pre-war Mercedes for a number of reasons. A few of them are they are very rare (and expensive), it’s tough to find solid information on them that’s not in German and lastly I’m not expert on them. So naturally when I see them and start digging into the specifics, I get lost and confused which leads me back to a W126 or R129 where I’m much more comfortable. Today’s car is no different. A 1936 230 Cabriolet ”B” that has a bunch of things that I try to make sense of but just end up asking more questions. So let’s take a look at this blue cabriolet that’s on its way to California.
World War II changed the map of Europe, and the post-War period was a strange rebuilding and re-allocation period which saw serious changes to some of the names you know today. Volkswagen, a brand that effectively hadn’t really existed before 1939 and the outbreak of war, found itself the benefactor of British intervention afterwards and became the company we know today. Mercedes-Benz, similarly, picked up the pieces and continued on. Auto Union and the companies of the four rings fell inside the Soviet area of control, and as a result many of the plans, factories and engineers were removed from Germany and sent deeper into Russian control. Then there was the strange plight of BMW. Prior to World War II, though BMW had been a very successful aircraft engine producer and motorcycle champion of Germany, they were a minor player in the automobile industry. Still, they had produced some beautiful and notable designs, including the successful sports car racer 328. Although technically Munich lay in the American area of Allied occupation, there would be an interesting future for BMW. Connections with the British Army allowed a pre-War BMW dealer from Britain to jump into the Munich factory, grab a bunch of plans and some engineers, and return back to the island nation. That would yield the Bristol 400 – a car so heavily influenced by BMW’s 326, 327 and 328 designs that they even retained the signature kidney grills. More strange, perhaps, was the BMW plant at Eisenach. Unfortunately for the city, though centrally located in Germany and not particularly far from Munich, it lay about 6 miles inside the Soviet control border. But their factory had all the plans for BMW’s road cars, so after the war, they turned on the lights and started pumping out BMWs not made by BMW. This, of course, resulted in a lawsuit, and in 1952 they were forced to change their name to Eisenacher Motorenwerke, or EMW. Like Bristol, they retained all of the signature BMW bits, including the Roundel. But since they were in Soviet controlled areas, the Roundel’s color changed from blue to red:
Pre-War cars aren’t often featured on these pages; for Germany, the number of available machines manufactured before 1939 just isn’t huge compared to some other countries. That’s because in part the image of the modern nation of Germany rising like a Phoenix from the ashes of World War 1 to become a nation of drivers was entirely a construct of the Nazi party. If anything, pre-World War 2 Germany was a nation of riders, as motorcycle ridership far outstripped automobile ownership. Hitler spent considerable resources not only building the Autobahn, but in advertising its success by having cars do loops up and down the road while cameras filmed. By the time the German economy had rebounded to the point where people could actually buy cars and companies had the productive capacity to provide them, material shortages due to rearmament meant established companies like Daimler-Benz and Auto Union – fresh from their victories in international Grand Prix races – could not deliver cars to meet the demand. Imagine how it was for an upstart company like BMW, then, who struggled to put together a race program based upon its sporting 328. Yet achieve success it did; while BMW failed to get the headline attention of the Silver Arrows, the 328’s success drove sales of the more pedestrian 326 sedan, and the 327 cabriolet model which was derived from it. Light, nimble and quick, they were driver’s cars in the great tradition BMW has come to be known for since. But since only around 1,400 were manufactured in Germany before the War and how many survive today is far short of that number, they’re pretty rare to see today. And, generally speaking, if you want to get into a nice one your bank account better have a quarter million dollars that you’re ready and willing to part with.
Now, all that said, what’s this 327 doing in a Tuner Tuesday feature? Well, it turns out that the 327 wasn’t always so highly valued in the used market. So, around 25 years ago when this car was restored, the decision was made that the 55 horsepower 1.9 liter inline-6 just wasn’t enough to motivate it. Instead, it now sports a 5.7 liter V8 motor from the General. Is this an allied victory?
We don’t see a ton of pre-war Mercedes featured on this site, but when you do it’s something you might find on the 18th green of Pebble Beach. Not today with this 1939 Mercedes-Benz 170V Cabriolet located in North Carolina. About a year ago Paul featured the brother of this car, a 1935 V170 from the same seller. This W136 cabrio can still give you pre-war Mercedes lure without the seven-figure price tag.