One Of A Dozen: Driving In Art Deco Elegance With A 1939 Frazer Nash BMW 327
Photography by Will Broadhead
Milton Glaser, the famous New York-based graphic designer, once said that there are three responses to a piece of design; “Yes, no, and WOW!” The latter was my reaction when my good friend Ben invited me down to have a nose at the latest motor cars to find their way into the hands of the Classic Motor Hub. Sat in the main hanger of Cotswold Collector Cars (part of the Hub) was a car that I admit to never having seen before. It was a beautiful, sleek, art deco beauty with some recognizable badges—the blue and white stylized propeller blades that make up the BMW roundel—but written around the circumference were the words “Frazer Nash.” Style and now intrigue had me hooked, and I had to find out what exactly I was looking at.
The car is a BMW 327/80 from 1939, and starting in 1934, the models from the manufacturer’s Eisenach factory were imported into the UK by Frazer Nash, hence the delineation of Frazer Nash BMW. 1939 was the last year of this arrangement, for obvious reasons. The 327 was marketed as the firm’s luxury sports touring option at the time, alongside the legendary 328 that was the out and out sports car of their range. As the gorgeous, slender hood is released from its catches and lifted into the air, I am given a glimpse of an addition that makes this rarity even more special, as at its heart sits the 80hp power plant from its more famous stablemate (the 328), an option that was offered at a steep cost and one that provided an upgrade to the standard straight-six motor in the 327. The Rudolf Schleicher-designed engine is a modest 1.9L and its power isn’t large by today’s standards of course, but with the use of hemispherical combustion chambers the power output is extremely respectable for an 80-year-old piece of kit, don’t you think?
Performance aside though, it’s how this car looks that made up the real attraction for me. I’m not usually too thrilled by cars of this era, but this is an exceptional looker. The long grill that sweeps up from the chrome bumper, guiding your eye past those pronounced headlamps and then up and over the sweeping front wings that seem to project the bodywork forward. From the rear it is graceful as anything made in England, with a tremendous splendor about it with the overly theatrical spare wheel cover and those semi-shrouded rear wheels.
It has a regal presence with its two-tone paint job and pin striping, and that story is continued throughout the interior. Lavish blue leather and luxurious matching pile await you as you open the door, and the whole thing is capped with one of the most beautiful dashboards I’ve seen, deco clocks encased in a Bakelite-type material that echoes the beautiful wireless radios of the era. I can only imagine the reactions of people when this cabriolet was first released in 1937—it still draws quite a crowd today. It’s a design that’s very much of the time, yet an enduring one, and I am smitten by it.
Of course, to pour over such a rare automobile is a privilege when parked—only 12 of these RHD Frazer Nash imports are known to survive—so the offer to take this beautiful machine for an afternoon of driving through the Cotswolds was one that got me pretty giddy. As soon as the ignition was kindled the old but venerable motor burst to life, with the three carburetors working flawlessly to propel this majestic swoop of steel along through gorgeous scenery in this part of the world; if it sounds like a hyperbolically beautiful moment it’s only because that was the truth. As one would expect with a car like this, the cabin is a wonderful place to be and to look out of and at, and the ride is tremendously comfortable (this is no sports car) and driving the big BMW was a very soft yet assured experience. The power plant was exquisitely mannered, and though I’ve certainly enjoyed faster rides this car isn’t built for tearing about country lanes; it was built for enjoying the road and your surroundings at your leisure, and while like anything old enough it was an engaging drive, the four-speed gearbox allows one to take it easy and not sweat every gear change.
Gentle driving around the streets of the Roman town of Cirencester netted admiring glances from almost everyone we passed; it seems mine weren’t the only affections commanded by this car’s tremendous presence. Indeed, it started to prove somewhat of a problem when we found a suitable location to photograph the 327, as it drew a crowd all of its own in a town that already contains a great many sights to see.
Eventually it came time to escape the fanbase and bring it back to the Hub. A drive and a design fit for a king, I felt very lucky to have had experienced it firsthand, to enjoy its company and indulge in its aura.