Incredible Prewar Find: 1937 BMW 328 Lightweight

Among barn find stories, they don’t get much more unlikely or eye-opening as this one. Tucked away in Villisca, Iowa, a farmer held onto one of the rarest BMWs ever built, a model that carried with its both historical significance as well as racing pedigree with a competition history that included Le Mans, Donington Park and the legendary Mille Miglia. Now sporting coachwork typical of retired prewar race cars, this factory lightweight BMW 328 is set to undergo complete restoration back to its open-top racing body. Find the full story here on Autoweek.com.

The story is wonderful on a few levels, not the least of which touches on the two business partners and best friends who found the car in a local farmer’s barn. Dereck Freshour and Heath Rodney were more accustomed to trading in Trans Ams and other project muscle cars, but didn’t turn down the chance to scope out what the retired farmer had socked away many years ago. They weren’t prepared for the vehicle they saw covered in farm equipment and hay, evidently quite unusual but with no context for how historically significant it was. The picture above shows 328 No. 85031 in its racing configuration and livery.

Image courtesy of Autoweek

Freshour and Rodney knew they had something special on their hands, but effectively a car with two identities: after its career as a factory lightweight race car ended, a company called Veritas launched by a former BMW engineer sought to build a sports coupe in the void created when 328 production ended. Cars like this one were retired by BMW and scooped up by Veritas and built with coachwork bodies. This car’s Iowa title actually identifies it as a BMW Veritas, but for obvious reasons, BMW put a stop to this form of rebuilding in 1949. Note the single racing bucket and stripped-out cockpit – number 85031 doesn’t hide its race car origins.

Image courtesy of Autoweek

Other incredible features of this prewar race car are noted by Autoweek: “Its 1,971cc M328 six was rebuilt for the race cars with a lighter valvetrain and crank, substantially higher compression, bigger carbs and a larger sump. Output increased nearly 70 percent, to 130-136 hp at 6,500 rpm. The lightweights were fitted with a close-ratio gearbox, the 100-liter racing tank, lighter fade-resistant brake drums and composite steel/alloy wheels.” That’s an incredible list of features for 1937, and it’s all still there. Freshour and Rodney intend to first restore the car back to its open-cockpit roots, then address the coachwork body. They’ve promised to keep us appraised of updates, which we will welcome!

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Comments

  1. Mark S.

    I love this, it’s the epitome of a barn find. A rare car w/ a history tucked away for years, forgotten. Rather than some guy pulling some rusty Chevelle out and saying it only has 20k miles on it without a motor and is asking 25k for it.

    • Chuck Simons

      Or a Corvette with 21k and undercoating on the front frame arms

      • Classic Steels

        Or a sandbox flower pot Corvette in Florida for sale 🤑

        This is a cool find and quite the piece of history!

        Well done and great find !

    • Billy 007

      I would love to hear the story about how this car got to America, when, why? How and when did it end up in the barn. Was it just left there by a previous farm owner? Why leave it to rot in the barn for decades? I feel this story needed more of these elements.

  2. Rodney

    Bring A Trailer eat your heart out…

  3. Andy

    As barn-findey as it gets! I hope they come up with a good plan for the body, it’s too cool to waste.

    • MG-bakka

      Hi there,

      IMO it wwould be the better way to let BMW Classic do the restoration!

      https://www.bmwgroup-classic.com/en/offers-and-services/classic-center.html

      As the maker of this rare bird, they will know which is the way to do it!
      It can loose only once it “virginity” of beeing what it was so long …

      I would not know in which direction to go with this!

      just my thoughts !

      • Veritas

        BMW classic does not do the restorations they Farm it our they are a “general contractor” nothing more when it comes to a restoration of this caliber,

  4. spacelifer

    The Swastikas on the cowl give it an eerie dark edge; when I noticed them I got that “someone just walked over your grave” feeling! Time to brush up on some BMW history!

    • MG-bakka

      It was the official national flag of the “Deutsches Reich” from 1933 – 1945, not only the political flag of the Nazis!
      In international races, cars had to be marked with the national flag.

      Certainly, it gives a bad feeling and nobody should deny or forget what happens under this flag!

      Car makers managements had to cooperate with the Nazi government, if they wanted to survive as a producer. Some did more, others less …

      Guess most of the people involved building and running these racing cars, had not much time for politics, if they wanted to win the next race.
      Sure, that says nothing about the guiltiness of the car makers management!

    • Scott Tait

      BMW ‘s own logo represents an Aero Propeller in motion … theres history there👌

  5. Todd Fitch Todd Fitch Staff

    Wow! Beautiful car and an amazing story. Great find, Jeff!

  6. Nick Member

    The coachwork looks like something from the 60s. Very advanced style. The vertias history is cool. Guess they feel the original body is better.

    • KEN TILLY

      I would stick with restoring the Veritas body, after all it is an original Veritas conversion whereas manufacturing a reproduction body is just that, a reproduction/copy/2018 body. A great writeup Jeff, and a great Barn find. Just what we all dream about.

  7. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    This is an incredible find on all kinds of levels.

    Who knew that any of these iconic pre-WW2 racing 328s were left to be found? And who would have ever guessed one would be found on an Iowa farm?

    And that what was first thought to be a Veritas—significant for that alone—was actually a factory lightweight 328 that had been converted?

    As the story said, the entry level for this kind of car is very high, a million or more, depending. Since this one seems to have a prewar racing record as a factory 328 (if I read the car’s story correctly), this car’s value will be north of 1 million.

    I would seriously hesitate to conduct the restoration myself, even tho the restoration of some components is to be farmed out to experts. Maybe that will work, but the guys with the big money always seem to want the best, most experienced hands working on cars they pay up for.

    The resto will be very expensive, and to recoup that expense and more I would farm it out to a shop like RM or better still, BMW Classic as MG-bakka suggested above.

    It will be an expensive restoration, but it would also pretty much guarantee that it will turn out as a no-questions car when it’s time to auction it off at one of the big auctions at Pebble Beach.

    A restoration like that will also reassure the guys who are doing the judging, and if they are reassured sufficiently and like what they see the car could make best of show—a very big plus.

    • Steve R

      Publicity for a car like this is the first step in marketing the car. I wouldn’t be surprised if it turns up at an auction, dusty and dirty, later this year. I couldn’t fault the current owners for that, I hope the farmer was well paid.

      Steve R

    • Bridgehampton1955

      You must of over looked the part of the article where those Iowa boys have enlisted the help of one of the foremost Pre War BMW Experts experts in the world to assist with the restoration. I’m a BMW fan so I may be a little bias anyway!

      I commend those two Iowa boys for taking on such an adventure that “takes some balls” more power to them! Every car guys dream

  8. alan

    It would be best to save the Veritas body and fit it to another chassis when the original chassis get restored to its original appearance.

    • KEN TILLY

      Why restore it to it’s original 328 bodywork, after all there are plenty of those around, but very few BMW Veritas coupes which is also an original Veritas.

      • ILUVBMW

        You can count how many NSKK Works 328’s that still exist on one hand, bringing the chassis back to a 328 lightweight is the best preservation of history!

        You just don’t ever find a premwar race car with its original body, it just Dosent happen these kind of cars were race cars, banged around and experimental. No doubt the path the article discusses is the correct path.

  9. Bill

    Leave it as is and display in a museum, like the “Bugatti from Lake Maggiore” that was salvaged a few years ago. This is an archaeological automobile artifact of the finest kind. To “restore” it would mean obliterating the car’s history and leave little to nothing original, apart from the chassis number.

  10. Bob in Bexley Member

    Feature story in Autoweek a couple weeks ago. I’d want it to remain a Veritas.

  11. MG-bakka

    They decided to go the “non-comercial” way
    to make out of one car, two …!
    “Non Comercially” it makes sense, otherwise not!
    😉
    Also the time frame of 2 years … sounds “non profit orientated”!

    Best way would be to preserve as much as possible from its originality!
    Repair, refurbish just what is nessesary, get it carefully running.

    A new body on an old, restored frame, is just another “special”, not a original car!
    And a restored body on a other than the original used frame, is im my eyes a “new” creation, using old parts, destroying its originality and rarity!
    As the original frame is possible to resurect, what other than monetary interests could be behind this decision …?!

    What is more rare than a beautiful Veritas coupe on a original factory, lightweight, 328 racing frame in as much as original condition, as possible?
    It was made into this, it spent most of its time beeing like this!

    just my opinion!

    anyway, time will show …

  12. Beatnik Bedouin

    Thanks for sharing, Jeff.

    I’ve passed the link to a buddy who knows a lot about pre-war BMW 328s. He may be able to shed some more light on this particular example.

  13. Madmatt

    I never knew that a BMW could look so super cool,in 1937.
    The styling was very advanced,and it must have been pretty fast!
    I really like it,😀, …wasn’t it just a few years later, that Buicks
    Started having portholes..?🤔……😉.??……

  14. Rube Goldberg Member

    While it sure looks like a POS now, I bet, at one time, it was quite the automobile.( as the one good picture indicates) Obviously, BMW knew what they were doing, while we were driving around in tattered Model A’s. An even better story, would be how farmer Brown got it. Had to be something he, or someone he knew, brought back from the war. Just think, it sat there all those years, how many people walked around it, the farmer refused to sell and finally these 2 guys stumbled on it, and the timing was right. It’s the kind of story we all here would love to have happen to us. Great story, it’s what makes BF’s such a cool site. Btw, I have little, if any interest in the car itself.

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Lavery Staff

      Rube – I had a thought regarding the farmer. My far, far, FAR less valuable project, the Toyota HiAce I’ve written about here, was sitting way up in the Georgia mountains at the end of a long driveway for sale for “parts only.” Old man named Steve Stuart comes bombing along in his trailer, looking for a new junker to stick on his property, and picks it up for $150. Way less than I paid Steve for it when I came upon it….I think some guys just grab stuff when they see it and know they can make a buck or two when the time comes.

  15. Derek

    I am a strong believer in what is known as “continuous history” as regards cars and, with that in mind, I would prefer to see the car restored the way it is rather than as a replica of what it once was. If the original body could be located it would be a different story but a newly made copy is not the way to go. I think the owners are making a mistake.

    • Dutch 1960

      To add to the thought, the Veritas bodywork is part of the story of the car. Breaking the frame from the bodywork gives you two “half” cars with a huge break in the story. Keep the story going by keeping it all together.

  16. KEN TILLY

    @Derek. I am in total agreement with you. It’s only OLD once, even if it isn’t as original as BMW manufactured it.

    • MG-bakka

      Yep!

  17. Snappy

    Reading the history of the car, it seems to me that the car as it is now is the real thing. Putting a new body on the chassis and a new chassis under the body would yield two replicas. Preserve history; restore the current vehicle.

  18. Jubjub

    Wow. I had to Google Veritas. I remember seeing pics of these and in particular a Retrospective in R&T back in the ‘80s. Hope they decide to retain the bodywork.

  19. rileyist

    Hope they paid the farmer a fair price for it? Probably worth $500k plus in barn find condition, at somewhere like Retromobile

  20. Bill B.

    I prefer sympathetically preserving the Veritas version…that’s the interesting history of this car.

  21. Pete

    Very cool story, I am thinking they would be better served by redoing it as a Veritas and not as the original 328. Why because the original 328 body is long gone. They don’t even look the same. That would be my vote. Yeah about a million yeah, in my best Rainman voice. LOL.

  22. Gene Parmesan

    Ironic that “veritas” means “truth” in Latin and this Veritas coachwork is attempting to hide the fact that this was once a sleek roadster. Really cool car with a great story and as such, it would be a shame to separate the frame and body.

  23. Peter

    From an historian’s point of view; is it better to leave in its Veritas livery or take it back to a race car?

  24. Maurice

    Of course there are several views on the restoration of this one and in my opinion making two cars out of this one is the least historically correct one can do. Making two replica’s, two halves? Every car has it’s own history and survives NOW with the (potential) changes that have been done to it. If these changes were as historically significant and professional as this one, the car should be restored back to it’s PRESENT glory. After all, this is what time and it’s owners/caretakers did to this car. This IS a one-off Veritas and should be preserved this way. Just MHO. And why?

    I’m restoring a historically significant Bizzarrini Grifo A3/C which I found has the motor of the Bertone Prototype A3/C B0201 installed. At some time a Swiss Formula 1 driver owned both and needed an engine to keep the B0201 campaigning at races like Monza and Nurburgring – so they were switched. The Protoype has been wrecked and rebodied two times with only the data plate still original so it serves no purpose to switch engines back. No, the car I’m working on now will have special provenance because of it’s ties with B0201 and will be preserved like this. Again, I realize these are not knee jerk decisions and some serious thought needs to go into this. And, unless you have a staff of 5 restorers working every day, two years is very optimistic for this Veritas project. Still, very exciting and godspeed to them!

    • KEN TILLY

      Well said Maurice. My thoughts exactly.

  25. RACMEMBER

    Completely disagree with most of the comments about not turning the car back to a 328 Race Car true factory NSKK 328 Race Cars are the most coveted BMW’s of all time there History has shaped BMW history and what we know and love about the brand!

    There is only one NSKK 328 Roadster with only parts of its original body in existence and 4 others and now 5 total these true factory owned race cars All had several body’s in their life! Someone said it earlier you never find a race car with it’s original body not pre war anyway

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