For a good many motoring enthusiasts, a discussion of cars from Communist Eastern Europe involves images of austere, boxy little machines with smoky two-stroke engines or hastily rebadged Fiats built with 40-year-old tooling. Therefore, it is a surprise for some to learn that something as graceful and elegant as this 1952 EMW 327 emerged from the bleak greyscale of the communist-controlled German Democratic Republic.
As one may surmise from its name, the cars of EMW – Eisenach Motoren-Werk – were not exactly new designs. The company emerged in 1945, immediately after World War II, as Germany was divided into the democratic West and communist East – a division that separated a nation of families, farms, and businesses for an entire generation. Among the companies forced to navigate this split was BMW, headquartered in Munich in the West but losing its largest factory in Eisenach to the East. The occupying government immediately put this lucrative factory back online, producing carbon copies of BMWs using whatever parts and tooling it had on hand.
Initially, the Type 321 2-door saloon and the graceful Type 327 Cabriolet rolled out of the EMW factory gates. Both models were designed by BMW in the 1930s and remained virtually indistinguishable from their pre-war Western counterparts, even wearing BMW badging! The only discernable difference was that the 321 had front-hinged doors. After considerable protest from BMW, EMW designed its own badge from 1952. EMW produced approximately 9,000 Type 321s through 1950 when the replacement Type 340 arrived. While still based on a pre-war BMW Type 326, the Type 340 wore a rather ungainly but unique front-end design to differentiate it from its Western brethren. Despite its awkward looks and pre-war underpinnings, the 340 sold well enough for EMW, totaling about 9,500. By 1956, EMW had run its course, and the Eisenach factory was converted to produce the Wartburg.
By far, the rarest and most desirable product of EMW is the handsome 327 Cabriolet, as presented here. Unsurprisingly, a luxurious cabriolet was a slow seller in a communist-occupied nation, with an estimated 500 built between 1945 and 1956. This 1953 model has been treated to an extensive, high-level restoration, is beautifully presented inside and out, and is well-suited to participation in concours or touring events. The exhaustive resurrection was performed by noted enthusiast and collector Bud Bourassa between 2014 and 2019, and much of the project is documented with a large stack of photos and parts receipts. According to his notes, the history is known back to the 1990s, when Mr. H. Moon of Falls Church, Virginia, acquired the EMW out of Tennessee. Moon attempted to restore the car, but the project stalled, and he eventually sold it. When Bud discovered it, the 327 Cabriolet had a plywood dashboard, a Ford flathead V8, and a rather out-of-place Cadillac steering wheel!
Undeterred, Bud decided to give the EMW a fresh start and restore the car for shows and driving events, updating it to BMW specifications. Photos on file show the body was completely stripped, with all metal work custom-fabricated as needed. Likewise, the chassis was stripped, componentry rebuilt, and everything refinished to a high standard. As the original engine was long-lost, Bud sourced an appropriate replacement in the form of a Bristol BS1 MkII inline-six, serial number 247. Of course, the Bristol six is a British copy of BMW’s brilliant hemi-head pushrod engine that powered the 327 and legendary 328. The design was among the spoils of war obtained by the Brits, and they developed it well into the post-war era. The BS1 MkII is one of the ultimate developments of the unit and was used by Stanley “Wacky” Arnolt in the high-performance Arnolt-Bristol Bolide. While capable of upwards of 150 horsepower in race trim, Bud Bourassa’s notes estimate this car makes a healthy 135 horsepower.
Sadly, Bud Bourassa passed away shortly after completing the 327 Cabriolet, yet his legacy lives on in this beautifully finished restoration. The two-tone blue color scheme suits the elegant Teutonic lines, and the paintwork is excellent all around, as is the painstakingly restored exterior trim. It rides on original steel wheels dressed in BMW logo hub caps, chrome trim rings, and period-style Excelsior sport radials. The cabin restoration is beautifully executed in light blue leather and navy canvas for an appealing complement to the exterior. Details include beautiful blonde wood door caps, a fully lined top, split opening windscreens, and discreetly added seatbelts for touring.
With its gorgeous baroque styling and superlative performance, the 327 Cabriolet is a versatile and comfortable tourer and the ideal candidate for events like the California Mille, Colorado Grand, or Copperstate 1000. This example further benefits from a potent and desirable Bristol engine, furthering its ability on premier rallies and tours while also looking the part for the concours lawn.
The EMW is an unusual footnote in motoring history, and this beautifully restored example will undoubtedly make a welcome addition to any German-centric collection.
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