Curbside Classic: Postwar BMW 340 – A Case of Identity Theft?

My brother continues to send photos of interesting vehicles he runs across in his work with Georgia CDR (Community Development and Relief) in Eastern Europe. Today’s feature car sparked an extensive email exchange between my siblings and me as we attempted to make a precise identification – you’ll understand why in a bit.

Figuring out the brand wasn’t so hard – it’s right there on the boot – and neither was the model: it appears to be a post-war BMW 340, manufactured by Eisenacher Motorenwerk (EMW) in Eisenach, Thuringia (a state in central Germany).

Before we take a closer look, a history lesson is in order. Automobile manufacturing at Eisenach dates back to the late 1800s, when Heinrich Ehrhardt founded the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach (FFE) and began manufacturing the Wartburg, a licensed version of the French Decauville. Due to financial troubles partially stemming from loss of this license, they introduced the Dixi in 1907, a car that earned a reputation for good performance and reliability. The factory would produce trucks and guns during WWI, and faced repeated financial hardships in the post-war years eventually leading to a merger with Gothaer Waggonfabrik AG and a focus on smaller cars, including a variant of the British Austin 7 called the DA-1 3/15.

Seeking to branch into automobile manufacture, BMW acquired the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach A.G. from Gothaer Waggonfabrik AG in late 1928, subsequently naming it BMW-Factory Eisenach. Improved variants of the Dixi made up the initial offerings, with the larger 6-cylinder BMW 303 being first offered in 1933. Follow-on models included the BMW 315 (1934) and 319 (1935) that were in turn succeeded by the BMW 32x range starting from 1937-38.

As WWII progressed, BMW motorcycle production was moved to Eisenach in 1942. Automobile production was stopped at that time and production shifted to military piston and jet aircraft engines, often utilizing forced labor from concentration camps and people from Western Europe. The factory became a target of Allied bombing raids, with ~60% of the facility having been destroyed by the end of the war.

BMW was classified by the Allies as an armaments manufacturer after the war, and subsequently lost most of their production equipment as war reparations under the Potsdam Agreement. Although American forces initially occupied the town, it was agreed that Thuringen would ultimately fall within the Soviet Occupation Zone, with transfer formally occurring in July, 1945.

BMW 321

In a bid to stave off having the remaining surviving production equipment removed to the Soviet Union, Albert Seidler, head of Eisenach motorcycle production, demonstrated a BMW 321 sedan to Marshal Zhukov, imploring that a restart of automobile production would be to everyone’s benefit. Their gamble paid off and limited production of the BMW 321 and R45 motorcycle was initiated, with the facility itself becoming the Soviet Stock Company Sowjetische AG Maschinenbau AwtoweloWerk BMW Eisenach (Soviet Awtowelo Co., Eisenach BMW Works). The BMW plants in Munich were not so lucky; prohibited from manufacturing engines or vehicles, the Bavarian facilities were reduced to manufacturing cookware in order to stay in business. Rubbing salt in the wound, the President of Thuringia declared that all BMW-Eisenach operating systems had been expropriated – BMW-Munich’s attempts to recover the plant or any production equipment went nowhere, which effectively created two separate BMWs with all autos made between 1945–1951 being products of the Eisenach factory.

BMW-Eisenach, on the other hand, had its own set of problems, as most of the former supply base was located in West Germany where they were essentially off-limits due to both political and economic factors. Parts sourced from East German suppliers (having to navigate within a ‘command economy’ framework) suffered from both poor quality and supply shortage issues. This led to yet another headache for BMW-Munich, as BMW-branded cars exported from East Germany would often be brought to West German dealers for service. This reflected poorly on the BMW brand, but BMW-Munich had its hands tied as long as BMW-Eisenach was Soviet-owned.

BMW 326

By 1948, BMW-Eisenach had produced over 4,000 BMW 321s, along with a handful of BMW 326s, which, having been first introduced in 1938, were getting a little long in the tooth. It was time for a refresh, and the result would become the first German post-war-designed automobile: The BMW 340.

Soviet Awtowleo-produced BMW 340

Retaining the 326’s main body central section and wheelbase of 113” (2870mm), the 340 received a completely new front grille, hood and fender design (note similarity to the contemporary Peugeot 203), along with a redesigned rear with opening boot lid. Power still originated from a 1,971cc straight-six engine making ~54HP (40kW), coupled to a four-speed manual transmission. The floor-mounted shifter of the 326 was relocated to the steering column in the 340, and while the interior initially was largely unchanged, it would subsequently be updated to utilize a bench front seat with improved space in the back seat by deleting the central arm rest. Other interesting technical features included a self-cleaning oil filter and a cabin-operated radiator blind for blocking frigid winter air until the engine had sufficiently warmed.

BMW-Munich had been preparing to restart automobile production after their “time out” period, and successfully sued the Soviet Awtowleo Co. in 1950 for rights to the blue-and-white propeller logo as well as the dual-nostril grille design. BMW-Eisenach was handed over to the German Democratic Republic (thus becoming state-owned), and was renamed Eisenacher Motorenwerk (EMW) in 1952. A red-white logo was created and used for branding on cars being exported to central European export markets (now marketed as the EMW 340-2), including West Germany. As is seen on our subject car (presuming it was manufactured after the EMW branding took effect), vehicles sold in Eastern Germany, Poland and a few other Soviet-controlled states continued for a time to be branded with the blue-and-white BMW logo, possibly to use up remaining stocks of BMW-branded badges and wheel trims.

EMW would again be renamed in 1953 to VEB Automobilwerk Eisenach (AWE), and as the East German state increasingly felt the need to appear competitive with West Germany, it embraced open consumerism. As small, two-stroke autos could be produced in greater numbers and at more affordable prices, the large, six-cylinder cars were no longer in favor, and the last of some 21,000 BMW/EMW 340s was produced during 1953. Manufacture of any pre-war-BMW-derived auto was completely phased out by 1955, and the two-stroke-powered Wartburg 311 was manufactured by AWE starting in 1956.

Which brings us back to the mystery of our subject car. As I showed in the lead photos, it’s clearly branded as a BMW (not EMW) but the front grille matches no variant of any 340 I could find in extensive online searching. This car also features a one-piece front windscreen vs. split. If you go back and look at the lead photo, you’ll also note the rear window is of a one-piece design, vs. split. The door handles also appear to be different from stock.

A closeup shows the radiator opening behind the grille has a somewhat triangular shape, and the vertical bar design loosely echoes that used on the Wartburg 311 that succeeded the EMW 340.

I did find a few EMW 340 photos on Russian/Eastern European sites that had a more rectangular grille design, but nothing that exactly matches this particular car. So this is either a decently-done one-off owner restomod/rebadge job*, or my brother has discovered an undocumented variant.

*Paul emailed the day before publication with strong evidence it’s been owner-modified. Let’s see what evidence you readers can add one way or the other…

At any rate, the BMW/EMW 340, or more specifically the BMW 326 from which it was derived, was one of BMW’s first forays into the larger car market. Like EMW/AWE, BMW would be forced to offer small, affordable autos (Isetta, 600) after the war before turning their fortunes around with the Neue Klasse in 1962, and eventually getting back to offering larger, more luxurious automobiles. The EMW 340 remains as an interesting side note in BMW’s post-war history.


Related Reading: Automotive History: German Deadly Sins (The Bayern Cycle, Part 1) – BMW’s Brush With Death: The V8 Cars