Frazer Nash BMW 315/328 LMC Special Sports-racing two-seater 1935-1952
Chassis no. '51203'
Engine no. 100B2 4287
1,971cc SOHC 48-Valve Inline 6-Cylinder Engine
3 SU Down-Draft Carburetors
133bhp at 5900rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
Independent Front Suspension with Live Axle Rear Suspension
4-Wheel Drum Brakes
*Aero industry inspired development
*Well-known and highly respected Special
*Eligible of all manner of historic motorsport events
*Well-maintained by marque experts
*Period Goodwood and Silverstone history
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
This British-constructed BMW special proved itself an extremely competitive and impressive example of its type within the dynamic, fast-developing British motor racing scene of the late 1940s and early 1950s. Owner-driver Ron Willis ran the Loughton Motor Company. His son-in-law, Charles Bulmer, was a young engineer who would go on to become one of the most respected of all British motoring journalists as Editor of the widely-read and much-admired weekly journal, 'The Motor'.
Ron Willis bought his original 1.5-liter Frazer Nash BMW 315/1 - chassis '51203' - as early as 1946. He began to compete with it straight away in minor-league trials, sprints, and hill-climbs. The car's performance could plainly be improved from its production specification, and Willis consequently commenced the sequence of modification which would turn his LMC-Frazer Nash-BMW special into a formidably quick contender within its class.
His first modiﬁcations were to lighten the car and improve its shape. One of the first improvements that Willis made was to remove the BMW's aerodynamically-obstructive steel wings and to relocate its headlights into an inset position within the foot of the radiator cowl, while the original flowing wings were replaced by stark light-aluminum motor-cycle type fenders. The full-width windscreen was replaced by a more aerodynamic double screen.
It was during this early modification stage that Willis engaged the help of his son-in-law, Charles Bulmer, who was at that time working in aeronautical-engineering research at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) in Farnborough, Hampshire. Bulmer provided the engineering sophistication to enable Willis to make sensible and effective modifications to his sports BMW. At the Bugatti Owners' Club's famous Prescott hill-climb venue in June 1946, the car in standard form had achieved a best climb time of 62.5 seconds. Back at Prescott again in June 1947, with its new cycle-type fenders, abbreviated windscreen, and the headlights tucked inboard, he improved his time mightily - to 54.36 seconds.
Later that summer of 1947, Willis and Bulmer took the car to its first circuit race, the Ulster Trophy Handicap at the Dundrod public-road circuit in Ulster. The car lasted only two laps as an engine bearing failed, necessitating a major engine rebuild—during which Willis made many modifications to the still basically standard BMW engine. Its compression ratio was raised to more than 9:1, and breathing was improved by replacing the long head bolts which passed clean through the middle of the inlet ports with Allen screws fitted flush with the bottom of the ports. With Charles Bulmer's help and aviation industry contacts, Ron Willis also developed specially-cast magnesium wheels, each of which saved somewhere 12-15lbs unsprung weight at each corner. These LMC wheels proved so successful that Willis became a commercial supplier to many rival competitors campaigning BMW 328s and other BMW-based specials of that period.
While 1948 saw the already restricted 'Basic' petrol ration cancelled completely as the nation fought to recover from the ravaging 'Big Freeze' winter of 1947-48 – motoring competition just about managed to survive. In fact, that year saw the inaugural meeting at the new Goodwood Motor Circuit take place in September, and the first British Grand Prix then run at Silverstone in October. Yet the year also saw Charles Bulmer given the opportunity to drive the Willis BMW for the first time. Some 57 years later he recalled the experience like this: "I was captivated by it. The car had features unfamiliar to me, like a stiff chassis, springs which moved, and a smooth, high-revving, rubber-mounted six-cylinder engine. I began to think that my Meadows Nash might have to be replaced by a Type 55 BMW, which it was the following year....".
Willis took advantage of 1948's sparse competition calendar to modify the car further, and it certainly looked different when it reappeared in 1949. While the chassis and engine remained unchanged, he had completely rebodied the car with an ultra-lightweight shell fashioned from magnesium-alloy sheet over a sparse tubular support frame. The cycle wings and lighting set were now quickly removable, permitting the car to be converted almost instantly from a sports car race contender into a Formula car open-wheeler.
Overall weight had been trimmed to barely 1,100lbs and Willis had to remove every other leaf from the rear springs to compensate, saving still more weight. The originally rod-operated brakes were changed to hydraulic actuation and back at Prescott hill-climb again in June, 1949, Willis promptly finished 2nd overall to a purpose-built full-race HRG, his time trimmed to 52.12 seconds. Gosport Sprint in October saw Willis cover the standing-start quarter-mile in 17.95 seconds with his 60hp engine. During the following winter a 2-liter engine was then fitted, equipped with BMW's vertical-valve M78 head breathing through triple horizontal Solex carburetors. Although this specification fell short of the hemi-head BMW 328 power unit, Willis and Bulmer modified it for more power in similar style to their work upon the smaller engine. The car was also fitted with an ENV 75 pre-selector transmission, taken from a Riley. Willis re-registered the car 'PVW 893', and into 1950 the Special promptly proved itself quite competitive with the rival Frazer Nashes and HWMs.
With fuel easily obtainable once again, the British racing calendar blossomed, and numerous circuit races took a toll of the Willis BMW Special's reliability. Regardless, that summer saw the little team venture abroad to contest unsupercharged 2-liter Formula 2 events at Luxemburg and Chimay, Belgium, followed a couple of months later by the Coupe des Petites Cylindrees at Rheims-Gueux. They failed to finish each time, and concentrated thereafter upon short-distance home events in which the car proved more reliable. At Silverstone in July, Willis finished 2nd to Gillie Tyrer's highly-regarded ex-Mille-Miglia BMW 328 streamliner, and a victory over Oscar Moore's BMW-derived OBM Special there in August was a real feather in their cap. At Prescott that September, Willis climbed the hill in 50.48 seconds to win the 1,500-3,000-cc class, even beating Sydney Allard's latest Allard-Cadillac for sports car Fastest Time of the Day.
And still the little Willis-BMW team drove on, into their fifth season with the car. At Silverstone in June it finished 3rd behind a Jaguar XK120 and Frazer Nash Le Mans Replica, at Boreham 3rd again behind a pair of Le Mans Reps, and then 2nd behind a Frazer Nash High Speed at Gamston aerodrome in July. For 1952, Willis sought more power by adopting a BMW 328/Bristol cylinder head carrying three downdraught SU carburetors. Charles Bulmer drove the modified car at Gosport, completing the quarter-mile in 14.97 seconds, 5th FTD and faster than two rapid Frazer Nash Le Mans Reps. This lightweight little projectile had become something of a scourge to its Frazer Nash half-sisters, and it retains that potential to this day for Historic competition...
Meanwhile, back in 1952, Ron Willis won a Heat at the Aston Martin Owners' Club Silverstone race meeting while Bulmer led the Formula 2 race there before blowing the head gasket after lapping at 77.92mph. At Prescott, Willis reached the finish in just 48.84 seconds and back at Silverstone again Bulmer finished 2nd in the Formula 2 race, followed by another F2 2nd place with the car at Snetterton airfield. Willis drove the car to finish 5th on the very fast Boreham aerodrome circuit in an F2 race including Reg Parnell's Cooper-Bristol, Connaughts and a Ferrari V12 – and the BMW Special lapped there at 85.5mph.
All this time the car had been driven to its race meetings on the open road, but by the end of 1952 it was at last apparent that the competitive days of such a dual-purpose special were fading fast. Its constructor/drivers set about producing an ultra-light 1500cc replacement, based upon a steel spaceframe chassis designed by Bulmer. However, Willis suffered some business problems which then caused him to offer his garage business, his BMW Special chassis '51203' and the part-completed lightweight project for sale, and bring his racing career to a regretful close.
This car was acquired by aspiring sports car driver Berwyn Baxter who campaigned it through 1953 as the LMC-Bristol, taking 3rd places in races at Silverstone and Goodwood. Into 1954 Baxter graduated to a Jaguar C-Type, and '51203' now offered here was sold through the Scarth Hill Motor Company in Ormskirk, Lancashire. Cedric Brierley – another well-known contemporary British club-racer - bought it that December for £365, intending to transplant its modified engine into his own BS Special. But before he could make that change his plans changed, and he sold the car instead to one Peter Sims of Sheffield, Yorkshire. It seems to have appeared in a few further club race events before being converted for proper road use.
The Willis LMC BMW Special next surfaced around 1967 when contemporary owner Paul Spencer wrote to Willis and Bulmer seeking information with which to restore the car. He reported that its magnesium-alloy bodywork had by that time corroded beyond salvation, and the car "was in several hundred pieces". Eventually, in 2001, it passed to a sympathetic owner in Proby Cautley who had it fully restored by specialist Neil Davis Historic Racing during 2002-2003. The car retained its Frazer Nash Type 40 chassis and 2-liter BMW engine with 328 head. Look-alike aluminum bodywork replaced the rotted-away – and inflammable – magnesium shell, while the original Willis cast-magnesium wheels were replicated by Crosthwaite & Gardiner, using latest modern material and techniques.
Proby Cautley ran the restored car in a number of Historic events, before selling it to John Baker, from whom it passed to Paul Evans in 2008, who converted it for road use. Five years later the car sold to the present vendor in the USA, from whom it is offered, with sundry spares included. Maintained in race-ready order by Racecraft of Woodinville WA, it has been campaigned with great verve, by its BMW aficionado owner achieving - as it has - some very creditable results at tracks including Laguna Seca and Sears Point Raceway. Presented here today is a most historic competition Frazer Nash BMW with a - quite frankly - storybook history. We highly commend this historic competition BMW and recommend close inspection.
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