The President likes golf. I like cars. He liked golf so much he bought the Club at Turnberry rather like Auric Goldfinger “bought” Royal St George’s where he played James Bond. I liked Turnberry not so much for golf as family outings and car things. I watched my first motor race there on what had been the runways of a hundred year old airfield. I saw the V16 BRM win, so rare an event that not long after it the BRM Trust put the team up for sale.
One sports car racing that 23 August 1952 was Gillie Tyrer’s Frazer-Nash. It wasn’t wholly a Frazer-Nash; it was a hi-jacked BMW that raced across Italy in 1940, the first year of the Second World War in Europe. Since BMW won, it has been called Hitler’s Mille Miglia but it could well have been Mussolini’s Mille Miglia. The BMW (above) I brought to Turnberry in 1994 was by way of homage to the moment my motor sporting adventures began.
With the connivance of BMW (GB) and Chris Willows we took the Mille Miglia BMW from the Munich Museum to drive round the Highlands along with some sixty other car buffs in Ferraris and Aston Martins on what was known as an Ecurie Ecosse Tour. It was great driving the then 53 year old racing car with no roof when the weather was fine but when the rain turned to snow and hail high in the Cairngorms, it was the stuff of adventure.
BMW, the Bayerische Motoren Werke or Bavarian Motor Works, did not have a bad war. It prospered making aero engines even though founding father Franz-Josef Popp fell out with the Nazi heirarchy for being lukewarm over the war. His daughter Erica furthermore had married an English racing driver Richard Seaman, who tragically died in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa in a Mercedes-Benz.
The Nationalsozialistisches Kraftfahr Korps (NSKK), the Nazi sporting propaganda movement, entered BMWs in sports car races to match the domination Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union had in grand prix racing. Success in the Mille Miglia came with BMW’s 328 sports car that had supple springs and aerodynamic bodywork when rivals still ran stiffly and had upright architecure.
The 328 did not even have spoked wire wheels. Lightweight discs were more efficient, and helped it to class wins at Le Mans and Britain's Tourist Trophy. Technical displays like this were essential to the Reich's propaganda. Motor racing did not stop in 1939. In the hours that the Franco-British ultimatum expired on 3 September 1939, Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union faced one another at the Yugoslav Grand Prix. And in 1940 the Italians still neutral, or non-belligerent in Mussolini's phrase, ran the Mille Miglia 1,000 Miles road race.
Like the Grand National or the Tour de France, the Mille Miglia was a national festival. It was run, war or no war, and Alfa Romeo expected to win. The 1940 race was shortened round Brescia over nine laps of a 104 mile course. Germany was determined to show its partner in the Pact of Steel that its cars and drivers could dominate any kind of racing.
BMW's manager Ernst Loof ran the engines on alcohol but the biggest advance lay in sleek lightweight bodywork copied from the Italians. BMW had coupes and roadsters with 2.0 litre engines that could reach 135 mph. One coupe driven by Huschke von Hanstein (still a racing consultant to Porsche when I drove the Mille Miglia car in 1994) and Walter Baumer won at an average of 104 mph. They wore SS logos on their overalls much as non-smoking racing drivers later advertised Marlboro. If you wanted to race you were obliged to.
The beautiful open sports 328s that finished third, fifth and sixth made other cars look dated. Their flowing lines set a trend followed by William Lyons with his Jaguar XK120 in 1948.
All three BMW roadsters survived the war. In 1945 H J Aldington of AFN in Isleworth, which imported BMWs (as Frazer Nash-BMWs) in the 1930s, went over ostensibly to reclaim a 328 left in Munich in 1939. He came back instead with one of the Mille Miglia cars, handed over by BMW to protect it from the depredations of occupying forces.
Aldington equipped it with a Frazer Nash radiator, displaying it as a prototype converted to right hand drive and sold it to racing driver Gilbert Tyrer who I had watched at Turnberry. In the 1960s it was bought by founder editor of Classic Car Michael Bowler, who sold it back to the BMW museum in the 1980s.
Reconstructed and restored, it felt astonishingly modern. The cockpit was roomy, and the seats had adjustable pads keeping you in place on corners. The gear lever was long and springy - not quite the short stubby lever of moderns - but the change was slick and precise. Steering was surprisingly light and although the springing felt firm it must have seemed luxurious in 1940. The engine revved to 5,000rpm with an emphatic crackle from the exhaust at 4,500. The proportions looked every inch sports-racing, with a windscreen low enough to overlook; probably satisfactory in the spring sunshine of Italy in 1940 but venturesome with wind and rain on the Lecht road past the Highland ski-slopes in a wintry May.
Hydraulic drum brakes were the latest thing in 1940 and still felt powerful although three strenuous days made them vibrate. Otherwise the car ran faultlessly. The first day took us to RAF Kinloss for several laps on a circuit of main runways and perimeter roads. The BMW did around 115mph, 17mph short of a record run Tyrer made with higher gearing and larger tyres. Some cars were doing well over 150mph - probably the fastest anything did on the runway without actually taking off.
Biggles knew what he was about. Goggles and a leather helmet were just the thing when your head sticks out in the slipstream although it is curious how you remain sensitive to a change in engine note, or the whine from top gear. I could small the hot oil and unburnt petrol escaping from the louvres round the engine.
How much was the most valuable BMW in the world worth? BMW insured it then for five million Deutschmarks – about £2 million in 1994. It could be £20million now, a bit short of the £140million Donald Trump paid for the golf course. But if a Goldfinger could line up another six or so, Turnberry could be his.