Thursday 21 January 2016
The BMW 340, subsequently rebadged as the EMW 340, was a large six-cylinder four-door passenger saloon produced at Eisenach initially in the name of BMW. Five-door 340 station wagons were also manufactured. It was described in 1948 as the first new car model produced in Germany after the war: despite new body panels, under the skin it was a modified version of the BMW 326 with which it shared its engine and wheelbase, and which had originally been commercialised in 1936. The 326 had nevertheless been an innovative and well regarded product and the 340, which incorporated several improvements, was seen as a desirable car well into the 1950s. Early years were dogged by disputes centred on ownership of the plant where it was assembled and its manufacturers’ rights to use the BMW name. The cars later appeared badged as EMW 340s, and it was under this name that 340s continued to be sold until at least 1953.
A coupé version, originally launched in 1937 as the BMW 327, was also reintroduced after the war and produced in parallel with the 340 until approximately 1955, badged in its final years as the EMW 327.
BMW became a manufacturer of commercially viable automobiles when late in 1928 they acquired the business of Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach A.G. whose assets included a manufacturing facility at Eisenach then engaged in manufacturing under licence British-designed Austin 7s. During the 1930s BMW automobile production blossomed: the Eisenach plant was throughout this period BMW's volume automobile manufacturing facility.
In 1945 the town was occupied by American forces, but by then it had already been agreed between the allies that the whole of Thuringen would fall within the Soviet occupation zone: transfer of the region to the Soviets took place in July 1945. It seemed likely that BMW’s manufacturing facility would be crated up and taken by rail to the Soviet Union as part of the substantial post war reparations package. In the meantime, surviving workers returning from the war recommenced production, and a small number of the 326s were assembled following that car's prewar design. Albert Seidler, the man in charge of Eisenach motor bike production, demonstrated the smaller 321 model to Marshal Zhukov and secured from him an order for five new cars.
The future of the Eisenach plant was a contentious issue in the uncertainty of late 1945. Munich based BMW’s attempts to recover their plant were not sympathetically received by the occupiers, who evidently were mindful of BMW’s wartime role as manufacturers of engines for war planes. Nevertheless, in November 1945 the plant received from the Russians an order for a further 3000 cars and motor bikes, and less than one year later, in September 1946, the plant was integrated into the Soviet AWO business entity: for Eisenach, membership of the command economy had begun.
By late 1948 the 340 had been developed to production readiness. It shared the 287 cm (113 in) wheelbase and central body section of the 326, but the bonnet / hood had been squared off, with the headlights more fully integrated into the front wings. A front grill comprising horizontal metal slats in the form of an approximate semi triangle followed the contemporary styling trend apparent in other designs including that of the Peugeot 203 launched around the same time as the BMW 340.
The rear quarters of the car were also reworked. Inspired by trends that had taken place in the United States earlier in the decade, the 340 received an external trunk / boot lid, permitting users to access luggage without needing to fold down the back seat rest and struggle to access the space behind it. The spare wheel was relocated from its traditional position (attached to the car’s rear panel) to a flat stowage location beneath a wooden ‘false floor’ in the boot / trunk. Stowed with the spare wheel was a ‘breakdown’ kit that included a jack and an air pump. The tool kit delivered with the car also incorporated an inner tire / tyre tube and a special key for bleeding any air pockets out of the brake fluid.
The interior configuration broadly followed that of the 326 initially. In later models the individual front seats were replaced by a single bench seat, and available seating space was further increased by the deletion of the central arm rest from the rear bench seat.
- engine: V6
- capacity: 1971 cc
- horsepower: 54 HP
- gearbox: 4+1
- top speed: 120 km/h