This Hidden 328 Factory Lightweight Racer is Now Found
No one is aware where this car has been for 80 years, but in 2017 it resided in Villisca, Iowa. This town is infamous for an unsolved murder, causing six children and a prominent couple their untimely demise during the night of June 9, 1912.
The car should have already been disassembled as we speak. Its parts will be sent to two continents for restoration, and its owners will find comfort, knowing no one is going to be able to steal it.
It was not a fear that didn’t have basis. In August, the owners were crime victims, although it was solved fortunately. Investigators known as “tweakers from Missouri” broke into a Villisca shop and took profit from the parts, tools, and a 1976 50th anniversary Pontiac Trans Am, one of a few 110 created with a four-speed manual. The Trans Am has been found and returned to the rightful owners, but the other parts are nowhere to be located. Little did these criminals know that a rusty relic in the back wall was pricier than anything they could have found.
The said relic is considered the ultimate discovery, so much that you could go as far as call it a gold mine. It’s a 1937 BMW 328 factory lightweight racer operated by the Nazis at the Mille Miglia and Le Mans, and the owners weren’t even aware of what it was. They initially thought they bought a coach-bodied coupe created by German marque Veritas. The owners are true car aficionados, although they didn’t have much experience with European automobiles.
The story revolves around the hunt, mystery, but above all, the love for cars.
Dereck Freshour and Heath Rodney grew up in a wide, open space. There were only a few buildings, and there were more cars than there were people. Freshour’s shop is one of the bigger establishments that isn’t an academic institution.
That September afternoon, tons of rubble were all over the place, including the Trans Am, a Ford from the 1930s, a couple ’60s Olds Cutlasses, an early Blazer, a Datsun 240Z, and a ’69 Camaro Z28 that Rodney got from northern Iowa during an estate sale, all of which were either going to be restored or sold.
Freshour and Rodney grew up together since their childhood years, but they only got acquainted with each other because of football during high school. After which, Freshour presented Rodney with an El Camino when Rodney needed a vehicle. They had a good bonding since and in 1991, they became best of friends.
When it was time to make a living, they went back to cars. Freshour started working with body work and opened a shop dubbed “Body by Freshour.” It hit off due to insurance repair for locals who hit deer and expanded later on. Then the state’s deer were struck by a natural epidemic that eradicated most of the heard before they even got hit by passing cars.
To address that issue, Freshour started restoring automobiles and “flipping” them, which means he sold them for a higher price. He started a sales lot in Red Oak county back in 2007, northwest of his town, and was most popular as Johnny Carson’s hometown. Freshour also began working on restoring vintage cars. Rodney was responsible for scouting those cars for Freshour.
Rodney’s world had a big change in 2011, after Freshour called to inform him deputies were implementing a liquidation order at the nearby Harley-Davidson store, which happened to be where they checked bikes as teens. A lot of would-be owners avoided the store, but Rodney wasn’t one of them. He understood the store’s strategic location and saw its potential as a destination. So Rodney powered with another dealership in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, selling cars while studying at the South Dakota State. He bought the much talked-about store and rebranded it to Loess Hills Harley-Davidson. After three years, sales had increased from less than five new and used bikes a month to over a 100, and Loess Hills found a spot in the top 10 percent of Harley franchises.
Currently he’s back at Vern Eide Motorcars in Sioux Falls, holding several brand franchises in Iowa, South Dakota, and Minnesota, which also includes the Indian dealer in Sturgis. He acts as a consultant for dealerships on the rocks, teaching them how to do a complete turnaround and visits Villisca and around the Plains and Midwest on a regular basis, scouting vintage cars and bikes to remodel or keep. While he has an assistant to help him, he emphasizes money isn’t the focus.
“That’s probably right,” Rodney states. “Dereck and I have tried a lot of shit together, starting in high school, and some of it’s worked. We had a trucking business for a while, and a bar and grill that went well, until we got tired of it. The thing that hasn’t changed is the cars. It’s the history, the digging, like an archaeologist or something. It’s an addiction, though I don’t think we’ve tried a drug like the one we’re dealing with now.”
Freshour is still considered the hands-on guy of the duo. Rodney takes care of sales and marketing.
Near the end of 2016, a farmer who came from the next county stumbled upon the lot in Red Oak. He offered Freshour a rather unusual car he’d kept a lot of years ago. Freshour phoned Rodney and checked it out.
The farmer purchased the said vehicle back in December 1971, from someone named Robert Luther Good of Council Bluffs, for the reason it looked rather unique. He hauled it in using his tractor, and it hasn’t moved since, which was like around 45 years. It was buried under a pile of farm implements, making it truly a discovery. It was already there even before the duo were born.
They sealed the deal in Jan. 7, 2017 and pulled the car. They weren’t really sure of what they were getting, but the mystery is very enticing. The title on it said it was a 1950 BMW Veritas.
“The car was just sort of magnetic,’’ Freshour recalls. “This one, we never intended to sell—at least not until we’d seen it through to the finish. What we had was a mystery.”
When they returned at Freshour’s shop, the first thing they took notice of was the tag on the coachwork, which was barely legible and almost unreadable after 70 years of being put there: Karosseriebau Autenrieth, Darmstadt. The stripped interior and early shell-type racing seat signaled the car had its fair share on the race tracks.
Rodney did research on the car. EBay sent a car magazine which was made in 1981 with an article about Veritas, mentioning an expert by the name of Jim Proffit. Proffit, who was from Long Beach, California, was known as an expert and authority on prewar BMWs. Rodney started contacting establishments around Proffit’s former shop and got a hold of a guy who might have Proffit’s email.
Rodney sent an email with a photo of the Veritas. A few days after, he received a reply, which said, “Sorry, Heath. That is not much of an introduction. You should tell me who you know that I know to get much out of me.” Rodney didn’t fall back and kept at it, and eventually Proffit’s curiosity overpowered his reclusive behavior. He suspected there might be a 328 underneath it.
The two started communicating regularly, and Proffit taught Rodney of what he should keep an eye out for, such as the fuel filler, where to find a frame number, and a giant 100-liter fuel tank. Back in the shop, they found a cryptic number, which says 85031.
After which, Rodney reached out to BMW Classic in Munich and initially got the similar apathetic response. He was informed that 328 No. 85031 was more or less recorded already. But the duo kept pushing, and with more pictures paired with Proffit’s influence, Munich looked at it more carefully. In May, BMW gave confirmation that the Veritas was actually a 328, and then gave a certificate of authenticity.
No. 85031 was created way back in May 1937. Factory records state that it was painted white and sent to BMW in Munich. That means this model was a factory lightweight.
No. 85031 would have first fell into the hands of BMW engineer Rudolf Schleicher’s Experimental Division, which then became BMW’s racing department as was directed by the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK).
The 1937-40 BMW 328 was introduced as a race car on June 14, 1936 at the Nürburgring, which was 10 months prior to delivering road models. It was victorious. It became one of Nazi Germany’s most efficient propaganda sometime in the 1930s, and it emerged victorious in even more races into the ’50s. It has then set the bar for race cars.
Its inline six-cylinder engine hosted overhead valves carrying short, transverse pushrods in addition to three single-barrel Solex carbs. As for the road version, the six made 80 hp at 4,500 rpm, which was rather mediocre during the day. It could reach 97 mph because of those elements. Third and fourth gears were in sync. The front suspension was made autonomous, carrying a single transverse leaf spring. The live axle in the rear were attached from longitudinal leaf springs. The 328 was popular for being durable and relatively repairable, but its legacy is what makes it impressive. There were 464 created before war broke loose, ceasing production in 1940. Around 200 are accounted for, with around 60 percent thought to be in Germany.
Veritas-Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Sport und Rennwagenbau was introduced back in March 1947, spearheaded by Loof, supervisor of servicing BMW aircraft engines during the war Lorenz Dietrich, and former BMW motorcycle racing champ Georg Meier. The goal was the creation of a postwar race car to pick up where 328 left off.
Veritas has also had some racing triumph, which includes German 2.0-liter championships as well as 17 FIA world championship participations into the early ’50s. But there was less attention to it, as is shown by even lesser road car production.
Considering the company’s management, it’s not surprising that at least three 328 factory lightweights have been found masquerading as Veritas cars. After all, the first productions of Veritas were formatted around 328 chassis and drivetrains, and are usually boasting coachwork bodies. That wasn’t meant as a farce, but it was an agreement. Most of Germany automobile companies were asked to either build in Austria, just like what Porsche did, or you work with existing stock.
As time passed by, Veritas created cars on a chassis using its own design, but unfortunately it didn’t create that much traction. The money was already drying up, trying to revive the Veritas brand. As a result, BMW absorbed Veritas in 1953 after it had manufactured only 78 cars.
Having a chassis number and an archive from BMW, Freshour and Rodney was able to pull up Veritas 328’s racing exploits with ease. Its first competition was back in Le Mans 1937, which was barely a month after it left the factory. It was able to finish only eight laps before it was pulled out due to an accident that resulted to Pat Fairchild of Britain’s and René Kippeurt of France’s demise, who were riding another 328 and a Bugatti Type 44 respectively.
After three months, No. 85031 was sent to England, where it competed in the Royal Automobile Club TT at Donington Park. His Royal Siamese Highness Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh, more popularly known as Prince Bira, rode it and netted a third overall and first in the 2.0-liter class.
It also participated in the 1938 Mille Miglia, where Richter and Fritz Werneck got third place in a BMW 2.0-liter-class sweep and 11th overall. It competed once again in the 1938 RAC TT, though Bira was only able to finish 22nd. After that, it might have been retired for a newer 328, and its history becomes even more vague and unclear, at least until 1971.
The first big quandary on the duo’s minds is how 85031 got rebranded as a Veritas. It most likely hid somewhere within BMW’s purview during the war. After the war, the company paid its key employees wages in the form of cars. It may be probable that they stashed a few 328’s here and there, although Proffit thinks it’s not probable for the Villisca Veritas to have been built from Veritas funding. Instead, a fairly high roller might have requested one to be fashioned for him.
Freshour and Rodney have found a picture of what is 99.9 percent confirmed to be their vehicle in Germany, and the road plate confirms two facts. First was its American registration, and the second was its existence around the 1950’s.
Then there’s the enigma of how it got to the US and when it did. They didn’t get much from the previous owner prior to the farmer that sold them this haul. What’s certain, however, is that some pre-war European cars, including 328s, were sent to the US via black market.
Freshour and Rodney are co-owners of the Veritas 328 and say they’ve accumulated needed cash to restore its beauty. The only question now is how they would do it.
A part of their minds is telling them to restore the car themselves. They’ve already worked on a ’71 Dodge Challenger convertible, but the Veritas 328 is a completely alien territory to either of them, and these guys are what you call really good when it comes to restoration. They know that it would be self-defeating and arrogant to keep digging into it without really knowing what to do.
BMW Classic has presented an offer to purchase the car as is or, if they choose, have it restored instead. That would have benefits, but BMW might not be doing much of the work, and the two aren’t very eager to paying a steep price. They’ve also considered Pebble-grade restorers in the US. That might be a safe choice, but an expensive one at that. Some have suggested that it be restored as a Veritas instead.
“There’s some financial strain here, but we have to do this right,” Freshour says. “To some extent that depends on which piece of history you want to highlight. Even if we settle on the prewar side, we have to honor the Veritas side. We can’t cannibalize or even neglect it as we go forward.”
During the start of November, Freshour and Rodney were close to making an important decision. They’d heeded advice from BMW historians at Classic and paid a visit to providers of several restoration services. More importantly, they would be able to see more restored 328’s, and finally meet Proffit.
“We’re doing the 328 first and worrying about the Veritas later,” Rodney explains. “We’re going to build a race car, era correct. Nothing more, nothing less. Can you win Pebble Beach without the original body? Some Ferraris seem to, but we don’t really care.”
Freshour has already disassembled the car in question. The rolling frame is sent to a specialist in the US, while the engine was up for rebuilding in Europe. After talking with Proffit, they’ll obtain a lightweight body from the preferred Karosseriebau. When everything is sent back in Iowa, they may or may not put the car together themselves. They are putting a two-year marker for the restoration.
“The race history is the most important,” Rodney explains. “That’s why we have to start by turning the 328 back, even though we know a lot of people are going to argue. We’re going to have some fun. We’re going to learn a lot and see it through, and if someday someone doesn’t like what we do with it, there’s nothing a hundred grand can’t fix.”
“I just never thought I’d have to start paying attention to the value of the euro,” Rodney added
In the last five years, BMW 328 roadsters have hauled in at least about $1 million at auction. Factory lightweights that boast illustrious racing histories have exceeded $4 million. Veritas cars in different condition have been sold from $200,000 to almost a buck. But the point is that it’s an uphill climb for the two new owners of the Veritas 328.
But obviously, for both Freshour and Rodney, the Veritas 328 is not about what they can get in terms of cash. Instead, it’s Proffit’s embrace that matters in this situation.
Proffit once had an illustrious reputation restoring Ferraris, Porsches, and vintage race cars, but he left the scenes after he thought that the “whole racket had become commoditized.” He focused his efforts on prewar BMWs, and he’s had some 328s in the years that he’s been doing it. He can decipher which one is a lightweight and a standard by just holding it, but his disenchantment stems from the feeling that 328s have become commoditized as well. His continues to become an expert for two continents, but he picks his clients and rarely extends a hand.
“Porsche people seem a much more open group than 328 people,” Rodney says. “The 328 people seem to like it that way. They’ll drop bad information or misdirect, but Proffit has been like a light. For a guy who’s not supposed to be a people person, he’s put up with us bugging him, takes three calls a week. He’s been generous with his time, and he hasn’t asked for a dime.”
For Proffit, it’s a matter of who’s asking him. “Maybe it’s the way Heath found me, his persistence,” Proffit explains. “Maybe it’s sort of like peeing your pants. You’re not inclined to do it, but if you do, it feels pretty good. I think what matters to them are the things that matter.”
“They want to restore the car, I’ll help as I can. They want to find the right people to build a body, I’ll try to get them there—because they’re likely to get the same reaction they got from the factory at the start. Everyone has gotten a little callous,” Proffit adds.