The BMW 321 is a compact six-cylinder sedan produced by the Bavarian firm between 1938 and 1941. After 1945, production resumed at the Eisenach plant: 321s were built again between approximately 1945 and 1950, probably in greater numbers than before the war.
The 321 was introduced during the second half of 1938 as a successor to the BMW 320. It sat on a shortened version of the BMW 326 chassis. The 321 was similar to the 320, though it featured a few changes including a modified from bumper / fender. The new model also incorporated suspension changes.
The car was available both as a two-door sedan and as a two-door cabriolet. In addition, BMW offered a chassis-only option suitable for a coach-built body.
Engine and transmission
The 1971 cc straight 6 engine, fed by twin Solex carburettors came from the BMW 326. In this application, however, an output of only 45 bhp (34 kW) was claimed, giving a maximum speed of 115 km/h (71 mph). The four-speed manual gear box was also the one already seen on the 326.
Two years after the introduction of the 321, in 1941, automobile production at the Eisenach plant was suspended in favour of war production. By then, it appears, 7,851 had been built. In 1948 the first batch of postwar BMW 321s allocated for "civilian use" was photographed leaving the Eisenach plant. The batch was of just fifteen cars.
In 1945, Eisenach was first 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 automobile production, on a very small scale, using prewar designs. Albert Seidler, the man in charge of Eisenach motor bike production, demonstrated the 321 to Marshall Zhukov and secured from him an order for five new cars. The Russians were evidently impressed, and the plant passed under the control of “Sowjetische AG Maschinenbau Awtowelo”, a Soviet directed holding company focused on vehicle production. A further 8,996 BMW 321s are thought to have been built between 1945 and 1950. Most appear to have remained to the east of the iron curtain, many being taken to the Soviet Union as part of a reparations package in respect of the Second World War. Evidence also exists for exports to the west: the car was advertised in Switzerland in 1949 with a retail price of CHF 10,300.