A pre-war BMW with a special South African racing history

BMW 319

We talk to Nick Middelmann about his very special BMW 319/2, a one-of-its-kind old-timer with a rather significant South African racing history.  

Words and pictures: Wilhelm Lutjeharms

The BMW is proudly pulled out of the garage and parked in the shade. I’ve known about this car for several years, but it takes time restore cars, and to restore them correctly takes even longer. However, after completing the restoration late last year, the owner was kind enough to show us this vintage BMW that has a significant (local) racing history. 

BMW 319

“The actual story is about Ewold van Bergen and not the car. He won the first South African Rally Drivers Championship in 1960. Subsequently, he won it again in 1964, 1965 and finally in 1970. His wife Minota was his navigator and has also earned Springbok colours. This story is about them and they both are still alive, Ewold being 93 years old. 

Historical significance

Nick discovered the history of the car while hunting for parts online one day. “I found a guy with the surname “Van Bergen” who was selling some tools. I phoned him and asked him what his first name was. He said Ewold, and I couldn’t believe it and immediately told him I had his old rally car. At that stage of the restoration, I only had the rolling chassis done. So, we took it up to Langebaan with my father to show Ewold what we’d done with the project up to that stage. 

BMW 319

“When I got the car I actually didn’t know he was still alive. At one stage I thought at worst it could be a parts car for another model we have in the family. I didn’t know the history of the car at the time.

“I think he said he bought it when he was 21. He then turned it into an amateur race car. He wasn’t a racing driver at the time and was just looking into taking part in racing for the fun of it. He had his own ways of making the car faster and appropriate for racing purposes. 

BMW 319

“He eventually got a contract to go racing and still kept the BMW, but then sold it and the car went to Windhoek. Then it came back to Pretoria and in the late '60s he bought it back. He then kept it, but didn’t repair it until he sold it to another enthusiast in the late '90s. I then bought it from this owner in 2005.  

“It took me 16 years to restore it, but you enter a project like this, work on it, and then you get busy with something else and forget about it. 

BMW 319

“One of the main upgrades Ewold did was taking the twin-carburettors off and fitting triple units. The car was still not fast enough for him, so he came across a Marshall supercharger. These superchargers were often used for cabin pressure in aircraft. He was a proper engineer. When we showed the car to him he pointed out small errors… he remembers everything, from pulleys he designed to fitment details. 

BMW 319

“The “2” in the name of the model indicates the two carburettors fitted to the engine. It originally delivered 34 kW. With the supercharger that was fitted, it now develops over 75 kW! Ewold even remembers where he got the engine bearings from! That is when from when he did the engine in the '50s. The tiniest technical detail he would remember and tell me to check. He said he won his first three races, and then they handicapped him.

“He also put in bigger engine head studs. He had two fuel tanks, one in the front and one in the back with two fuel pumps so he could run on methanol and petrol. The engine capacity is unchanged, it is still a 1.9-litre, straight-six engine. 

BMW 319

“There are actually quite a few pre-war BMWs in South Africa, I would guess around eight or nine.”

Looking at the engine bay and particularly at how the supercharger and everything around it have been fitted, you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a factory setup, judged by the neat installation. There is even a small cut-out on the engine lid to accommodate an air intake. 

BMW 319

“Some of the most notable work done to the engine was the relining of the cylinders, then we got new bearings for the car. The biggest challenge was the body. It has an Ashwood frame inside the body, and then the body is basically curled around the frame. The frame was completely rotten. I sent it to a magician in Fisherhaven outside Hermanus. He built it from scratch, put the body on and welded where it was needed. This took around three years. The rest was fairly simple as these are not complicated cars. What helped a lot is that it was basically a complete car – I didn’t have to spend too much time searching for parts. 

BMW 319

“It is still fitted with the original 4-speed gearbox. He admitted he never used full throttle from take off to make sure the gearbox doesn’t break. He got a new differential at some point and the half shafts he said broke regularly. However, Ewold redesigned the diff using more modern materials. 

Full circle

“I basically finished the car and got it running and then at the Historic Racing at Killarney last year in December I got him to drive it. He had his Springbok blazer on and then we surprised him and explained that he was going to drive the car for a lap around Killarney Raceway. 


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