BMW's surprise Kiwi history lesson

By Alastair Sloane

The BMW 328 Berlinetta Touring is a star of the BMW museum in Munich. Photo / an.niedermeyer
The BMW 328 Berlinetta Touring is a star of the BMW museum in Munich. Photo / an.niedermeyer

BMW museum director Dr Ralf Rodepeter is surrounded daily by cars worth millions of dollars - but the memory of one he stumbled upon in New Zealand will stay with him forever.

It was a pristine E28-model M5, claimed as the fastest production sedan in the world when it was unveiled at the Amsterdam motor show almost 30 years ago.

"It was fantastic," said Rodepeter. "It looked like it had just come out of the factory."

Rodepeter saw the car at the third NZ Festival of Motor Racing, which honoured the 40th year of BMW Motorsport, now known as BMW M.

"It was one of the best examples I have ever seen. I would have liked to take it back to Munich."

Rodepeter collects new cars, too. "We take the first and last to come off the production line and store them. In 30 years, say, they will be classics."

The 46-year-old has a doctorate in mathematics, and was appointed head of the museum after many years in BMW's marketing division.

He and his staff look after the 120 cars and motorcycles permanently housed in the museum - and the 800 other classics on display worldwide.

Rodepeter brought three such cars to the Hampton Downs festival - the Le Mans M1ProCar, the E30 M3 race car, and the 3.0CSL "Batmobile" that New Zealander Chris Amon co-drove to win the 1973 German touring car championship. The three cars are worth around $2 million.

"We send as many cars and motorcycles around the world as we can," he said. "It gives us wonderful exposure at events such as the New Zealand festival.

"Our veteran fleet does about 100,000km a year. Much of that is in the summer in Europe where the cars are in constant demand at motorsport events.

"The timing of the festival in New Zealand suited us because it is winter in Europe.

"We had time to put the cars on a boat for the eight-week trip. We can't fly them here and there because it costs too much."

One car that stands tall in the museum is the pre-war 328 Berlinetta Touring. Rodepeter takes the wraps off one each year and trucks it to Italy for Mille Miglia events, celebrations honouring the famous 1000-mile race first run in 1927.

The 328 was introduced in 1936 and won the Mille Miglia in 1940.

"The 328 signalled the start of BMW's sporty image," said Rodepeter.

"It was still being raced in the 1950s."

The BMW museum opened in 1973, a year after the Munich Olympic Games, and now covers 6000sq m.

"We have created as natural environment as possible," said Rodepeter. "There are streets inside the building to give visitors the impression they are walking past cars in a city."

One of the classics is the M1 "art car" painted by Andy Warhol, which some estimates value at $70 million, largely because of Warhol's signature.

But Rodepeter says it is a museum piece that will never be sold.

- NZ Herald

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