1950 BMW Greifzu Eigenbau Special

Nestled in the forest-covered hills of the Suhler Scholle rests Suhl. A small city, Suhl's beginnings can be found back during the 14th century. It would become a city later in the 16th century. From this small city would be born a man that would become the face of East German motor racing in the sensitive days and years after World War II when all of Germany was being divided and given as spoils to nations of the world. That man would become famous as a result of the car he would build himself and would be quite successful in racing. The car was simply the 'Greifzu BMW Eigenbau'.

While the car would become one of the most famous German-built machines in the years following World War II, an important foundation for the car would be laid before World War II even began.

During the later 1930s, BMW had come to produce one of the most successful and sought after engines in the world. The engine they had designed and built was a straight six-cylinder design with 2.0-liter displacement. It had been built for and would serve as the backbone for the highly successful BMW 328 sports car.

While the car would be quite successful, it would be the engine that would be considered the sought after 'prize'. Many nations wanted the engine in order to copy it. Included in this list of countries was Great Britain. And after World War II, one of the spoils England would receive from the war would be the 328's engine. Bristol would go on to copy the engine and would put many replicas of the engine in Formula 2 cars and other motor racing cars throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s.

In the years following World War II, Germany was in shambles and in the midst of being carved up. The mighty German 'Silver Arrows' no longer existed. The country was in such a state of disarray that it was almost inconceivable that the powerhouses of Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union had come from the same nation. But the reality was, it wasn't the same nation.

Instead of a nation effort, the motor racing scene in both West and East Germany after the war would be dominated by self-built grand prix cars known as Eigenbaus. Built from whatever materials these small companies and privateer builders could find, many of these cars would only have one option for an engine and it would be the BMW 328 engine.

One of those privateer builders was a man by the name of Paul Greifzu. Greifzu was born in Suhl, Germany in 1902 and was already a race winner before the world plunged into a world war. Having an education in mechanics, Greifzu was surprising many with his ability to improve an engine and this mechanical adeptness would culminate in a truly special win at the Nurburgring against a field of strong factory efforts.

When the war broke out, Greifzu managed to hide way his BMW. And as a result of his car and engine not being confiscated he would be immediately ready to go back to racing when the Russian government allowed it in 1949. Unfortunately, facing the competition from West Germany, Greifzu found his car to be too heavy and uncompetitive. In order to be competitive again he would need to build a new car. Already in his late 40s by this time, he would set out to do just that.

Paul would start out by using the chassis of a BMW 315 to form the basis of the new car. This was to address some of the problems with the heaviness of the 328. The 315 was quite strong but was a bit lighter. With the help of the Eisenach factory, Greifzu would lower the car and would fit it with what was known as 'intertype' bodywork.

The design of the bodywork was such that the car would be able to take part in a number of different types of racing series without having to have a second car altogether. The lowered 315 chassis would lead to the car having and oval-shaped front grille feeding cooler on-coming air to the radiator and oil cooler. The car would make its debut in 1950, and over the years the nose would go through some updates and revisions. And while it would retain its low-slung oval shape the opening would vary in size. And by the time the car would debut in the World Championship at the hands of Rudolf Krause, the opening would be much more narrow and aerodynamic looking.

Travelling aft from the tip of the nose, the top line of the bodywork rose rather steeply in order to cover the straight-six BMW engine. The engine actually used in Greifzu's Eigenbau would only partly be a 328 engine.

One of the problems found in the post-war motor racing scene in Germany, and even Great Britain with the Bristol version of the engine, would be the fact a pre-war design was being asked to compete at a post-war level. Time had passed; other manufacturers had built stronger and more powerful engines. Therefore, in order to be competitive, the old 328 engine would be pushed to its absolute limits of ability. As a result, while the engine still produced a decent amount of power, the reliability would become suspect.

To combat this issue, the East German equivalent of BMW, called EMW, would help Greifzu. They would start out with a 326 block, which was regarded as a stronger base, and then the light-alloy 328 heads would be attached to it. This meant the engine still produced about the same power, but as experience would show, it would also make the engine a bit more reliable than its fellow competitors.

The top of the engine cowling would see a large air scoop dominating the car's aesthetics. This was to feed the air to the carburetors in order to feed more air into the fuel/air mixture. The rest of the engine cowling, like many other designs of the times, would be covered with a number of louvers meant to eradicate the excessive heat built up around the engine under the cover. The passing air over these louvers acted as a vacuum to pull the hot air out and help keep the engine functioning properly.

One noticeable design aspect of the car would be its wedge shape. The width of the nose would be a good deal more narrow than the width of the car at the cockpit. This was intentional since the car was originally designed to fulfill the requirements of a number of racing series. One of those requirements to satisfy happened to be the sports car requirements that demanded two seats and a door. The Greifzu would therefore be designed with a wide body shape to accommodate a second seat and it would also have a door. This arrangement would end up being abandoned, however, after Paul suffered a terrible crash preparing for the German Grand Prix in 1950. After recovering from his injuries, Greifzu would set about repairing the destroyed car. It would be at that time he would decide to forego the sports car regulations and rebuilt the car most for circuit grand prix racing. Therefore, while the doors would still be visible they would be closed up. In addition, the driver's position would be moved further toward the center of the car, but would, nevertheless, still be offset to the left-hand side of the car.

While rebuilding the car, Greifzu would also update and improve the car's suspension. He would also make adjustments to the car's suspension layout to further help with improving the car's handling.

The cockpit of the car would be simple and straight-forward. Besides large rounded windscreen, Greifzu's view would be dominated by the large four-spoke steering wheel. A single round mirror flanked the right side of the windscreen. The driver sat down inside the car, and yet, there would be a whole part to the side where the second seat had been that seemed like a cavernous empty shell that offered the driver and unspoiled view of the transmission running to the back of the car just to the right.

The wide and low-slung bodywork would present another advantage to Greifzu. Most of the cars of the day had fuel tanks mounted behind the driver's seat. Because of the narrow bodies of most of these cars the tank would sit rather high, causing a heightening of the center of gravity. This would not be such the case on Greifzu Eigenbau. The wide body style would not only give the car a wide wheel stance, but the low, wide body would allow the weight of the fuel to be positioned lower, thereby lowering the center of gravity of the car.

The improved engine, power and handling of the Greifzu BMW would enable Greifzu to go out and score a victory in the car's first every appearance. It would also lend to Greifzu leading the Halle-Saale-Schleiferennen from beginning to end. His consistent improvements to the car over the years would lead to the car being perhaps the most successful and reliable grand prix car in all of Germany at that point in time.

Unfortunately, Greifzu wouldn't be able to be the one to debut his own car in the Formula One World Championship. In 1952, he would suffer an accident in practice at Dessau. Coming down the straight along the autobahn the engine seized and sent Greifzu spinning off the circuit. While the accident he suffered in 1950 would be much more dramatic and would absolutely destroy the car, the seemingly minor damage to the car at Dessau would mask the absolute devastation that was to come for the East German racing scene. Their hero was dead.

While Paul Greifzu may have perished at Dessau in 1952, his famous and incredible car would live on. His widow would enter it in a number of races starting in 1953. And on the 2nd of August in 1953 the Greifzu BMW Eigenbau would make its World Championship debut. After taking part in its last race in 1954, the car would be rather forgotten about but would live on and actually rests in rebuilt form in a museum in Greifzu's native Suhl.

Uechtel. 'Phoenix from the Flames, Part 6: East German BMW Specials', (http://www.forix.com/8w/df2-ebeg.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://www.forix.com/8w/df2-ebeg.html. Retrieved 7 October 2011.

Diepraam, Mattijs. 'The BMW-Derived Specials that Appeared in War-Struck Germany', (http://www.forix.com/8w/germanf2.html). 8W: The Stories Behind Motor Racing Facts and Fiction. http://www.forix.com/8w/germanf2.html. Retrieved 7 October 2011.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Paul Greifzu', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 11 September 2011, 09:02 UTC, //en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Paul_Greifzu&oldid=449773940 accessed 7 October 2011

Wikipedia contributors, 'Suhl', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 10 August 2011, 19:46 UTC, //en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Suhl&oldid=444123054 accessed 7 October 2011

Wikipedia contributors, 'BMW 328', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 August 2011, 01:29 UTC, //en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=BMW_328&oldid=445914529 accessed 7 October 2011

By Jeremy McMullen

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