There are so many interesting cars out there to find – and much to the continued surprise of both Rick D’Louhy and myself – these cars keep popping up. Take today’s story about the SWM Gordini built by the Mannl Brothers of Germany in the 1960s. An interesting story with an American twist. Let dig in gang.
As we began our research on the name plate – SWM Gordini – not much came up on the radar. In fact, nothing at all. We continued our research and sent out photos to several folks, but it was researcher extraordinaire Erich Schultz who recently put two and two together. “It’s all in the wheels….” he said. Let me explain.
Trying to decompose the car means you begin to look at the sum of its parts – which in this case starts with a custom designed race car body sitting on a Renault based chassis. Apart from the body everything seemed “Renault” which made sense since “Gordini” was a name mostly associated with Renault from the 60s through the 70s.
When we first heard about this car I was fascinated. Most of you know the Renault based Covington Sharks that I’ve had for so many years. But even though I’ve had them so long, Renault is a very rare choice for a custom-built sports car in America and abroad.
“Why?” you might ask. Its born of unibody construction.
Taking the body off isn’t hard – it requires a saw – and lots of time. But what’s left typically needs a great deal of strengthening and it’s just so much easier to start with a car with a frame – then take the body off and build from there. That’s why most Porsche specials really only have the drivetrain and brake parts. Few cannibalize the chassis as described above. It’s hard! (and painful to watch…)
So, Rick and I jumped at the mystery car and began the research. But we didn’t get far until I shared a bit of info with Erich. See, the wheels were a mystery to me – they’re a four bolt pattern. Renaults always are 3 bolt pattern – at least in the 60s. And when I told Erich that the wheels had the letters BMW on them, it put Erich’s mind and energy into motion.
For it was from his initial research that he shared with me, “Geoff…google the words SWM BMW and see what you get.” And I did. I guess I still have alot to learn about research 🙂
Wolfgang Kraus and his SWM BMW Race Car
Just one car was shown via a google search and this was the 1965 SWM BMW Sports Racing Prototype. It had been in an auction, but (thankfully for us), it didn’t sell and the owner, Wolfgang Kraus, was readily reachable. Here’s what the auction published about the sports/race car:
1965 SWM-BMW Sports Racing Prototype
This ultra-rare SWM-BMW is one of six similar sports-racers built by brothers Stefan and Wenzel Mannl in the early/mid-1960s. Featuring a glassfibre body, the SWM was developed for racing on airfields and hill climbs, competing in its class against the likes of Martini-BMW, Porsche 904, Lotus, etc.
From 1965 until circa 1968 this car was campaigned at Rossfeld in Berchtesgaden, Ratisbona-Augsburg, Sudelfeld, Neubiberg, Trier, etc, initially powered by a 700cc BMW boxer engine, which later was changed for an 850cc unit equipped with twin-plug ignition. In 1970 the vehicle was slightly modified in order to obtain road registration.
The SWM was acquired by the present owner in 2003. Restored by him eight years ago, it has been unused since and is not road registered at present, but nevertheless is in driveable condition, though we are advised that the car needs careful re-commissioning in some areas including the electrics.
To the vendor’s knowledge this is the last of the SWMs remaining in ‘complete’ condition. It is worth noting that it is possible to register the car for the road in most countries.
The engine currently installed is an overhauled 700cc unit developing 32bhp while also included in the sale is an overhauled 850cc race unit (75bhp) together with Dell’Orto carburettors and an exhaust system.
A complete file of documentation, photographs, race reports, race programmes, newspaper articles, etc comes with the car.
Here are photos shared as part of the auction in Germany for the car:
Talking With Wolfgang Kraus
I was recently able to discuss the car in more detail with Wolfgang Kraus and he shared what he knew about our SWM Gordini sports car.
It turns out that he had made contact with the Mannl Brothers when he first acquired his car about 10 years ago. And all of the cars they built (6-7) were custom chassis/BMW powered cars except one – their last one. This one was a special-bodied sports car / race car that was more powerful than their previously powered BMW cars and one that used an existing Renault chassis (created through the method I mentioned earlier in this story).
This last car appears to have been an attempt to create a sports/race car that they could put in production – one based on the popular and powerful Renault Gordini drivetrain and something that would allow them to create a small number of identical cars for sale.
Great plan – except the bank or “financiers” didn’t agree.
According to Wolfgang, the bank pulled the plug on financing the project (still researching why) and the final SWM sports/race car built was the SWM Gordini. And soon after the car was completed, the brothers sold the car. It was taken to a market/event to sell and an American serviceman bought it. It was shipped from Germany to America and was never seen again.
The SWM Mannl Gordini Surfaces:
The car surfaced in New Mexico and was made available to us, at which time research began – and research continues to this day. Last we spoke to Wolfgang, he was going to try and track down the brothers for us. They would be quite elderly now, and he hasn’t heard from them in years. One he believes was in Germany and the other in the Canary Islands – that’s a new location for me to scout.
Rick…..want to take a trip across the pond? Research related, of course! Let’s stop at the Canary Islands first 🙂
Jeff Ackert – Renault Historian And Great Friend – Chips In
I sent photos of the car to Jeff Ackert and Jean Claude Fallon – both great friends and champions of the Renault Gordini legacy in Eastern Canada.
Jeff shared that there were many small coachbuilt sports/race cars back in the 60s and 70s that shared the same shape and appeal and were based on the Renault Gordini drivetrain.. He sent two photos of such cars as you can see below. The captions identify the marque and year of each car. Very interesting!
Thanks Jeff 🙂
We are currently looking to publish an article or two on the SWM Gordini built by the Mannl Brothers in Germany so many years ago.
We’re going to ask our publishing friends over yonder (Wolfgang Bucta, Wolfgang Blaube, Kenneth Brosk, and/or Mick Walsh) if there is any interest in sharing an article about such a car. After all, there are not too many opportunities left to write about a European sports car and marque that has not been written about before. This would be the first for this marque too 🙂
And…we could certainly use the help (I don’t think Rick is going to sign off on the idea of going to the Canary Islands for my research idea….)
Hope you enjoyed the story, and until next time…
Glass on gang…
P.S…..Anyone want to help us figure out what the missing windshield came from? There were shards of glass in the cockpit, but that’s as far as we’ve gotten. And…great thanks to David Henton of Engines Direct Shipping in helping us coordinate and transport this great little car to its new home in Tampa, Florida – Thanks David!
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Wow! What a beautiful and interesting find and congratulations on the research!
Renault Gordinis, in normal body form, were very popuar on the race tracks in South Africa, the most famous driver being Jody (Sideways) Scheckter, who later became F1 world champion.
Hey Geoff,I’m glad to have found this car and called you for help with it…it seems it was intended to be owned by someone like yourself that can bring it back to its original glory…Hope to see the finished product and will try to see if I can help with the windshield information…If you are ever here in southern New Mexico you please call me. I hope to get to Florida soon so that I can finally meet you. Keep up the great work that you guys are doing and if I run across another odd ball like this one again, you will be the first to know about it!
Great looking car and fantastic story. A true one-off. Let me tell you about the Gordini based CRV…
Very interesting story and a great little car! it’s hard to tell from the pictures but your car and the two cars in the pictures Jeff sent you seem to share the same windshield. maybe?
A nice looking car. It brings to mind the Lotus Europa profile. I’m looking forward to reading more about your latest find.