As a poster child for misplaced optimism, it would be hard to better the Glas 2600 V8.
Estimates vary as to how many of these Pietro Frua-styled coupés were built between its pre-emptive 1965 Frankfurt launch and spring ’68 demise – we’ll settle for 657 production cars, split 264:393 in favour of the 3-litre version built after BMW gobbled up the Dingolfing-based company in 1967.
Suitably modernised, the Bavarian plant would be the home of the 5 Series post-1972.
But as well as increased production capacity – and manpower – BMW captured fresh technical talent in the form of gifted Glas chief engineer Karl Dompert, and some valuable patents: the great claim to fame of this now almost-forgotten independent German manufacturer is the invention of the toothed nylon timing belt.
What BMW didn’t want to do was to keep making Glas cars. When it took over, only the faithful little Goggomobil was making money, and it was the last of the range to get the chop.
Hans Glas GmbH had been a family affair, with 4000 employees. It had ridden the wave of the post-war German economic miracle, but ended up building too many different models while lacking the capital to scale up production and pose a real threat to more established makes.
Glas had started life in the 1880s as a maker of farm machinery: cars – in the form of the Goggomobil – didn’t arrive until 1957.
This was soon joined by the bigger, front-engined T600 and T700, then in 1961 the 1-litre, four-cylinder saloons with their groundbreaking belt-driven overhead camshafts designed by ex-BMW man Leonhard Ischinger.
The Frua-styled 1700 of 1964 was a plausible BMW 1500 rival, but represented a level of investment that not even the continued popularity of the Goggomobil could support.
The closely related 1300/1700 GT came a year before the saloon and did a lot to boost the marque’s credibility as a car that could potentially fill the void left by the imminent demise of the Porsche 356.
The German press dubbed the 2600 V8 the ‘Glaserati’, a well-meaning epithet that summed up the overweening ambition of this once-humble maker of seed drills that had projected itself into the high-end GT market.
But it wasn’t just ego and vanity that drove Glas to push ahead with its V8 flagship: there were cost-saving implications in recycling the underpinnings of the 1700 saloon, and a lot to be said for designing a modular V8 that could be produced on much of the same tooling that created the pokey little overhead-cam ‘four’.
At 2580cc, the new iron-block, alloy-head V8 was effectively a pair of 1300 GT units on a common crankshaft.
Frua was commissioned in 1964 and had the prototype finished by May ’65, the first of three development mules with detail trim differences compared to the production cars, but established features such as 1700 Limousine rear lights, Porsche 911 door locks and rectangular Hella headlamps shared with a Mercedes bus.
Frua also sketched an alternative fastback shape, but the boxy elegance of his glassy two-door, four-seater took cues from his Maserati Quattroporte and the Aga Khan’s 5000GT, and would be echoed later in his Jaguar S-type and Opel Diplomat coupés.
Like the 1300 and 1700 GTs, the all-steel, barely rustproofed and largely handmade bodies would be built in Turin by Maggiora and taken over the Alps by road to Dingolfing, a long-winded process that further ate into the profit margins of this modestly priced car: at DM19,400, the 2600 was pitched halfway between the Porsche 912 and 911.
For that, buyers got such niceties as four-wheel disc brakes (inboard at the back) and de Dion rear suspension with Boge self-levelling.
The original idea had been to build a straight-six, but it can’t have escaped the notice of the Dingolfing engineers that BMW’s V8-engined, Bertone-bodied 3200 CS was about to be killed off in favour of the 2000 CS – with a mere four cylinders – and that the only home-grown V8 was to be found under the bonnet of the huge and unapproachable Mercedes-Benz 600.
The one-upmanship possibilities of a V8 were obvious, particularly if the 140bhp newcomer could be coaxed to 200kph (124mph) to become West Germany’s fastest true four-seater.
The idea of this new V8 certainly captured the public imagination – crowds gathered 10 deep to see the fenced-off gold prototype in Frankfurt – but the 2600 was nowhere near customer-ready.
Buyers – who would include the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Prince Max of Bavaria and even Frua himself – didn’t start getting their cars until July 1966, by which time power had been upped to 150bhp thanks to the addition of a triple Solex 35DDIS set-up (from the 1300 GT) replacing the prototype’s single, twin-choke Solex.
Even before the DM91m BMW takeover, a 160bhp, 3-litre V8 was waiting in the wings as a way to hit the originally promised performance figures.
Had Glas remained independent, it would have taken the V8 out to 3.2 litres and supplemented the coupé with a saloon version.
In 1967, Frua tried to tempt BMW with a new fastback body on the BMW-Glas 3000 chassis, perhaps unaware that the fate of the model – and the make – had already been sealed.
The bigger V8 cut the 0-60mph time from 11 to 9.4 secs, but even these BMW-badged cars didn’t top the magic 200kph mark, a number the old 3200 CS had easily achieved.
There was a certain short-term value in keeping the 3000 V8 as a temporary replacement for that car – and a running mate for the 2000 CS – but with the smaller models quietly dropped under the new regime, the V8’s days were numbered.
The last were built in June ’68 as Munich cleared the way for the faster, nimbler and better-looking 2800 CS, powered by the new M30 straight-six.
Although Glas was briefly marketed in the UK, I’m going to stick my neck out and say no V8s were sold here new – although they were listed, at £3046, in 1967.
I’m guessing they’d have found few takers even if the factory had offered right-hookers. As of today, it is thought that two – or maybe three – live in the UK, and it’s safe to say that Graham Juffs’ 1966 Glas V8 is almost certainly the best.
Guru of the 2000 CS and a former 327/8 owner, Juffs has slain most of the rare beasts of the BMW world in a 50-year career of driving and restoring them.
Still sprightly and enthusiastic at 79, his five-year restoration of this Chamonix white coupé has left him with nothing to prove, especially because he’s put 10,000 miles on the car since finishing it in 2016: his maiden outing was a fraught but ultimately rewarding 826-mile trip to Essen, where the car was due to make its post-rebuild debut and its stunning condition attracted a six-figure offer from a besotted German collector.
But Juffs decided that he wanted the car more than he needed the money – and even that offer didn’t entirely reflect what went into restoring this rusted hulk of a rarity.
Sold new in Munich, this 2600 was brought to the UK by a British serviceman in the mid-’80s then banished to a London lock-up for 28 years after a shunt in the snow.
“The front grille had to be made from scratch,” says Juffs, “plus it’s had new sills and floors, and repairs to the bulkhead.”
Although the German Glas Club proved helpful, some parts – such as the Frua badges on the C-pillars – had to be made bespoke.
The engine was rebuilt by acknowledged specialist Juergen Bengsch, and Juffs has uprated the suspension and fitted slightly wider tyres to improve the stance.
From the factory, cloth/vinyl seats were fitted but leather was a rare option, so Juffs retrimmed the Glas in dark blue hide and fitted BMW 3.0 CS headrests.
The gleaming 15ft-long two-door wears a BMW roundel on its snout but is a Glas 2600 – not that there was much difference between the two beyond engine size, badges and a few details. Not so Juffs’ BMW 1600 GT.
Derived from the Glas 1300/1700 GT, this short-lived hybrid used BMW’s twin-Solex 1600ti engine and rear suspension grafted into a Frua/Maggiore body with a kidney grille.
Only 1298 were built from August 1967 to June ’68, and it was a type of car that BMW would not offer again until the Z3 of the ’90s.
Sold new in South Africa, this one was acquired by Juffs from Tim Hignett’s collection 18 years ago.
Smaller, prettier and more usable than the V8, it figures more prominently in Juffs’ plans as he contemplates his 80th birthday.
“The BMW drivetrain makes it easier to deal with,” he explains, “so it’s the car I want to keep.”
If the angular, almost formal V8 is imposingly handsome rather than beautiful – somewhat compromised by its long overhangs and short wheelbase – then the GT is dainty and svelte.
Pop the bonnets and, while the nicely finished V8 looks relatively compact, the GT’s canted-over ‘four’ fills the engine bay, the airbox for its Solex carburettors dwarfing the cam cover.
On the V8, Juffs has fitted twin cooling fans and increased the modest capacity of the radiator. Inside, the 2600 is a proper four-seater with room to wear a hat, the 1600 GT more of a two-plus-one.
The cars share big steering wheels, excellent driving positions (with lots of clutch-foot space) and good vision – the low-waisted V8 is a proper goldfish bowl – along with classy-looking dashboards in chrome and leathercloth.
The bigger car feels like a more polished product in its details, with seven beautifully crafted instruments in a curved layout that is a model of clarity and a joy to behold.
It has conventional pull/twist switches and a multi-function column stalk (from a 230SL) rather than the GT’s unfathomable column-mounted slide controls.
In the driving, points of similarity are hard to find. The 2600 sounds good, but has a slightly uncertain tickover.
The power flows evenly for silky flexibility, making it a lovely car to drive gently, but it lacks the effortless torque you expect of even a small V8.
Acceleration through the well-paced, smooth-shifting Getrag gears is brisk and gentlemanly rather than exciting, with little in reserve for tyre-smoking off the mark.
When tickling along, the overhead-cam V8 operates on the centre carburettor, bringing the front and back chokes in progressively as you squeeze harder on the throttle.
You sense that the 5500rpm redline is there to be observed, yet the pull smooths out nicely between 2000 and 4000rpm and, once under way, you are often moving more quickly than you imagine.
The V8 has a firm-to-hard and sometimes crashy ride, but would be surprisingly quiet were it not for the high-pitched wind whistle around the driver’s quarterlight.
But the commanding view, the comfortable driving position and the flat, neutral cornering give the car a suave charm that transcends your hooligan instincts.
Juffs’ power-steering conversion is easy to paw around at low speeds – with acceptable ‘feel’ as they climb – making this flagship/swansong Glas less of a chore than it might have been.
The feisty 1600 GT is as aggressive as the V8 is laid-back, with highly strung power delivery that makes it feel – and sound – quicker than it really is.
With its remarkably heavy low-speed steering, poor lock and sharp clutch it demands attention and physical effort.
It is driveable enough at low speeds, but asks that you are in the right gear with a sharply defined point in the peaky torque characteristics where the difference between soaring revs or a flat-spot the size of a cricket pitch is hard to modulate at times.
Keeping the revs up is the best policy, and not a problem with such a rewarding gearchange – although it shares the vice of a weak detent between first and reverse with the bigger car.
At first it doesn’t seem to handle as well as the V8, until you learn to drive it through corners. With a clear line of sight, you can squeeze the throttle and take the line of least resistance against sharpening turn-in.
Squatting hard on its rear suspension, the 1600 GT tells you that it wants to be driven with a certain gusto, all those extra chokes giving it an exciting aural edge over lesser BMW ‘fours’ of the same vintage.
While the likeable V8 feels as if it never quite found its mojo, there is an engaging sense of fun about the GT: a get-up-and-go that makes Juffs’ fondness easy to understand.
A handful of open 1600s were made, which can only have added to the feeling that this pretty car was not so much an alternative Porsche as a German Alfa Romeo.
With more development, the Glas V8 could have been a great car. Today it’s an intriguing oddity, but one that most people in the market for an intriguing oddity won’t even have heard of.
Images: James Mann
Thanks to: Graham Juffs
Glas 2600 V8
- Sold/number built 1965-’68/657 (including BMW-Glas 3000 V8)
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine iron-block, alloy-heads, sohc-per-bank 2580cc V8, three Solex carbs
- Max power 150bhp @ 5600rpm
- Max torque 152Ib ft @ 3000rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension: front independent, by double wishbones rear de Dion axle, radius arms; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering worm and roller
- Brakes discs
- Length 15ft 1in (4597mm)
- Width 5ft 9in (1753mm)
- Height 4ft 7in (1397mm)
- Wheelbase 8ft 2½in (2502mm)
- Weight 2976Ib (1350kg)
- 0-60mph 11 secs
- Top speed 121mph
- Mpg 20
- Price new £3046
- Price now £85,000*
BMW-Glas 1600 GT
- Sold/number built 1967-’68/1298
- Construction steel monocoque
- Engine iron-block, alloy-head, sohc 1573cc ‘four’, twin Solex carbs
- Max power 104bhp @ 6000rpm
- Max torque 97Ib ft @ 4500rpm
- Transmission four-speed manual, RWD
- Suspension independent, at front by double wishbones rear semi-trailing arms; coil springs, telescopic dampers f/r
- Steering worm and roller
- Brakes discs front, drums rear
- Length 13ft 3¼in (4045mm)
- Width 5ft 1in (1549mm)
- Height 4ft 2½in (1283mm)
- Wheelbase 7ft 7½in (2324mm)
- Weight 1830Ib (830kg)
- 0-60mph 10.8 secs
- Top speed 118mph
- Mpg 30
- Price new DM15,850
- Price now £55,000*
*Prices correct at date of original publication
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