'57 Bimmer

At a time when tailfins and chrome dominated American roads, tiny BMW created one of the most evocative sports cars of the 1950's

In the early 1950s, BMW covered opposite ends of the automotive spectrum. On the one hand, R24 motorcycles and Isetta bubble cars provided inexpensive transportation for the average German citizen. On the other hand, the large and well-appointed 501 was intended for the upper middle class and was powered by the pre-war hemi-head, inline 6-cylinder engine used on the sporty 328.

Despite being underpowered for its size, the 501 was well received once production began in 1952. By 1954, BMW had finally solved its power problem with the introduction of the 502, which carried a 2.6-liter V8. Finally, in an effort to counter offerings from Mercedes, BMW unveiled two new models at the 1955 Frankfurt show. The 503 was offered as a coupe or cabriolet, and carried a 140-horsepower development of the original V8, now enlarged to 3.2 liters. It was the 507, however, that stole the show.

Designed by Count Albrecht Goertz, an established industrial engineer based in the United States, and fitted with the 3,168-cc V8 engine producing 160 horsepower, the 507 held its own against contemporary competition, in looks at least.

Credit for its initial conception goes to post-war U.S. importer Max Hoffman, who recognized the strength of the American economy as a lifeline for struggling German car manufacturers. Not satisfied with BMW's own proposal for a 507 convertible, Hoffman called upon Goertz to create an independent design. The car entered production the following November as a 1957 model.

While Hoffman had initially targeted an upper-middle-class-friendly price range, production costs for the hand-built 507 escalated its price to over $11,000--greater than that of the 300SL and twice that of the XK 140. Despite the increase in price, however, BMW lost money on every 507 produced. It was slightly revised in 1958 with the appearance of the Series II, which offered increased horsepower, standard front disc brakes, and added space behind the seats. Production ceased two and a half years after it began, with only 253 examples built.

The car offered here is the fifteenth 507 assembled in 1956. The car has undergone a full restoration with the intention of being driven in historical events. The car has been finished in black and appears to be in excellent condition. It is fitted with a new Haartz cloth top and correct Rudge-Whitworth alloy wheels. The interior was reupholstered with red Connolly leather.

The BMW 507 was a brief reinstatement of BMW's sporting heritage that flourished with the BMW 328 before World War II but would not reappear until the advent of the M Division years later. Owners such as Formula One great John Surtees and Elvis Presley added to the 507's high profile. It is believed that approximately 80% of all 507s have survived, and the car offered here is an ideal candidate for the growing number of historic events worldwide.

(Introductory description courtesy of RM.)

The SCM Analysis

This car sold for $893,104 at RM's Automobiles of London sale held October 31, 2007.

The BMW 507 is quite an amazing phenomenon. It's an example of an initial failure becoming a collectible icon. It has no race history, means surprisingly little to the overall history of the company, and was in no way innovative. Perhaps it shows the power of a pretty face. Everyone agrees that it is one of the most evocative sports cars of the 1950s and has captured the imagination of collectors in a way it was unable to when new.

Not what Max Hoffman had in mind

The story of how Max Hoffman pushed BMW to create the 507 is well known. Perhaps not as well known is the fact that the car he had in mind was to be a moderately priced ($5,000), lightweight roadster, which could be driven to work during the week and raced on weekends. However, the car with which he was presented was heavy, relatively underpowered, and much more expensive than the competition.

In any case, BMW's pre-war racing reputation was too distant and European-based to really mean much to the well-heeled clientele the 507 was targeting.

These people could (and did) buy Ferraris, Aston Martins, Maseratis, and Mercedes, all of which were winning major races in the U.S. and abroad and at the time of the 507's launch--not making bubble cars and motorcycles. Reliability issues with the aluminum V8 also caused headaches for early owners and further weakened its market appeal.

However, Goertz penned one of the most attractive shapes of the 20th century, and in spite of its disadvantages, the 507 still attracted the "dolce vita" crowd and made copy, if not money, for BMW. It's difficult to tell if the publicity helped, as BMW's disastrous product planning pushed the company close to extinction. After a little more than two years of production, it gave up on the 507 and 503 and chose instead to concentrate on development of the 1500, the car that would evolve into the 2002 and lead to BMW's survival.

Cars often become more desirable when they no longer have to fulfill any function except to give amusement. When not viewed through the prism of performance, reliability, and dealer service--which would have been significant issues in 1957--the 507's charms rise to the surface.

The auction description indicated that this particular example was restored with the aim of making a safe, reliable, vintage event car, with the steering box, radiator, and exhaust systems being renewed, along with an engine rebuilt with new pistons, stainless steel-sleeved brakes, and the fitting of an alternator. All of that makes this particular 507 a pretty face with which you can have a bit of fun.

Now as reliable as it needs to be

The power-to-weight ratio of the 507 vs. a 300SL is of much less consequence on a long, sweeping road in a vintage rally or even climbing an Alp or two in a tour than it was in the 1950s, when you had to be on time to an important meeting across the Continent. With modern metallurgy and lubrication, the challenges of the aluminum engine have long ago been met and the unit is now as reliable as it needs to be.

Much as Fiat's Otto Vu stands far above any other Fiat, the 507 stands out among post-war BMWs. Perhaps only the pre-war 328 Mille Miglia cars, if one could be found, would surpass it in price.

In the past few years, the cost of obtaining a 507 has risen dramatically, almost doubling between 2005 and 2007. Since the modern BMW company is now known as a producer of fast, luxurious, high-performance cars, the 507 relates better as an ancestor to today's "M" cars than as a stablemate of the Isetta. With its beauty, rarity, vintage event eligibility, and concours credibility, we can probably look for the 507 to continue its ascent in the collector car firmament. Although it was much higher than the last auction sales, this price will shortly be seen as not that far above the current market.

Details

Years Produced: 1956-59

Number Produced: 253

Original List Price: $11,000 approx.

SCM Valuation: $300,000-$500,000

Tune-up Cost: $1,700 approx.

Distributor Caps: $500

Chassis # Location: Plate on firewall, stamping on chassis near right front suspension pickup point

Engine # Location: Right side middle of block

Club Info: BMW Car Club of America, 640 South Main St., Suite 201, Greenville, SC 29601

Website: click to visit

Alternatives: 1956 Maserati A6G Spyder, 1957-63 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster, 1954-55 Lancia Aurelia B24 America Spider

Investment Grade: A

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