During the 1950s, car designers on both sides of the Atlantic produced some of the all-time greats of automotive styling, none of them more classically beautiful than the sublime BMW 507. Indeed, a measure of the 507’s iconic significance may be discerned from BMW’s ‘re-introduction’ of the model, after a gap of 40 years, in the form of the Z8 roadster. In an age when it has become de rigeur for heritage-conscious motor manufacturers to incorporate styling cues from landmark models into their latest offerings, few have ventured as far as BMW in paying homage to a recognised classic.
Chassis no. 70227
•One of only 252 Series I and II cars built
•Automotive design icon by Albrecht Graf Goertz
•Present ownership for over 30 years
•Professionally restored by marque specialist Brummer
to the highest standards in the early 1990s
•Participated in the model’s 60th anniversary celebrations
•Eligible for numerous prestigious events
Transatlantic in inspiration – aimed at the United States market, styled by a New York-domiciled German ex-patriot and built in Germany – the 507 reflected North American taste yet was unmistakably European in origin. The 507 saga began in 1954, when Austrian-born entrepreneur Max Hoffman, at that time the US importer of various European makes, convinced BMW that if they built a sports car to rival Mercedes-Benz’s successful 300 SL, he could sell sufficient in the ‘States to make the project viable. Hoffman knew just the man to style the car too: Count Albrecht von Goertz, an independent industrial designer who had worked for the legendary Raymond Loewy on the latter’s trend-setting Studebakers. Designer of everything from fountain pens to furniture, Goertz had never before styled an entire car, and post-507 would not work for BMW again until the 1980s.
The fundamental elements of BMW’s proposed new sports car already existed in the 502 saloon, most notably its 3.2-litre, all-aluminium V8 engine, which was installed in a shortened chassis for the 507. Mechanical design was handled by BMW stalwarts Fritz Fiedler and Alex von Falkenhausen, with Goertz shuttling back and forth between the USA and Germany to oversee production of the full-size clay model. The robust nature of the 502-based chassis necessitated the use of aluminium for the 507’s bodywork in the interest of weight saving, the finished car tipping the scales at around 1,280kg. With 150bhp on tap, performance was adequate if not stunning, production cars being capable of around 200km/h (125mph), with 100km/h (62mph) coming up in 11 seconds. For relaxed cruising though, the 507 had few peers, its state-of-the-art V8 engine delivering ample torque over a wide rev range.
Although the prototype displayed at the 1955 Frankfurt Auto Show met with critical acclaim, the 507’s reception at its New York debut two months earlier had been disappointing. BMW had missed Hoffman’s $5,000 price target by a wide margin, the 507’s initial US selling price being set at $9,000, more than double the cost of a Ford Thunderbird or Chevrolet Corvette. In the UK, one could buy two Jaguar XK150s for the price of a single 507. Even Mercedes-Benz’s 300 SL Coupé was cheaper, though the Stuttgart firm was sufficiently impressed (worried?) by the 507 to introduce a direct competitor in the form of the 300 SL Roadster.
Production proper of the 507 did not begin until 1956, the first series being built until June 1957 when the design was revised in detail. Improvements were mainly concentrated on the interior, which gained a deeper dashboard, a greater range of fore-and-aft seat adjustment, and a rear parcel shelf. There was, almost inevitably, an increase in price that only served to place the 507 even further beyond the reach of ordinary mortals. For those who could afford style at any price however, BMW’s svelte roadster was the car to be seen in: pop idol Elvis Presley, motorcycling World Champion John Surtees, film stars Alain Delon and Ursula Andress, skiing champion Toni Sailer, Prince Rainer of Monaco, and the Aga Khan all being owners at one time or another. Nevertheless, such a limited clientele, however exclusive, could not sustain the 507 in production, which ceased in December 1959 after only 252 cars had been sold.
This glamorous Series II example was first owned by HRH Prince Constantine II of Greece, and carried the numberplate ’36’. When owned by the Prince, the car was fitted with a Nardi steering wheel and a Becker Mexico radio with automatic antenna.
The current owner bought the BMW in Greece in 1989, at which time it was in poor condition. He bought the car as a restoration project and immediately despatched it to Mr Brummer in Munich, renowned BMW V8 guru and 507 specialist, for a complete ‘last nut and bolt’ restoration to the highest standard. Mr Brummer agreed the restoration price of 300,000 DM and the deadline of three years to completion as fixed.
In the course of the restoration, the colour scheme was changed from dark silver to the original 507 colour ‘Federweiss’ (white) with a dark blue leather interior and matching soft-top as requested by the current owner. The engine, completely rebuilt at that time, is believed to produce 160hp. As promised by Brummer, the car was ready on time, and with a couple of hundred shakedown kilometres covered was declared perfect and ready for its second life. The current owner paid almost double the car’s value at that time, but was determined to return this very important example, with its royal provenance, to ‘as new’ condition.
Since the restoration’s completion the BMW has participated in many rallies and gatherings including the Mille Miglia (four times), Tour Auto, Trofeo Balenario (twice), Eifel Klassik (four times), Kitzbuhl Rally (twice), Ennstal Klassik (twice), 2000km Durch Deutschland, and eight BMW 507 gatherings including the 60th anniversary celebrations.
Today, almost 30 years after restoration and 55,000 kilometres later (the odometer was zeroed at the time of restoration), the car still looks new; clearly a restoration to the highest level that has held up extremely well. The beautiful dark blue leather interior has a beautiful patina yet shows hardly any wear.
The car is offered with a rare original owner’s manual; original Greek plates ’36’; BMW Veteranenclub Fahzeugbrief (1997); FIA Wagenpass (1994); BMW Classic certificate; FIVA pass; numerous photographs (restoration and afterwards, period shots in Athens, participating in rallies, etc); sundry invoices; Mille Miglia correspondence (1997); German registration papers; and a copy of the sales contract between Prince Constantine and the second owner (1961).
Report by bonhams.com