In the past 6 months I have been up close and personal with 3 different BMW 507s. One was in the Simeone Foundation Museum written about previously , one was at Tilson's in Philly also covered in this blog , and the third was at an old ice cream roadside shop in bucks county, PA. Between these three, I got to sit in the car, examine the engine bay and hear two of them run, and admire the styling from all angles. Unfortunately, none of the owners accepted my offer of $5000 cash for their cars. Neither were they impressed with my offer to sweeten the deal with my left over 3.0 CS parts.
Only 254 (the number varies depending on if/how you count rebodied versions) of these cars were reportedly produced between 1955 and 1959, but an amazing 240 are thought to be surviving in some state. Even so, given that a basket case is probably north of $150K (this may account for the rejection of my offers), coming across 3 in a short time span is pretty cool. The BMW 507 resulted from the persuasive powers of US importer Max Hoffman, the design skills of Albrect Goertz, and the desire of BMW to get back to producing sporting roadsters the likes of which had not been seen since before the war. Aesthetically, the car was and is a knockout. It included a new treatment for the iconic BMW kidney grilles, knock-off wheels with body-matching color, great flowing lines from front to back. The body was hand crafted aluminum, so no two were exactly alike. The interior was luxuriously trimmed in leather, and was much more grand tourer than minimalist sports car. It is routinely included in lists of the most beautiful cars of all time, and has appeared in movies and videos for decades.
It was produced in the same timeframe as the Mercedes 300SL which was thought to be the main competitor. The 507 used a 16 valve 3.2 Liter V8 with dual Zenith carbs which produced 150hp, a top spead of 140mph and 0 - 62 around 10 seconds. Remember, this is a road going car in the mid 1950s. Despite the aluminum body, it rested on a modified 302 chassis, so it was not a lightweight car at 2607 lbs. However quality and attention to detail were excellent and period tests even considered it relatively watertight with the softop on! Like all beautiful roadsters, the optional hardtop was rarely seen in place.
It wasn't long before the 507 was pressed into racing duty. It was used by Hans Stuck in hillclimbs and road races with some success. The car is probably more famous for its participation by privateers in racing into the 1960s (believe it or not, they became a bargain!!) long after production had ceased, and in vintage rallies ever since.
So you have a beautiful halo car with sports car performance, a luxurious interior, and critical acclaim from the press, what could go wrong ? Well, in a word, money. Already an expensive car to make, while being produced, the exchange rate between the DM and the US dollar moved radically in the wrong direction. It basically doubled the price of the car in America, and made it more expensive than the 300SL in most markets. Remember, this car came about in large measure because Max Hoffman wanted a BMW sports car for the US, so the pricing killed all hopes of a great selling roadster in 50% of its intended market. The exorbitant price relegated the 507 to celebrities (John Surtees, Elvis, Ursula Andress), and royalty ( Prince Rainier of Monaco, King of Greece, King of Morocco, and of course myself ). At such small numbers, and perhaps like many of the greatest classic cars, BMW lost money on every one. In fact, when combined with some other woes at the time, it can be argued that the 507 pushed BMW to the brink of bancruptcy. Were it not for the bold move of the Quandt family at the time to rescue the company and keep it independent, the 507 might have been one of the last BMWs ever. Production ceased in 1959. Emphasis on the Isetta, and the Neu Klasse saloons followed in a clearly different direction. What the 507 did, however, was change the image of BMW. So much so, that today the greatest cars of this great marque must always include it on the list.