Bmw 507 and 503 (1955-1960)

tags: , | in: Automotive Design 21 November 2006
Bmw 507 and 503 (1955-1960)

To celebrate Albrecht Graf von Goertz we report a short history of his masterpieces, the Bmw 507 roadster and the 503, its coupé counterpart. Both of them were produced from 1955 until 1960.

The original article was published by BMW in April 2005, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the models.

From official Press Release:

The background

In 1954, all eyes in Germany were turned towards the land of golden opportunities. Young people were in raptures about the voice of a young truck driver named Elvis Presley. The future king of rock-and-roll landed hit after
hit right from the start of his career, creating a sensation with the provocative swing of his hips.

James Dean was falling in love with Natalie Wood in the movies and with German sports cars in his private life. The grown-ups were happy with the film stars’ choice of car. After all, if it was fashionable to
drive a German car in the States that had to be good for the German economy.

BMW 507 with hard topBMW 507 with hard top

The American upper class loved to drive European cars down the highways
in order to distinguish themselves from the majority of Americans, who were driving huge American saloons. Germany’s car industry responded by designing, building and exporting anything that promised to be a hit on the
US market.

The 328 manufactured before the war transformed BMW into one of the leading sports car manufacturers, but after the war the company didn’t have a single sports car in its range.

The big 501 saloon launched in 1951 was the first automobile to have been manufactured after the war, with a pre-war six-cylinder under the bonnet, even though conditions weren’t
ideal for a car of this nature. Some tests were already starting with a V8 engine that had just been brought to production stage in 1954. BMW launched it in the same year at the Geneva Motor Show, in the first instance as a power unit for the saloon. 

The Project

In 1954 BMW’s Board of Management was thinking of a new model that could be equipped with this unit: a sports flagship projecting a modern image for the brand. Max Hoffman, General Importer for BMW in the USA, perceived Albrecht Graf von Goertz to have the genius and know-how that could successfully shape the sports car style
in the USA during the second half of the 1950s.

BMW 507 BMW 507 - ad flyer

Hoffman encouraged Goertz to take up contact with BMW and recommended him to Munich. Goertz produced a sketch for an incredibly beautiful
car and was commissioned to design the new sports model.

BMW 507

However, the commission wasn’t restricted to developing the future roadster for mass production. In order to gain a proper foothold in the luxury class – particularly in the USA – BMW wanted to line up a four-seater coupé alongside the
sports two-seater.

This four-seater would also have the option of a retractable convertible top. The type designations for the two projects were quickly defined, with 507 intended for the sports car and 503 for the coupé.

Goertz’s prototype was choosen by the Board of Management over the alternative prototype created by Ernst Loof, designated as the 502 sports car. In Munich, the first bodies were handcrafted from sheet aluminium on a wooden mock-up at lightning pace. After not quite 18 months of development time, the first prototypes of the 507 were ready.

The Models

BMW 507 - interiorBMW 507 – the interior

The 507 made its debut in 1955 at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. When Albrecht Graf von Goertz revealed the BMW 507, he wasn’t
just launching a new sports car – he was also setting a design benchmark. Two examples of a beautiful sports car were on display in the foyer
of the Waldorf Astoria. The 507 bore a completely new countenance, but nevertheless one that was typically BMW.

The twin-kidney grille hadn’t been envisaged in the initial drafts, but it was now broad instead of high and swept elegantly across the front of the car between the headlights. Extended lines along the side, a swept-back design and a seemingly unending engine bonnet shaped the timeless, beautiful design of this dream car.

BMW 503 (1956-1960)BMW 503 (1956-1960)

The air inlets were
a characteristic feature. They were positioned at the side behind the wheels, which prominently displayed the white-and-blue emblem.
The two cars standing among the flashing cameras remained prototypes. Information about the engineering was confined to key data: alloy body with eight-cylinder engine, four-speed gearbox and hydraulic drum brakes.

Data on driving performance was restricted to vague specifications. The speedometer positioned on the left behind the white plastic four-spoke steering wheel went up to 240 km/h.

A little later, the 507 was unveiled in Germany at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show in 1955 together with the second design by Goertz – the 503

The two-door car presented itself both as a coupé and as a convertible and had a modern, elegant pontoon body.

“This is not about opulence.
What we see here is an aristocratic breed with lines verging on the modest.
An ideal foil for the wonderful eight-cylinder engine”
, was one of the accolades showered on the debutante.

BMW 503 - Engine

There was no B-pillar to spoil the sweep of the contours, and the four side windows could be lowered completely. The narrow C-pillar was a dominant feature giving the impression of supreme automobile elegance, particularly when the windows were open.

The diverse markets for the two new BMW automobiles were obvious from the form of the
kidney-shaped grille typical of BMW.

The 503 gave a rather more conservative impression, with the vertical twin oval shape at the front, familiar from the 501/502 saloons. Meanwhile, the 507 had the revolutionary new horizontal version, with the kidneys spanning almost the entire width of the vehicle between the headlamps. A perfect countenance.

The BMW 503 Cabriolet The BMW 503 Cabriolet
The BMW 503 Cabriolet

It wasn’t until 1956 that the two new top models went into mass production. First came the BMW 503, but delivery of the first 507 was awaited with even greater excitement.

BMW 503 Coupé

The big moment had come in December 1956 and the first customer – from a highly aristocratic background – took delivery of his alloy sports car. "Sexy and self-assured, cloaked in its skin-tight body”, was how one leading post-war test engineer described the first post-war sports car from the BMW stable. It was a very unusual car, and not at all teutonic.

“The BMW 507 is not a car that will earn Bayerische Motorenwerk any money. Its main purpose is to represent BMW’s tradition of sporty, high-quality vehicles.”

The BMW 507 embodied a chic lifestyle that most Germans were only familiar with from the dream world of the movie theatres.

As in the case of the 503, the chassis of the 507 was based on the chassis of the 507 saloon. However, the box-type chassis was shortened, giving the roadster a wheelbase of 2,480 millimetres and a total length of 4.38 metres. This meant that the sports car was significantly shorter than the saloon and the 503 coupé, which had a total length of 4.75 metres and a wheelbase of 2,835 millimetres.

The End

BMW 507 with Hard Top at Frankfurt in 1955The BMW 507 with hard top at Frankfurt in 1955

Max Hoffman continued to be enthusiastic about the car – but not about the price. He had anticipated a purchase price of around DM 12,000, but the production costs of the aluminium sports car with its eight-cylinder engine were much too high for a price in this range.

When the 507 was launched,
it costed precisely DM 26,500, with a hard top piling on another 1,500 marks. What’s more, the competition in foreign markets was much too strong.

The price list in Great Britain showed a sum of £ 4,201 for the 507, while a Jaguar XK140 was less than half that price at £ 1,693 and an Aston Martin could be had starting at £ 3,901.

Of course, anyone who could afford the price tag was clearly not going to be deterred by these differences. Celebrities like Elvis Presley, Alain Delon,
Ursula Andress or Toni Sailer indulged in a BMW 507.

Despite the illustrious customer list and the initial euphoria, the American market could not be won over. US customers quickly became disenchanted with the relationship between price and performance. The brochure featured the very competitive top speed of 220 km/h but there was a footnote to the effect that this was achieved with a seat cover and racing windscreen.

BMW 503 Cabriolet

BMW carried out a series of detailed changes and improvements in
June 1957, with the aim of winning over potential customers for the 507.

45 cars had been supplied up to that point. Repositioning the fuel tank
was the key change made. In the first series, it had been sited behind the front seats and held 110 litres, while in the second series it was located under the boot with a capacity of 65 litres.

The 503 also didn’t sell as well as had originally been hoped. Interestingly, BMW sold more of the coupé than of the sports car, even though
the 2+2-seater was more expensive. 219 cars had already come off the production line by December 1957, when the elegant tourer was also reworked. Anyone trying to see the changes by just looking at the body would have had a hard time to spot the difference.

BMW 503 - the cockpitBMW 503 – the cockpit

In 1958 the two prestige cars were not in tune with the business context at BMW.

The company would be unable to afford the luxury of the expensive and complex production process for much longer. A total of 251 examples of the 507 had been produced by 1959, plus three chassis for the special versions. The US market originally intended for the sales drive
had the lowest sales, with only 39 roadsters going to the USA as new cars.

The majority of the 507 cars have survived, with an estimated 240 roadsters still extant today. Manufacture of the 503 came to an end in the same year.

412 cars rolled off the assembly line in Munich, 139 of these had an open-top roof. Although sales in the USA were better, the main markets were in Germany and Switzerland.

The number of 503 coupés and convertibles still in existence today is estimated at around 250.

BMW 507 – Technical Data

BMW 507 - cutaway drawing BMW 507 – cutaway drawing

  • Period: 1956–1959
  • Units: 251
  • Price: DM 26,500

Weight and
dimensions

  • length x width x height (mm): 4,380 x 1,650 x 1,260
  • wheel base (mm): 2,480
  • front track (mm): 1,445
  • rear track (mm): 1,425
  • empty weight (kg): 1,220
  • permissible total weight (kg): 1,500
  • fuel consumption (l/100 km): 17
  • Maximum speed: 190–220

Engine

  • Type: eight-cylinder V-engine
  • bore x stroke (mm): 82 x 75
  • Displacement: 3,168
  • Power output: 150 PS at 5,000 U/min
  • compression: 1:7,8
  • valves: Overhead, central camshaft, carburetion system 2 Zenith 32 NDIX dual-barrel downdraught carburettors

Power train

  • clutch: Single dry plate clutch
  • transmission: Four-speed, central shift, synchromesh on all gears
  • gearbox ratios: 1:3,776/1:2,353/1:1,49/1:1
  • (sporty gearbox: 1:3,54/1:2,202/1:1,395/1:1)
  • reverse gear: 1:5,377 (sporty gearbox: 1:5,03)
  • drive transmission: 1:3,7 (series) or 1:3,42 or 1:3,9

Electric system

  • generator 200 W
  • battery 12 V 56 Ah
  • spark plugs: Bosch W 24 RT 1  or Beru E 240/14 (with radio)

Chassis

  • body/chassis Full protection-box frame
    with tubular cross members
  • rear-wheel suspension: Banjo axle located by spring levers and Panhard rod
  • wheel rims 4,5 E x 16
  • tyres: 6,00–16
  • front brakes: Hydraulic two leading-shoe, brakes with servo, front brake diameter (mm) 284
  • rear brakes: Hydraulic leading-shoe, drum brakes with servo, rear brake diameter (mm)   284

BMW 503 – Technical Data

  • Production period: 1955–1960
  • Units: 139
  • Price: 29,500 DM

Weight and
dimensions

  • length x width x height (mm): 4,750 x 1,710 x 1,440
  • wheel base (mm): 2,835
  • front track (mm): 1,400
  • rear track (mm): 1,420
  • empty weight (kg): 1,500
  • permissible total weight (kg) 1,800
  • fuel consumption (l/100 km) 16
  • Maximum speed 190

Engine

  • Type eight-cylinder V-engine
  • bore x stroke (mm) 82 x 75
  • Displacement 3,168
  • Power output 140 PS at 4,800 U/min
  • compression 1:7,3
  • valves Overhead, central camshaft
  • carburetion system 2 Zenith 32 NDIX dual-barrel
    downdraught carburettors

Power train

  • clutch Single dry plate clutch
  • transmission Four-speed, steering-column shift, synchromesh on all gears; from Sept. 1957: four-speed, central shift
  • gearbox ratios 1:3,78/1:2,35/1:1,49/1:1
  • (sporty gearbox: 1: 3,54/ 1:2,202/1:1,395/1:1)
  • reverse gear 1 : 5,38 (sporty gearbox: 1:5,03)
  • drive transmission 1 : 3,89 or 1 : 3,42

Electric system

  • generator 200 W
  • battery 12 V 56 Ah
  • spark plugs Bosch W 225 RT 1 or
    Beru E 225/14 (with radio)

Chassis

  • body/chassis Full protection-box frame with
    tubular cross members
  • rear-wheel suspension Banjo axle located by spring levers and wishbone
  • wheel rims 4,5 E x 16
  • tyres 6,00–16
  • front brakes: Hydraulic drum brakes, front brake diameter (mm) 284
  • rear brakes: Hydraulic drum brakes, rear brake diameter (mm) 284

(Source: Bmw)

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