For a car to be chosen for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, it has to be exceptional. For a model to be given a class of its own at Pebble Beach, it has to exhibit design, technology and history on par with the finest cars ever created. This year, the BMW 507 joined the illustrious list of cars so celebrated, with six 507s—four production cars and two prototypes—given a prime spot along the cliffs above the grey Pacific Ocean.
One of those cars was the elusive number 70192, the car once owned by actress Ursula Andress, while another had been the prize possession of actor David Carradine. The 507s were some of the most glamorous cars of their day, owned by Hollywood royalty as well as the real thing: the King of Morocco had one, and so did Prince Rainier of Monaco. All 507s are special, and two of the six on display were more so than the rest. In addition to the four production cars wearing the familiar—and stunningly beautiful—bodywork by Albrecht Graf von Goertz, two prototypes showed competing visions by Giovanni Michelotti and Raymond Loewy. We’ll leave it to you to decide which of these cars is preferable—it might even be the Ernst Loof car that wasn’t at Pebble Beach, but which we’ve included here for perspective.
We’ve covered the origins of the 507 in previous issues of Bimmer; the most complete model history was authored by Ken Gross for issue #56. That article was written just before the English-language publication of Dr. Karlheinz Lange’s definitive model history for BMW Mobile Tradition, The legendary BMW 507, and thus it perpetuates a myth about the car’s origins.
As the former head of BMW’s powertrain division and the author of the seminal BMW Engines, Lange had unimpeded access to the BMW Archive, and his investigations reveal as incorrect the popular belief that the 507 was suggested to BMW by U.S. importer Max Hoffman. Lange presents evidence that the 507 project began instead in Munich, where BMW’s engineers and marketing staff began planning a sports car in March 1953.
A complete prototype known as the 503a was built that year to assess the viability of the project, and on March 1, 1954 the BMW board decided to build “an initial prototype of an open sports car.” Fritz Fiedler was given responsibility for the car’s construction, with its frame to be built in the test department run by Mr. Kermer and final assembly conducted by Ernst Loof at the Nürburgring development center (formerly Loof’s Veritas workshop).
As Dr. Lange writes, “The design department in Munich had already prepared preliminary drawings. The ‘blueprint for a 507a chassis’ is dated March 9, 1954.” Lange says it’s likely that Hoffman saw photos of the car for the first time in September 1954. He didn’t like it, and so went to Italy to investigate alternatives. Returning to the U.S., he met Goertz at the New York motor show and asked him to produce some sketches, which were sent to BMW at the end of October 1954. In September 1955, a 507 prototype (70002) with a body to Goertz’ design was shown at the Frankfurt IAA, and that’s the car that went into production in December 1956 as a 1957 model, and which the world knows today as the BMW 507.
Its high price rendered it a failure in the marketplace, and only 254 cars were built before the last one left the Munich factory in December 1959. Though Hoffman had expected to sell around 2,000 examples in the U.S., only 41 cars were delivered as new to this country. Most remained in Europe, with Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland constituting the largest markets for 507s.