507s star at Pebble Beach

Celebrated this summer with a class of their own, six 507s graced the lawn at Pebble Beach, including cars owned by Ursula Andress, David Carradine, a rare Series I and two prototypes.

507s star at Pebble Beach 1
October 25, 2013

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.

As the six cars on display at Pebble Beach remind us, the 507 is indeed a legendary beauty, one whose presence on the 18th fairway is well deserved.

A star and her car

70192: The ex-Ursula Andress 507

507s star at Pebble Beach 2

For decades, BMW 507 number 70192 was reported to have been the car driven by Elvis Presley while he was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, and which he’d given to Ursula Andress after the two made a movie together in 1963. We knew that the real Elvis 507, the one he drove in Germany, was instead number 70079—see Bimmer #83 for the full story on that car—but we also knew that 70192 had an impressive provenance of its own via Andress’ ownership. How she’d gotten it remained a myster, however, one we wanted to clear up once and for all when we found out that the car would join the 507 class at Pebble Beach this summer. Was 70192 really a gift to Ursula Andress from Elvis Presley? Or did she get it from John Derek, her husband at the time? Perhaps she simply bought it herself; as one of the world’s most sought-after film stars in 1963, she certainly had the means.

Anything was possible, so we did what any good journalist would do: We called her on the phone and asked her ourselves.

If you search the internet for “Elvis’ 507,” you’ll be told on a number of sites that it was 70192. That’s because the car was sold as such by Barrett-Jackson back in 1997, and perhaps earlier, as well. The misinformation stuck, and the car became widely accepted as “Elvis’ 507” until we questioned it in print on Bimmer’s Back Page in issue #63.

Why were we sure that 70192 wasn’t Elvis’ car? Because Elvis’ car was also said to have been raced by Hans Stuck, and Hans Stuck only raced two 507s: 70079 and 70145. Elvis’ car couldn’t have been the latter, because Stuck was racing it throughout 1959, during the time that Elvis supposed had his 507. That left 70079, which we eventually confirmed with BMW Classic and the world’s foremost expert on 507s, Dr. Lange.

One of the people who saw our story about 70079 in Bimmer #63 was Jack Castor, who wrote in shortly thereafter to tell us that he was the car’s owner, and that it had been stored just down the coast from Bimmer HQ for almost 40 years—a lot of time for a car to be forgotten, and for misinformation to accrue.

As we discuss at length in Bimmer #83, 70079 was completed in Munich on September 13, 1957. A few days after leaving the factory, 70079 graced BMW’s display at the 1957 Frankfurt show, then served as a factory demonstrator driven by Hans Stuck as well as members of the automotive press. Stuck raced it, too, winning three hillclimbs with it in 1958. It was refurbished at BMW toward the end of that year, and on December 12 it was delivered to Autohaus Wirth in Frankfurt, Germany, from which it ended up in the hands of Elvis Presley.

70079 came to the U.S. in 1960, the same year that Elvis returned to the U.S. after a two-year stint in Germany. It was presented in New York as “Elvis’ 507,” but there’s no hard evidence that Elvis himself imported it, or that he ever drove a 507 on U.S. soil. The car was purchased by radio personality Tommy Charles, who brought it to Alabama and modified it extensively with a Chevy V8 engine and a custom interior.

Not long after, it ended up in the basement of an Atlanta BMW dealership, where a young Air Force pilot named Lloyd Cottle traded a Ferrari GTE and $1,500 for it in 1966. Two years later, Cottle sold it to Jack Castor, its current owner, who drove it for a few years with its Chevy drivetrain and in 1973 took it off the road, hoping to reunite it with a BMW V8 and the correct transmission.

In the interim, 70192 came to be known as the Elvis 507, though it’s really the Ursula Andress 507. That part of its provenance has never been disputed about 70192, though the car’s earlier history has usually been confused with that of 70079.

According to researchers at the Pebble Beach Concours, 70192 was built on November 30, 1958 and delivered to the importer in New York City, presumably Max Hoffman’s Park Avenue dealership. Elvis, meanwhile, was stationed in Germany from October 1, 1958 until his return to the U.S. on March 2, 1960, three days prior to his discharge from the Army.

507s star at Pebble Beach 3

The provenance of 70192 after its delivery to New York in late 1958 remains obscure until 1963, when it became the property of Ursula Andress, who’d become one of the world’s hottest stars when she emerged from the Caribbean in a white bikini in the James Bond film Dr. No a year earlier.

Her next film, 1963’s Fun in Acalpulco, put her on another beach, this time with Elvis Presley. When filming was over, Elvis wanted to give her a car, and he supposedly offered her one of his Cadillacs. The Swiss-born Andress told him a 507 was more to her taste, and one was delivered to her in California: 70192.

Or so the story said. Andress was married at the time to John Derek, and it was suggested by some sources that Derek had given her the car, not Elvis. To find out how she’d gotten her 507, we decided to ask Andress herself. She seemed a bit surprised by the question, but she was nonetheless forthcoming with information about her 507.

“The car was a present from Elvis after we finished work on the movie,” Andress said by phone from her home near Rome, Italy.

And what about the modifications the car received during her ownership, those that the 2011 RM auction catalog says were done by George Barris?

“I was married at the time to John [Derek]. John had the car changed almost immediately,” Andress said. “He put some new bumpers on it and put my pictures all over the dashboard.”

The pictures are gone, but the car still has the “nerf bars” installed by Barris. It also got a Ford 289 V8 during that time, mercifully replaced with a BMW V8 by a subsequent owner. (70192’s current owner has since acquired its original engine and plans to reinstall it.)

“I loved the car and drove it almost every day, around the ranch and to the city, everywhere,” Andress told Bimmer. “Later, I put it in storage like so many other things. I had my stuff in storage all over the place. Some time later, I sold it to George Barris for $10,000.”

For its 2011 Monterey auction catalog, RM Auctions wrote the following of the car’s post-Andress provenance: “The car was eventually sold through Barris to Mark Smith, who found a correct BMW 507 engine and transmission for the car and returned it to its original stock appearance and white color [not quite; see below], though the modified bumpers remain in place. It was acquired by Nick Harley from Smith, then sold to the Imperial Palace Collection where it remained on display until it was acquired by the Lyon family, where it has been carefully maintained in the family’s extensive collection since.”

The Lyon family most likely bought the car at the Barrett-Jackson auction in 1997, the last time it was offered prior to its 2011 sale. At Barrett-Jackson, the car gavelled for $350,000, having been presented as the “Elvis 507,” which the King had given as gift to Andress following the conclusion of filming on Fun in Acapulco.

507s star at Pebble Beach 4

A number of Elvis fansites, not to mention BMW sites, repeated Barrett-Jackson’s assumption that 70192 had been Elvis’ 507, which was only the case if Elvis titled it to himself before giving it to Andress. That might have happened, but we’ve never seen evidence that it did, and neither has anyone else to our knowledge.

Nonetheless, the mystery remains of what the car did between its production date of November 30, 1958 and its delivery to Andress sometime after filming on Fun in Acapulco ended on March 16, 1963. A lot can happen in five years, but it’s entirely possible that the car simply sat at Hoffman’s dealership. 507s weren’t exactly hot sellers, in part because they were absurdly expensive—around $11,500, far more than a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing and nearly four times the price of a Corvette. The car might have been brand-new even in 1963.

In any case, 70192 not only has the wrong serial number but the wrong color to be the car Elvis drove in Germany. 70192 is currently white over red, but Elvis’ 70079 was originally delivered in Feather White and repainted red sometime in 1959; it’s still red today. According to Dr. Lange, 70192 was delivered in Stone Gray, not the white it was wearing by the time RM gavelled it in 2011. Even in the black-and-white photos of the ’50s that show Elvis with a 507, few would argue that the car is wearing Stone Grey.

To RM’s credit, its auction catalogs made no claims for 70192 as the “Elvis 507,” presenting it simply as ex-Ursula Andress. “It has always been widely believed, though not documented, that this BMW 507 was given to her as a gift by Elvis,” the catalog stated.

Advertised thusly, the car sold to Erich Traber of Switzerland, who’d bid on the car at Barrett-Jackson in 1997 but hadn’t been willing to go beyond the $350,000 paid by the Lyon family. He didn’t forget about 70192, however, and fourteen years later Traber paid more than three times as much to finally get Ursula’s 507: $1.072 million, more than 100 times its value when Andress sold it to Barris.

“So somebody won the lottery, it seems,” Andress laughed upon hearing the news. “It had been sold so many times before. Well, it was a lovely car.”

Third In Class

70019: A rare Series I 507

This white-over-red 507 was brought to Pebble Beach by Lukas Huni of Zurich, Switzerland, who also brought the gorgeous 1932 Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 Touring Spider that was one of 28 8Cs that made up a class of their own on the 18th fairway. Built in March 1957 and delivered to Switzerland, number 70019 is one of only 34 Series I 507s, and it was the second car to get the “stronger spring arm and brackets” that became standard on subsequent cars.

Also known as the “Continental Version,” the Series I 507s are identified by a body-colored panel behind the seats, which covers the area occupied by the fuel tank. As Huni explained, customers complained of the smell of fuel inside the cockpit, particularly with the top up or the optional hardtop fitted, as on his car at Pebble Beach. A lack of legroom also led BMW to relocate the tank to a space below the trunk floor, alongside the spare tire.

507s star at Pebble Beach 5

Huni bought 70019 about four years ago from its second owner, who’d had it since 1963. Its upholstery is still original and in good condition, but its carpet was replaced about 20 years ago and Huni had to have the body repainted out of necessity. He doesn’t like overrestored cars, and strives to keep all his cars as original as possible. This is his only BMW in a collection made up largely of Alfas and Bugattis, but he says the 2,878-lb. car is fun to drive and quite quick.

“The engine runs really great,” he told the Pebble Beach judges. “It’s not the original engine but one from a 502 or 503 that Mr. Pichler [the second owner] had rebuilt. The handling is excellent, too. I think this car could handle 200 horsepower.”

Second In Class

70048: An early Series II

restored by BMW Classic

Fresh from a ground-up restoration at BMW Classic in Munich, Jeff Lotman’s 507 number 70048 was delivered from the factory to Switzerland when new in 1957. After two Swiss owners, the car went to the Panini Museum near Modena, Italy, which displayed it for 30 years before selling it at auction two years ago.

Purchased by Lotman shortly thereafter, 70048 was sent immediately to Munich, where it constituted BMW Classic’s first ground-up restoration for a customer. Seven days before Pebble Beach, it arrived in California wearing a fresh coat of Graphite metallic paint over Cognac leather rather than its original white over blue. Lotman’s wife picked the color combination from the options that were available when the 507 was new, and it’s stunning. In fact, the 507 looks so good in Graphite that it’s hard to believe only 13 customers chose this color from the factory.

Lotman wanted a 1957 model for its Mille Miglia eligibility, but he didn’t fit into a Series I. He ended up with the third car built to the updated specification known as Series II, which featured a relocated fuel tank from the area behind the seats to below the trunk floor for less odor and more legroom, the latter to satisfy Hoffman’s request on behalf of his taller U.S. customers. While Series II became the BMW norm in June 1957, six were built in the midst of Series I production, with 70046 being the last Series I car to leave the factory.

Regardless of series, the 507s were subject to numerous production updates over the years, and Lotman’s car got the same “stronger spring arm/brackets” as Huni’s Series I, plus standardized shoes for its front and rear drum brakes. During its restoration, BMW Classic uprated the car with increased output—165 rather than 150 hp, as was optional from new. Its front disc brakes, another factory option, were installed by 70048’s first owner after they became available on August 8, 1959.

Those are important upgrades for the fast-paced Mille Miglia, not to mention everyday usability in Los Angeles, where Lotman lives. He says the restoration by BMW Classic “exceeded my expectations,” but now that it’s been shown it’s time to drive it. “This car is a keeper for me.”

507s star at Pebble Beach 6

First In Class

70138: The ex-David Carradine 507

As we’ve seen with the John Surtees, Elvis Presley and Ursula Andress cars featured here and in other issues of Bimmer, celebrity provenance is fairly common among 507s. Current owner Charals Haagen of Malibu, California purchased 70138 about 30 years ago from actor David Carradine, who’d bought it while starring in the television series Kung Fu (1972-1975).

When new, the car was delivered from the BMW factory in Munich to the Imperial Garage in Paris in May 1958. Its blue color is thought to be original—a high-end car like the 507 could certainly be ordered in any color the customer wished, though nothing that approximates 70138’s shade appears in Dr. Lange’s definitive list of the 29 colors available from the factory. A slight variation on French Racing Blue, it certainly makes sense considering the car’s original destination, which also accounts for the car’s amber turn signal lenses front and rear. (507s for other markets had clear lenses.)

Haagen’s car also has the factory-optional chrome exhaust tips, Becker radio, back-up lights and high-intensity horn, along with a factory hardtop that wasn’t in place at Pebble Beach. Its Rudge-style knock-off wheels (aka centerlocks) were another factory option, but those supplied by BMW were known to crack, so Haagen ordered a set of wheels respun by Paul Russell to the much-stronger Mercedes 300 SL specification.

Although the car hasn’t really undergone a full restoration, Haagen calls it a long-term restoration project. He drives it only occasionally, but his BMW affiliation goes deep: When Haagen was 13 or 14 years old, his father bought a silver 507 that captured young Charals’ imagination.

“It’s just beautiful,” he says. The Pebble Beach judges agree, and so do we.

Display Only

70184: Michelotti’s

would-be successor

507s star at Pebble Beach 7

Italian designer Giovanni Michelotti had a close relationship with BMW in the 1950s and into the ’60s. Dr. Lange writes that he worked with the factory on alternative styling for the 501, and that he designed the 505 shown at Frankfurt in 1955 as well as the midsize 530 sedan, both of which went unbuilt thanks to BMW’s financial troubles of the late 1950s. Not all of Michelotti’s designs remained mere studies, however: He’s credited with the successful 700, for example, and he also contributed to the design of the Neue Klasse sedans that brought BMW back to prominence in the 1960s.

Before 1959’s 700, however, Michelotti created a two-seat roadster that he hoped would succeed Goertz’ car as a second-generation 507. He completed his first drawing for the car on July 25, 1957, but work on the actual automobile didn’t begin until 507 number 70184 was delivered to Italy in August 1958. Its bodywork was built by Carrozzeria Scaglietti in Maranello (across the street from the Ferrari factory), and the car was assembled at Vignale in Turin. The finished car was exhibited in May 1959 at the Turin Motor Show, identified as the Michelotti 3200 for its 3.2-liter V8 engine.

As reported in Bimmer #71, the car languished in Italy following its debut. In 1980, it was sold to the Earl of Chichester, who sold it through Christies in 1986 to Oscar Davis of New Jersey. Davis sold it to the Blackhawk Museum in California in 2001, and in 2005 it returned to Munich, where BMW Mobile Tradition (now Classic) repainted it and rebuilt its engine.

Display Only

70024: Loewy’s Avanti preview

In 1956, even before the 507 went into production, Paris-born American designer Raymond Loewy saw the car at the Paris Auto Salon and decided to create his own design for the BMW. One suspects that Loewy wanted to upstage his former employee, Albrecht Graf von Goertz, who’d been commissioned by Max Hoffman to draft an alternative to Ernst Loof’s “unsaleable” prototype. (Loewy reportedly told Goertz he’d never become a designer, and that he’d do better to find himself a rich wife!)

Loewy was unsuccessful in his attempts to order a chassis until Goertz intervened, contacting Fritz Fiedler on Loewy’s behalf. On February 28, 1957, chassis number 70024 is completed in Munich and delivered to coachbuilder Pichon et Parat in Sens, France, near a house Loewy owned. Pichon et Parat bodied the car in plastic to Loewy’s design, and the vehicle was shown at the Paris Auto Salon in October 1957.

Offering it for sale for $12,000 but finding no takers, Loewy used it as a road car until it was damaged in an accident in 1958, after which it was rebuilt. He later brought it to the U.S. and in 1962 donated it to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles. It currently resides in the collection of the Petersen Automotive Museum, which brought it to Pebble Beach for display.

As Dr. Lange reports, BMW wasn’t at all pleased with Loewy’s work, and the company considered legal action before deciding it would be futile, “since there is nothing to stop anyone fitting a special body to a chassis they have already purchased from us. Since the styling of the model in question is in no way superior to our own sports car…the board has decided not to take the matter further.”

Those who did find the styling attractive could find its echo in the Studebaker Avanti, a subsequent Loewy design that went into production in 1962 using many of the Loewy 507’s design elements, albeit in milder form.

In Absentia

70001: Loof’s prototype

The Pebble Beach organizers had hoped to show 70001, the original 507 prototype designed by Ernst Loof, alongside the cars designed by Goertz, Michelotti and Loewy, but its owner was unable to ship it from Germany. We thought you’d like to see the original 507 nonetheless, so we dug up a shot from the photos taken by late Bimmer contributor Jerry Sloniger.

Its history is discussed at length in issue #25, but a brief recap shows this car as the original prototype and development car known as the 528 during 1954, the same year that Loof shut down his Veritas car company and returned to BMW. The design shows plenty of Veritas influence in its shape and detail, and indeed it was built at the former Veritas shop at the Nürburgring rather than in Munich.

Loof shortened a 502 chassis by 2.5 inches, giving the sports car a 97.7-inch wheelbase, then took the 1:10-scale clay model made by Heinz Jacht only a day earlier to Baur of Stuttgart, where the body was built in aluminum. Five weeks later, the car was returned to the ’Ring and fitted with a 2.6-liter BMW V8 engine and other drivetrain parts, then towed back to Stuttgart to have its interior fitted. By August 1954, Loof and Jacht were testing it at the ’Ring, and two weeks later it won a gold medal at the Bad Neuenahr concours.

Despite such favorable notice, BMW had already decided—thanks to U.S. importer Max Hoffman’s declaration that the Loof car would prove “unsaleable”—to go with Goertz’ design, even though the Loof car proved not only beautiful but fast thanks to its superior aerodynamics. Where the Goertz car (70002) could hit just 122 mph on the ’Ring’s long straight, the Loof car reached 135 mph even with a driver of lesser skill (technician Paul List vs. GP racer Hans Stuck Sr.). Alas, that wasn’t enough to put Loof’s design into production, and 70001 remained a one-off. It passed through a number of hands in Italy before returning to Germany in 1967. In 1972, it was purchased by Karl-Heinz Franke of Allgäu, its owner when Sloniger covered it for Bimmer in 2002 and presumably today.

Like Bimmer on Facebook