Elvis’ Little Sister

Rivals when new, stablemates in retirement, 507s #70079 and #70089 are inextricably linked. Having illuminated the history of the ex-Elvis #70079, we turn the spotlight on #70089, revealing a provenance that’s nearly as compelling.

Photo: Elvis’ Little sister 1
October 20, 2016

If a car can be said to have a destiny, 507 number 70089 seems fated to live in the shadow of a car built just one month earlier: 507 number 70079, which became the most famous BMW of all by virtue of having been owned by Elvis Presley during his time with the U.S. Army in Germany.

Before Elvis got it, #70079 was owned by BMW and raced by Hans Stuck, already a German racing legend thanks to his years as an Auto Union Grand Prix driver before WWII. In two of those races, Stuck beat an ex-Porsche factory pilot of similar age, Helm Glöckler, driving 507 #70089.

Since only a handful of 507s were raced, that in itself intertwines these two cars serendipitously. But that’s not all: About 15 years later, both cars would end up in Jack Castor’s Northern California warehouse, where they’d be stored side by side for more than 40 years before being flown together to Munich. There, they’d be restored by BMW Classic in time for BMW’s 100th anniversary celebration at Monterey this summer.

Photo: Elvis’ Little sister 2
We’ve examined the history of the ex-Elvis #70079 in depth, and now it’s time to take a look at its longtime California stablemate and worthy hillclimb rival in southern Germany when both cars were new.

AN ILLUSTRIOUS RACING FAMILY

Manufactured by BMW in Munich on October 16, 1957, 507 #70089 left the factory wearing light grey Papyrus paint over a dark blue leather interior. It was equipped with the factory hardtop, which remains with the car to this day, and it was exhibited at the BMW Pavilion in Munich before being delivered to Autohaus Wilhelm Glöckler in Frankfurt on March 11, 1958.

Porsche enthusiasts will recognize the Glöckler name: Wilhelm was an enthusiastic racer throughout the 1930s, and his dealership was licensed to sell Volkswagens right after World War II. Like most people in the Frankfurt-area racing community, he was acquainted with the Porsche family, and he built his first Glöckler special in 1950 using a 1.1-liter Porsche engine in a VW-based chassis designed by Hermann Ramelow. Ramelow had designed some of Adler’s highly advanced sports cars before the war, making him an excellent choice for Glöckler’s effort.

The success of the first Glöckler Porsche led to a close relationship with the Porsche factory and further specials that used Porsche’s latest racing engines. The second car also used knock-off magnesium wheels built by Alex von Falkenhausen in between his stints at BMW. In late 1951, the second Glöckler Porsche was purchased and raced in the U.S. by BMW’s original North American importer, Max Hoffman.

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The third Glöckler Porsche was kept in the family and raced by Wilhelm Glöckler’s son Helmut, known as Helm, to the German sports car championship in 1952. Helm was 41 years old at the time, and he already had plenty of experience: From 1948 to 1950, he raced a BMW 328-based Veritas RS to eight wins and a number of additional podium finishes. He also drove a BMW 501 to third place in the 1954 Monte Carlo rally with motorcycle legend Georg Meier.

Helm Glöckler’s success with the third Glöckler Porsche would launch him onto the Porsche factory team in 1953, and the Glöckler specials would inspire the factory’s 550 race cars. Glöckler raced 550–01 to a win in its very first race, taking the checkers at a rain-drenched Nürburgring on May 31, 1953. He’d remain a Porsche factory driver through 1956, but most of his races seem to have ended in DNFs. In 1957, he raced internationally just once, teamed with Wolfgang Siedel for the Mille Miglia. Driving a Mercedes 300 SL, the pair DNF’d.

By the time 507 #70089 arrived at the family Autohaus, which also sold BMWs, Helm appears to have retired from international competition. The car’s arrival seems to have inspired Glöckler to don his helmet yet again, perhaps to advertise the new BMW.

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Helm was accustomed to racing on tracks, not in public-road hillclimbs, but the 507 wasn’t a real race car like BMW’s prewar 328 roadster. As Dr. Karlheinz Lange noted in his 507 history, “Due to its relatively high weight for a sports car and its limited engine output, the BMW 507 was not suitable for circuit racing. BMW chose instead to concentrate on hillclimbs, in which the car had a good chance of winning the GT class.”

Helm Glöckler seems to have made the same determination.

A HILLCLIMB CAREER WITH STUCK AS NEMESIS

He entered #70089 in its first hillclimb on May 11, 1958. The Rossfeld event ran between Berchtesgaden and Obersalzburg on an Alpine road that had hosted hillclimbs since the 1920s, including an epic 1928 battle between Hans Stuck in the Austro-Daimler and Rudi Caracciola in a Mercedes SSK.

Stuck was the victor in that 1928 battle, and he won again in 1958, driving the factory 507—#70079—to first place in the GT class for cars over 1,600cc. As he did 30 years earlier, he relegated a Mercedes to second, this one Theo Geither’s 300 SLR. Driving 507 #70089, our man Glöckler finished third.

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How fast was the “Mountain King” Stuck on the treacherous Rossfeld hillclimb? Well, he posted times of 4 minutes 32.8 seconds and 4:34.0 in his two runs, beating Geither by 11.5 and 6.9 seconds and Glöckler by 13.1 and 7.3 seconds. (Glöckler had posted a 4:45.9 and a 4:41.3 to finish third.)

On July 27, 1958, Glöckler decided to race #70089 in the Freiburg-Schauinsland hillclimb, which required drivers to negotiate 127 corners over 7.5 miles, climbing 2,624 feet along the way. Stuck was also entered in this difficult race-against-the-clock; driving 507 #70079, he’d take first place in the GT class for cars over 2,600cc. Again, Geither finished second, and Glöckler was third in 507 #70089.

Glöckler started the 1959 hillclimb season on May 9, 1959, entering #70089 in the Wallberg hillclimb above the Tegernsee in Bavaria. Completed only in 1937, the Wallberg road is about 2.5 miles long, but it climbs at a pitch of 10–12% through forests and alongside sheer rock walls. Stuck won this race, too, this time driving a different 507: #70145, the car fettled by Alex von Falkenhausen for better performance. Glöckler finished second to Bergmeister Stuck.

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On June 14, 1959, Glöckler entered #70089 in his second Rossfeld hillclimb. This time, Glöckler’s runs of 4:27.7 and 4:20.5 were some 20 seconds faster than he’d made the climb a year earlier, but they were good for only fourth place in the GT class for cars over 2,000cc. He’d finish behind Stuck, his old teammate Siedel in a Ferrari 250 GT and Geither in the Mercedes, but this time he’d closed the gap to his nemesis Stuck, running 10.5 and 6.2 seconds slower than Stuck’s winning times of 4:17.2 and 4:14.3.

On July 26, 1959, Glöckler entered the Freiburg-Schauinsland hillclimb. Once again, he finished behind Stuck in 507 #70145. Even though Stuck was well known as the Bergmeister, or Mountain King, it had to have gotten old. After Freiburg-Schauinsland, Glöckler and #70089 called it a day.

TIME IN TEXAS, AND ON TO CALIFORNIA

After that, #70089’s history becomes a bit murky, like that of so many cars. Following its last race at Schauinsland in the summer of 1959, no records exist until March 12, 1968. That’s when it was registered in Texas by Nat Kalt to his Stinson Field Aircraft company. Kalt had bought it from John Estrada in Munich for $500 and shipped it to his home in San Antonio, Texas.

Kalt was no stranger to 507s. He also owned 507 #70247, the black 507 featured on the cover of Road&Track, March 1962. That issue also featured a story on #70079, highlighting the engine swap performed by Tommy Charles but making no mention of the car’s history with Hans Stuck or Elvis Presley.

Photo: Elvis’ Little sister 7

Freshly restored by BMW Classic in Munich, #70089 has seen its 1960s-era dark blue metallic paint banished in favor of the original Papyrus. Rudge knockoff wheels and front disc brakes are upgrades requested by longtime owner Jack Castor.

For reasons unknown, Kalt replaced #70089’s original engine with the V8 from #70247. At some point, the car’s color was changed, as well, from the original Papyrus to a dark blue metallic. In late 1973, Kalt advertised the car for sale with “a factory overhauled engine [from #70247] with no more than 1,000 miles on it.”

The price was $6,500, and the car was purchased by Dick McGraw of Carmel, California. He registered it on January 30, 1974, but sold it on just a few months later. This time, the buyers were Jack and Tom Castor, who paid McGraw $6,551 for the dark blue 507 on April 5, 1974. The Castor brothers drove it for a while, but they last registered it in 1976 and presumably put it into storage not long after—right alongside its old rival #70079, against which it had raced almost two decades earlier.

Since #70089 was still mostly original and in much better condition, Jack intended to use it as a template for the restoration of #70079. Unfortunately, he never got around to it, even after retiring from his career as an aerospace engineer. Castor had a lot of other cars and a lot of other projects, and the 507s never made it to the front of the line.

Photo: Elvis’ Little sister 8

Freshly restored by BMW Classic in Munich, #70089 has seen its 1960s-era dark blue metallic paint banished in favor of the original Papyrus. Rudge knockoff wheels and front disc brakes are upgrades requested by longtime owner Jack Castor.

He did, however, conduct extensive research on the provenance of both cars, particularly the ex-factory #70079. In the 1970s, he traveled to Steinbach, Germany, where Heinz Landzettel kept the early service records of most of the 507s serviced and repaired in Germany, records that BMW had apparently discarded. In 2005, Castor ran into Landzettel’s widow at a 507 Meet in Prien, Bavaria, after which he was able to view the service records for #70089, as well. Judith Landzettel offered to sell both sets of records, but Castor thought the price was too high at € 500. He later bought them anyway, filling in a key part of the history for both 507s.

Castor’s research proved invaluable when we wrote about the ex-Elvis #70079 for Bimmer #83. After that article appeared in 2009, followed by another in Germany’s AutoBild Klassik in 2010, Castor and his cars became the subject of considerable attention. Would-be buyers came out of the woodwork hoping to persuade Castor to sell one or both of his 507s, and plenty of people offered their restoration services, as well. Even though Castor wasn’t doing anything with the BMWs, he wasn’t in any rush to sell them, either. He really just liked owning them.

“For Jack, it wasn’t about what his ’’59 Ferrari LWB Cal Spyder or his 507s or any of the cars in his collection were worth,” said Castor’s friend and fellow Ferrari enthusiast Ron Gilmartin, who became the executor of Castor’s estate. “He found that entertaining at best, but what mattered were their history, their engineering or their sheer beauty as an art form whether sitting still or experienced from behind the wheel.”

BMW CLASSIC ENTERS THE FRAME

In the summer of 2013, Gilmartin tried to buy Tom Castor’s share of #70089, hoping to increase the chance of a restoration. By then, however, Jack was well into negotiations with BMW for the restoration of both cars. Gilmartin says that BMW insisted on a single name on the title, so Jack bought out his brother’s interest in #70089. Both 507s were turned over to BMW Classic in the summer of 2014 to be restored in Munich; in exchange for the restoration of #70089, BMW Classic would get to keep the Elvis car for display in the BMW Museum and at events, and Jack would have #70089 to enjoy for himself.

Photo: Elvis’ Little sister 9

Freshly restored by BMW Classic in Munich, #70089 has seen its 1960s-era dark blue metallic paint banished in favor of the original Papyrus. Rudge knockoff wheels and front disc brakes are upgrades requested by longtime owner Jack Castor.

“Jack settled on working with BMW Classic, knowing they’d do the job right.” Gilmartin says. “Of particular importance to him was that #70079, once returned to its factory condition, wouldn’t be locked up in some private collection but rather exhibited by BMW for the public to enjoy.”

Unfortunately, Jack didn’t live to see that happen. He’d had a massive heart attack in 2011, and he died in November 2014, shortly after both 507s had been shipped to Munich for restoration.

As per Jack’s request, #70079 went to BMW Classic, while #70089 went to Gilmartin. Two more of Castor’s most treasured cars went to a friend and a relative, while his Ferrari 250 California Spyder was sold at auction and the rest were sold privately.

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#70089 was restored by BMW Classic alongside #70079. Its superior condition made the process far easier, and only a few original parts needed to be replaced. Like #70079, it was repainted in its original color, the white/grey Papyrus over a blue leather interior. It was upgraded with Rudge wheels and front disc brakes (which became optional in 1959) to enhance its driveability under modern traffic conditions, just as Castor had specified.

The restored 507s returned to California from Munich in August 2016, just in time to be displayed together in BMW’s tent at Laguna Seca prior to the Rolex Motorsports Reunion. #70089 went on to star at Legends of the Autobahn and the BMW Villa, while the Elvis 507 made its public debut at Pebble Beach. The two cars were shown together at the BMW CCA concours, then went their separate ways for the first time in more than 40 years. As the ex-Elvis 507, #70079 is destined for a career in the limelight at the reopened BMW Zentrum in South Carolina, at the BMW Museum in Munich and at other venues. Its former stablemate is destined to be driven: Having received an incredible gift, Gilmartin plans to honor Castor’s memory by driving it enthusiastically, just as Jack had planned to do himself.

Will they ever meet again, these former hillclimb rivals and longtime stablemates? Given how often these two cars’ paths have crossed since leaving the factory in Munich, we wouldn’t bet against it.

It simply feels like fate.

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