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Classic Car History: BMW’s 507 Almost Ruined BMW, but Is Now Worth Millions

The 507 was a commercial failure—and today you wish you had one.

Eleonor SeguraWriterRM Sotheby'sPhotographerManufacturerPhotographer

Meet Munich's Dream Sports Car

BMW 507 history in a nutshell: Many people consider it the most beautiful car in the German marque's catalog—and it almost led to the collapse of Bavarian Motor Works.

Predestined to be the economical choice against the highly regarded Mercedes-Benz 300SL, the BMW 507 roadster made its American debut at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City in the summer of 1955. Lauded as the most beautiful car in the world even before it reached the U.S., the BMW 507 when first shown in Europe swiftly became known as Munich's dream car.

The BMW 507's broader history: At the recommendation of New York-based luxury European car dealer and importer Max Hoffman, BMW hired industrial designer Albrecht von Goertz to design a sports car tailored for American buyers. Hoffman, also responsible for influencing development of the 300SL Gullwing, envisioned a sports car that would be the middle child between the low-cost MG and expensive Mercedes-Benz Gullwings. So, von Goertz created a roadster that would captivate souls and pierce the hearts of anyone who laid eyes on it.

BMW 507 History: Ideal Dimensions

A body made of aluminum and built by hand meant every BMW 507 was unique in subtle ways; no two models matched each other entirely. With a design almost too perfect to be mass-produced, the 507's frame was a shortened version of its big brother, the 503 grand tourer. BMW reduced the wheelbase to 98 inches, and the 507 had overall measurements of 172.4 inches (length), 65.0 inches (width), and 49.5 inches (height), which made cornering and parking effortless. The BMW 507 roadster had a curb weight of about 2,930 pounds.

BMW 507 History: For American Consumption

If there Hoffman understood one thing about American sports car enthusiasts, it was that they loved a powerful engine. The 507 received a 3.2-liter V-8 with 150 horsepower, mated to a four-speed ZF transmission. The overhead-valve V-8 was BMW's first V-8 engine, and performance tuning for the 507 included polished combustion-chamber surfaces, a compression ratio of 7.8:1, high-lift camshafts, and an updated ignition-advance curve.

The majority of 507s had a convertible soft top, but for the lucky few, an optional detachable hardtop was available on 11 cars. Assembled by the best BMW technicians in Bavaria, suspension-wise the 507 came equipped with a front anti-roll bar, double wishbones, front and rear torsion-bars, and Alfin drum brakes (later replaced by Girling brakes).

The Price of Perfection

Of the 252 examples of 507s BMW built from 1956-1960, 34 units were Series I models; the other 218 accounted for the Series II. After its official introduction in New York, full-scale 507 production began late in 1956. With just a batch of 507s shipped to America, Hoffman projected BMW would produce 5,500 units per year, and sell them for about $5,000 a pop.

However, given the high-quality materials used, together with the bespoke treatment of every 507, Hoffman's projection crumbled when the figure came closer to $10,500, making the BMW 507 overpriced and out of reach for most consumers.

 

BMW 507 History: A Popular Roadster Nonetheless

Elvis Presley was so impressed with the BMW 507 roadster that he bought two copies during his Army duty in Germany. The King reportedly gifted one to his Fun in Acapulco (1963) co-star Ursula Andress, whose ownership lasted 15 years. Other notable 507 buyers included entertainer Fred Astaire, Formula One drivers Hans Stuck and John Surtees, King Constantine II, French actor Alain Delon, and eventual F1 overlord Bernie Ecclestone.

The Value of Failure

Aimed at the American sports car market, the BMW 507 nearly burned the company to the ground due to sky-high production costs that forced BMW to drop it from the lineup in 1960. Five decades later, the once-defeated German sports car collects anywhere in the neighborhood of $1 million to the bonkers price of $5,040,500 paid for a 1957 BMW 507 owned for 60 years by motorcycle and F1 world champion Surtees. The latter car holds the record for the most expensive BMW ever sold, and you can only imagine Hoffman's face if had he been alive to witness the sale.