Founded in 1912 as a manufacturer of aircraft engines, the company that now produces over 2 million cars per annum, almost failed to survive the development of a model in the 1950s, that was designed to secure its future. Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMW) had originally moved into the manufacture of road vehicles in 1923, with the production of their first motorcycle, the BMW R32.
BMW R32 - the company's first motorcycle (1923)
In 1928, the company acquired Eisnach AG who were licensed to manufacture the British designed Austin Seven under the 'Dixi' brand. The following year BMW produced their first car: the BMW 3/15 (the 15 referred to the number of horsepower), a derivative of the Austin Seven.
The BMW 3/15 Dixi Tourer (1928)
Throughout the 1930s, BMW continued to expand its range into sports cars and larger saloons, and by the late thirties it was entering motorsport competitions with victories at Le Mans and the Mille Miglia.
BMW 328 Mille Miglia Roadster
During the Second World War, BMW returned its focus to the manufacture of aircraft engines, and continued to produce a relatively small number of motorcycles. The production of automobiles ceased completely, and didn't resume until 1952, with the introduction of the BMW 501 luxury saloon.
The sweeping wings of the BMW 501 saw it nicknamed the Baroque Angel
When the BMW 501 was first introduced to the public at the Frankfurt Motor Show, its selling price was four times the average German salary. Sales were primarily made in the home market, and volumes were low. In 1954, Max Hoffman, the Austrian-born New York based car importer, presented an opportunity to BMW to export vehicles to North America. Hoffman had previously suggested to Mercedes Benz that they should produce a road-going version of the 1952 W195 racing car, and as a result, the 300 SL Gullwing was born. He was also responsible for the development of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider and the Porsche 356 Speedster, and now suggested that BMW should build a convertible sports car for the US market.
The BMW 507 lands in the United States (1955)
Max Hoffman insisted that the design for the roadster should be penned by Count Albrecht Von Goertz (who went on to contribute to the styling of the Toyota 2000GT). At an assumed price of $5,000, Hoffman predicted annual production runs of 5,000 units, but the high manufacturing costs led to a price of double the original estimate, and only 254 examples of the 507 (including prototypes) were ever made. When production of the model ceased in 1959, BMW had lost money on all of the 507s it had produced, contributing to a DM 15 million loss that year, and a rescue from bankruptcy by a capital injection from German industrialist, Herbert Quandt.
Racing legend John Surtees takes delivery of his BMW 507 (1957)
The BMW 507 has become one of the world's most desirable and valuable classic cars. Its rarity and its beauty are further enhanced by the glamour associated with the car due to some of the model's early owners, including British racing legend John Surtees. Between 1956 and 1960, Surtees won six motorcycling world championships before turning his talent to Formula One, winning the World Championship in 1964. He remains the only person to have won world championships on both 2 and 4 wheels. In 1957, MV Augusta Motorcycles bought a BMW 507 for Surtees in recognition of him winning the world championship for their team the previous year.
Elvis Presley collecting his BMW 507 in Germany (1958)
Undoubtedly the most famous 507 owner was Elvis Presley, who bought a chalk-white example of the model when he was stationed in Germany with the US Army in 1958. He had the colour of the car changed to red, allegedly due to the problems with his adoring fans who were leaving lipstick marks on the white paintwork. At the end of his service In 1960, Elvis returned to the US with his 507, but sold it later that year, and after a succession of owners it was put into storage around 1974.
Ursula Andress behind the wheel of her BMW 507 (1964)
The association between Elvis and the BMW 507 didn't end when he sold his original car. In 1963, his co-star in the musical comedy movie, 'Fun In Acapulco', was Ursula Andress, the Swiss actress whose career had been boosted the previous year, performing as the original Bond Girl in the 007 film, 'Dr. No'. After working together, Elvis promised to buy Ursula a Cadillac, but she said she'd prefer a BMW 507, and so he made his second purchase.
The first Elvis 507 purchase is discovered in storage
After three decades of storage in a pumpkin warehouse near San Francisco, a 'lipstick red' 507 was discovered by automotive journalist, Jackie Jouret. The engine and important weight-bearing portions of the chassis were missing, however, thanks to the VIN number, the car was clearly identified as Elvis’s legendary roadster. After years of negotiation, the car was finally returned to Germany, and BMW Group Classic began the painstaking restoration.
Elvis's 507 returned to its former glory
After dismantling the car, the experts spent two years re-constructing component after component in exacting detail, or looking for original replacement parts and restoring existing elements. Even the paint in chalk white – rather than Elvis’s red – was mixed according to the original specifications. It was then finally time to put it all back together.
The rock star of classic cars
The restored car was unveiled at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance on the 21st of August, 2016, and looked so gorgeous it's surprising to find that it wasn't covered in lipstick.
The John Surtees BMW 507 at auction (2018)
A couple of years after the Elvis 507 restoration was shown to the public, another famous car hit the news. The BMW that had been presented to John Surtees in 1957 had remained in his ownership all of his life. After passing away in 2017, the one-owner vehicle fetched £3,809.500 at the Bonhams Goodwood auction the following year.