If you haven’t spotted one of these at a regional BMW Club of America meet, there’s a good reason for this: Only 138 examples of this model were made. By comparison, even the BMW 507 roadster is practically at every concours event these days. Not one of these, though.
But in a few days this rare V8-engined BMW 503 will roll across the auction block at Bonhams’ Zoute Sale in Belgium.
What’s behind this rare and brief chapter in BMW history?
By the late 1950s, BMW was a relatively small automaker making small cars. The Isetta is perhaps the most extreme but very faithful illustration of just how different the Munich-based automaker was, until the arrival of the Neue Klasse cars. However, there was an in-between period of sorts where BMW sought to find its role among German marques, which were far more numerous and varied during this period as well.
“BMW’s Munich factory, though, had been badly damaged by Allied bombing. And for the next few years, a much-reduced workforce struggled on producing household utensils, agricultural machinery, bicycles and railway brake sets. It would be 1948 before deliveries of BMW motorcycles restarted and another four years before the first true BMW car of the post-war era emerged,” the auction house notes.
One of the directions BMW explored after restarting car production at the start of the 1950s were luxury cars beginning with the 501 luxury sedan, powered by the automaker’s pre-war six-cylinder engine that was soon joined by a 2.6-liter V8 in 1954. A further development of that engine arrived in the form of the 3.2-liter V8 in 1955 which found its way into the 502 sedan, as Bonhams notes.
Both the 501 and 502 were very lavish cars for the lean post-war years in West Germany, which, incidentally, explains their low production numbers. And it wasn’t lost on BMW, at the time, that the V8 really belonged in a luxury sports car, if anything. Incidentally, it was the Mercedes-Benz 300SL that convinced BMW that it could offer such a model, with a little convincing from U.S. based importer Max Hoffman. The man chosen to design such a model for BMW was Count Albrecht von Goertz, who had worked on Studebaker design under Raymond Loewy.
Goertz created two designs for sporty open-top BMWs that could use the 3.2-liter V8 and, curiously enough, both made it to the prototype stage and the auto show stage — a practice that probably wouldn’t happen today. One of them was the 503, and the other was of course the 507.
The 503 kept the generous wheelbase of the 502 sedan, as Bonhams notes, while the lithe and much more sporting 507 was built on a shorter wheelbase. The approaches of the two cars were also very different from one another. The 503 adopted the look of a more traditional luxury cabriolet, perhaps leaning closer to British than Italian styling, while the 507 was the agile and lower roadster, with curves that could be mistaken for the work of Michelotti or Vignale.
“As installed in the alloy-bodied 503, the 3.2-liter V8 produced 140bhp, which was good enough for a top speed of 118mph (190km/h),” Bonhams notes. “With its long bonnet, 2+2 seating and generously sized boot, the 503 looked every inch the elegant Grande Routière. Even Pinin Farina was impressed, declaring it to be the most beautiful car in the show. Had the 507 not debuted at the same time, it would no doubt have also been the most memorable.”
The example that Bonhams will offer has been restored by a German shop in 2002 to a concours standard, and is described to still be in excellent condition today. However, the auction description does not state who owned the car in the past several decades, or where it has been all this time.
The auction house estimates this 1958 BMW 503 to bring between $410,000 and $530,000 on auction day, which is a fairly liberal range that likely reflects just how infrequently this model comes up for auction and how unpredictable the demand for it can be. This model has certainly not seen the rocket-like gain in value that the 507 has experienced over the past decade, and no rocket-like appreciation is pending, perhaps because you have to really like the styling. The 503 will perhaps always be overshadowed by the 507, despite surviving examples certainly being valuable enough by themselves. But they’re not seen as having as much appreciation potential. Still, we’d love to see more of these stateside.
Sign up for comments and let us know what you think about the BMW 503.
Source: Read Full Article