You know who we don't spend enough time talking about? Max Hoffman. Max Hoffman? Yeah buddy, Max Hoffman. Those of you with steel trap memories will remember that Hoffman was the guy who convinced Mercedes-Benz to build and import the 300 SL, a car we all agree is six degrees of triple-rad. Hoffman also had Frank Lloyd Wright design him both a home and a Jaguar dealership in Manhattan and he's responsible for bringing the Porsche 356 Speedster to American soil. The BMW 507, too. What a guy.
In case you don't know thy Germans, before WWII, BMW was becoming known as a maker of sporty, fast, race-winning cars. The very best example being the mega-killer 328 Roadster and Coupe, two cars that I wouldn't be surprised if/when they found their way into this here Fantasy Garage. But alas, war happens and BMW got out of the car biz (and motorcycle biz) and went back to its Roundel roots by building radial engines — like the 41.8-liter 801 — for Junker Jus and Messerschmitts. Luckily, we (and the Russians) bombed their Nazi asses halfway back to the Stone Age. Come the 1950s however, and suddenly Bayerische Motoren Werke AG wants to build cars again. However, they went off in an odd direction.
Enter the BMW 501/502. Sure, it had the first post-war V8 in all of Germany when introduced in 1952. But it wasn't sporty in the slightest. Nor particularly "hot." Yeah, we dig the design but we're a little weird. And they were expensive. And everyone in Germany was broke. And people in America and the UK (i.e. the ones with the money) were still miffed at Germany on account of all that Aryan superman nonsense. However, along comes Max Hoffman, who convinces BMW that what they really need to do is build an uber-car, a roadster version of the 502.
Hoffman wanted a BMW that could compete with contemporary Jaguar XKs and Mercedes-Benz 300 SLs. In truth, BMW did very much want to build a sports car, but it was Hoffman that convinced them to go with bodywork designed by Count Albrecht von Goertz instead of their first choice, racing driver Ernst Loof. This was a double-win for BMW as von Goertz (who befriended Hoffman after leaving Studebaker) designed the stunning BMW 503 as well as today's inductee, the legendary 507.
You could make a case that the more obscure 503 is actually the car that should be getting voted on today. After all, it's very rare, achingly beautiful and mechanically essentially the same as the 507. You could make that case if you were blind. As it happens, few cars in the history of the horseless carriage are as capable of shortening one's breath as the scorchingly, sinfully gorgeous 507. Long, low and ludicrously sexy, it boggles the mind that the 507 nearly forced BMW out of business. But it did.
The chassis was from the 503 with 14 inches hacked out of it (wheelbase is 97.6"). The body panels were hand made from aluminum. How hand made? The 507 was available with an optional removable hard top. But you couldn't switch tops between cars. Each top only fit the specific car it was made for. You gotta love that. The front suspension was comprised of double-wishbones while the rear was a live axle with a Panhard rod, pretty standard for the time.
Actually, surprisingly, mechanically the 507 wasn't all that advanced. The original cars had drum brakes at all four corners (later on the production cycle disks were available). I'm also hesitant to mention the engine, which put out just 150 hp from its 3.2-liter aluminum V8 (though a 160 hp upgrade was available. At a neither hefty nor svelte 2,835 lbs. you would be correct in guessing that the 507 was not in fact a screamer.
Big fat hairy deal.
The 507 came with a fully synchromeshed 4-speed manual and while the 0-60 times weren't great (figure about 10 seconds flat) the car could hit 141 mph, depending on the gearing. Again, does it really matter? Picture yourself in a BMW 507 top down on Highway 12 between Sonoma and Napa Counties and explain to me how or why 0-60 times matter. Is anyone shocked that the 507 was the belle of the ball at the 1955 Frankfurt Auto Show?
So what killed the 507, and nearly killed BMW? Cost. It ain't cheap paying people to hand pound alloy panels. Hoffman's business model called for 507s to cost around $5,000 (compared to about $10,000 for a MB 300 SL). However, the labor costs ballooned the 507's US price tag to first $9,000 for the Series 1 cars (42 built) and $10,500 for the Series 2 507s (210 built). Hoffman's business case called for some 5,000 507s to be sold in the US alone, annually. Instead, BMW built just 252 cars in between 1956 and 1959. This revenue shortfall crippled BMW and they were forced to start building those damn (but loveable) bubble cars.
Would our Garage be complete without a 507? I'd argue no. I mean, hey, Elvis had one. And who are you to argue with the King? Is the 507 as flat out gorgeous as last week's Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato? That's like picking between Diana Rigg and Charlotte Rampling — you can't lose. Or win. Undoubtedly some will be unmoved by the best-ever looking BMW's lack of sporting prowess. There is little I can do except suggest you think about all the rash decisions you've made because of a beautiful girl. And of course, happy voting.
The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage, So Far:
RUF RT12 | 1978 Aston Martin V8 Vantage | Honda 1300 Coupe 9 | 1931 Daimler Double Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupe | Ferrari 288 GTO | Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1 | 1970 Buick GSX 455 | First Generation BMW M Coupe | Bugatti Veyron 16.4 | Ford GT | Citroen SM | Porsche 928 | Jensen FF | DeTomaso Vallelunga | Audi Quattro S1 | Buick GNX | Nissan Skyline R34 GT-R | Honorary Fantasy Garager: The LS1 Powered Rotus | Lamborghini LM002 | Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe | Ferrari 250 GTO | Bentley Speed Six | Talbot-Lago T150C SS Figoni et Falaschi Raindrop/Teardrop Coupe | Porsche 917 | Audi RS4 Avant | Lamborghini Miura | Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 | BMW E39 M5 | Jaguar E-type | Mercedes-Benz 300 SL | Dodge Charger/Challenger R/T | Toyota 2000GT | Facel Vega HK500 | Voisin C28 Aerosport | Bugatti Type 41 Royale | McLaren F1 | Maserati Bora | Continental MK II | Tucker 48 | Rolls-Royce Phantom | Aston Martin DB4 GT Zagato
[The Jalopnik Fantasy Garage appears every Wednesday. Readers vote the cars in or out. The idea is that we'll have 50 cars in our Fantasy Garage, the world's greatest mechanic and endless wads of cash. Would you like to nominate a car for the Fantasy Garage? Write firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Fantasy."]