Every BMW 507 is a special machine, but this example benefits from both enthusiast long-term owners and beautiful preservation as a result of long-term dry storage. One of only 252 examples of the 507 ever built, chassis 70059 was one of 13 to be delivered new to Venezuela. According to BMW Classic records and confirmed by BMW V8 Registrar Wolfgang Niefanger, this 507 was finished in Silberblau (silver blue) over matching Silberblau leather and completed on July 19, 1957. It was ordered through Venezuelan BMW importer Eduard Zingg by American expat Lester Stebbins. As a car delivered to a hot climate, it was specially fitted with a Jaguar-sourced radiator fan for improved cooling.
Mr. Stebbins, a North Dakota-born salesman, had a successful career with the American Circle Company selling chewing gum, before moving to South America. Settling in Caracas in 1951, he became involved in motorsport, eventually becoming the Chief Scrutineer and the Director of Automobile Racing of Venezuela. Stebbins bought this 507, a relatively early Series II, and shortly after taking delivery added a small scoop to the cabin vent in front of the windscreen to improve air circulation through the cabin while cruising through hot, humid Caracas. During Stebbin’s ownership, the car was repainted white.
In 1961, Stebbins was transferred to Toronto, Canada, and brought his 507 with him. The BMW would remain in Canada for the next 18 years. At some point, Lester Stebbins sold the 507, which would eventually find its way to Jack Kroch of Ottawa, Canada. In 1979, the car was resprayed Pontiac Bright Blue Metallic — the paint it wears today. Kroch is understood to have used the car as an exhibition pace car at a vintage-car race at Circuit Mont-Tremblant.
Kroch connected with Philadelphia-based BMW collector Herman Bold through the 507 club. Herman and his brother Gerhard (who bought the family’s first 507, s/n 70228, new from the factory in 1959) were beginning to collect an extensive array of “spare” 507 components. On September 14, 1979, Herman purchased 70059 from Jack for $22,000. He trailered the car back to his home in Philadelphia, and 70059 was stored with the family’s other 507s and ended up being largely locked away. Properly oiled, started occasionally, and kept away from the elements, the 507 subsequently sat undisturbed in a shed for the next 43 years.
This 507 was brought out of its garage — under its own power — for the first time in May 2022. Showing much as it did when Herman Bold bought it in 1979, the interior has a rich, lived-in feel that can only come from 65 years of sparing use. While the exterior carries its old Pontiac paint, the hard top, engine bay, door jambs, floors and other components continue to wear the original Silberblau with which it left the factory. The engine has remained in the car since new. Rare, original components are present, including the Behr radiator, as well as many Bosch and Knecht ancillary components. A rare original Blaupunkt Köln radio is fitted in the dash. The roadster is replete with a largely complete underhood toolkit, owner’s handbook and pflegedienstheft (repair service booklet), copies of the bill of sale to Herman Bold, paint swatch for the current Pontiac paint color, and photos throughout the history of the car.
|Vehicle:||1957 BMW 507 Series II|
|Number Produced:||254 (plus two prototypes)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,000|
|Chassis Number Location:||Right rear corner of engine compartment|
|Engine Number Location:||Front edge of right-hand cylinder head|
|Club Info:||BMW Classic Car Club of America|
|Alternatives:||1954–55 Lancia Aurelia B24 Spider America, 1957–63 Mercedes-Benz 300SL Roadster, 1957–61 Jaguar XK 150|
This car, Lot 629, sold for $2,315,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Audrain Concours Auction on September 30, 2022.
As the dust of World War II settled over Germany’s pulverized industrial infrastructure, Munich-based BMW struggled to get back in the car business. Constrained by limited development and production resources, it focused on the upper end of the market. In 1951 it introduced the “Barockengel” 501 sedan, whose doughy proportions were thought to appeal to conservative post-war tastes.
It was with some shock, then, that visitors invited to a reception at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in August 1955 were introduced to a different BMW, a strikingly beautiful roadster whose lithe alloy skin surrounded an advanced aluminum V8. Yet for all its appeal — which has only become stronger over time — the BMW 507 would last just four years, eventually sinking under the weight of its dramatic unprofitability, nearly dragging its maker down with it.
Max the middleman
The 507’s gestation has been well chronicled, the result of combined efforts from the effervescent U.S. importer of all things European, Max Hoffman, aided by budding automotive designer Albrecht Goertz and supported by a striving BMW eager for precious export dollars. The less-romantic side of the story is that Hoffman set an unrealistic price of $4,499 for the 507, while a cautious BMW was reluctant to invest in volume production tooling without a cash commitment. It instead built 507s almost to order, driving the price to nearly $10,000 at a time when a Ford Thunderbird cost a mere $3,000.
“The U.S. premiere was basically the 507’s suicide, but no one knew it then,” says Myles Kornblatt, author of the forthcoming Hoffman biography Max Hoffman: Million Dollar Middleman. “BMW wanted to help Hoffman get the dealer network excited and sold him a handful of promotional cars. These road-ready 507s proved to Hoffman that BMW could deliver the convertible he wanted without having to make a huge order deposit. The 507’s price was too high because Hoffman didn’t yet commit to real production, and Hoffman wasn’t going to commit because he wasn’t going to throw a big investment at cars that were proving hard to sell. That’s why the project imploded.”
Trouble then, trouble now
As with its creation, 507 ownership is a case of contradictions. Given its limited production, spare parts are not in ample supply. Unlike Mercedes-Benz, BMW doesn’t support the 507 by remanufacturing critical components. And those parts that are out there are expensive — an original aluminum hard top recently changed hands for about $50,000.
Dirk de Groen, president of the BMW Classic Car Club of America, is currently undergoing a thorough restoration of his 507 in Germany. “Everyone thinks that the 507 is immune from rust because of its aluminum skin, but underneath they can rust badly if not properly stored and monitored. The steel from the 1950s was never treated, never galvanized. On my car the metal in the A-pillars, the firewall, even under the paint was all just gone.”
The 507’s V8 has its share of challenges, too. Initial versions suffered head warpage, which was resolved by replacing the 10-bolt cylinder heads with a more-robust 11-bolt alternative. Many cars received the updated engine, but some have overstamped engine numbers, while others have no number at all, bedeviling anyone obsessed with “matching numbers” documentation.
Small numbers, high prices
With just 254 cars built — compared to 1,400 Mercedes Gullwings and nearly 2,000 300SL roadsters — the 507’s essential rarity keeps prices high, no matter their condition. In recent years, that’s been consistently around the $2m mark. There have been a few sales notable for their provenance, such as Formula One driver John Surtees’ car, which sold for $5m at Bonhams’ Goodwood sale in 2018 (SCM# 6874843) and Goertz’s personal example, which changed hands for $3m later that year at a Bonhams auction in London (SCM# 6884142). One can only imagine what Elvis Presley’s 507 would fetch, were it to come to market.
Our subject car has been messed about with too much to qualify as a preservation candidate, given its mix of original Silberblau, white and Pontiac Bright Blue Metallic finishes. While some might tolerate the “rich, lived-in feel” of its interior, it’s more likely to be brought back to its original glory as part of a comprehensive restoration. It will be worth the effort, even though the new owner paid up for the opportunity. As has been written in these pages before, the 507 is in a special class of “Immortal” cars that have become so valuable that reconstructing them will always make financial sense. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)