The BMW 507 shows how a commercial miss can influence collector car success
Like people, cars can sometimes be late bloomers. The BMW 507 is a perfect example—its commercial failure nearly bankrupted the company 65 years ago—but it has soared as a collector car. Could it be that the same elements that hurt the 507 when new are making it more collectible now?
It’s hard to discuss the most desirable sports cars from the 1950s without bringing up Max Hoffman. As an importer for brands like Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, and Volkswagen, among others, he helped car makers understand the American market. He was incredibly influential in guiding product decisions. He’s credited with vehicles like the Porsche 356 Speedster, Mercedes-Benz 300 SL road car (W198), Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, and the BMW 507.
While most of those were hits with American buyers and sold in the thousands, the 507 stumbled out of the gate.
As is often the case when it comes to German cars, the 507 owes its existence to an automaker’s desire to outdo the competition. When Mercedes-Benz revealed the racing 300 SL (W194) in 1952, BMW wanted a competitor. Just as the 300 SL relied on a production sedan’s drivetrain, the 507 would use BMW’s recently introduced alloy V-8 from the 501/502 sedan. The 3.2-liter V-8 in the 507 was rated at 150 hp initially, which was well behind the 240 horses of the 300 SL, but the 507 had something else going for it—looks.
Unfortunately, the stunning design of the 507 contributed to its undoing. BMW tapped a protégé of Raymond Loewy, Albrecht Graf von Goertz, for their ambitious car. The 507 would be his first solo effort. Alongside von Goertz was technical director Fritz Fiedler, who set very few limits.
According to Ken Gross’s Born Beautiful history of the BMW 507 for the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance program of 2013, von Goertz had this to say about Fiedler: “… and he was a genius. He didn’t know the word ‘no.’ I’d say, ‘The radiator’s in my way.’ He’d say, ‘No problem,’ and so on and on.”
If that process sounds more appropriate for a “Most Beautiful Roadster” build contest than a typical, careful cost consideration for a production car, you’d be right. The 507 raced past the price target of $5000 to $9000 (about $100,000 in today’s dollars), well more than the 300 SL’s $7000 price. Consequently, the production run of the 300 SL roadster reached 1858 vehicles, while the mostly hand-built 507 just managed 254 (counting two prototypes).
Rarity, looks, and performance make for a great collector car, though. The BMW 507 might not have kept up with the 300 SL in the sales race, but it is regarded as well if not better than its long-time rival in the current market.
Based on the current Hagerty Price Guide (April 2023), the 507 just pulls ahead at the condition #1 value level with an average of $2,812,500 vs. $2,037,500 for the 300 SL roadster. Appreciation over the past five years has been slower for the 507, however, which is up just 18.4 percent vs. 49.5 for the 300 SL. For context, Hagerty’s Blue Chip Index has a value of $2,593,920 and is down -0.5 percent over the same period (both roadsters are components in the index).
Demographic trajectories for the 507 are better than for the 300 SL. Acknowledging that the 507 is much rarer, 25 percent of policy quotes for the BMW are from enthusiasts born after 1964, vs. 22 percent for the Mercedes-Benz. Those shares are up from zero and 17 percent, respectively, over the past five years, showing a rapid increase of interest in the BMW from collectors Gen-X and younger.
Even though the market for the 507 is much smaller, with only 13 sold at auction worldwide in the past five years, that amounts to 5.1 percent of the production total. Worldwide auction sales of the 300 SL roadster amount to 95 over the same period, coincidentally 5.1 percent of its production total.
Finally, the 507, with its price and rarity, attracted some famous original owners such as Elvis Presley (who gave it to Ursula Andress), Prince Rainier of Monaco, the kings of Greece and Morocco, Aga Khan, and John Surtees, among others. Surtees’ car set the record for the 507 when it sold for $5,012,432 in July 2018 at the Bonhams Goodwood auction. The auction record for the 300 SL roadster is $3,694,840 for a 1963 model, also set in July 2018 at Artcurial’s Le Mans auction.
Even though the 507 was in some respects a failure when new, the model is rightfully viewed by collectors as just as desirable today as its long-time 300 SL rival. Which would you put in your garage?