1959 BMW 503 Coupe

At the end of WW2, BMW was in a much worse state than Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart because one of its major plants – the old Dixi works at Eisenach in Saxony - was within the Russian Zone and would soon be cut off from the West behind the 'Iron Curtain'. Nevertheless, BMW recommenced car production in 1952 with the introduction of the 501 luxury saloon, a bullish choice for an impoverished country still recovering from the ravages of war. The 501 had been announced in 1951 and first appeared with a development of the company's pre-war six-cylinder engine before gaining a much needed performance boost, in the form of a 2.6-liter V8, in 1954. Designed by Alfred Böning, this new power unit had been inspired by American V8s but was constructed entirely of aluminum rather than cast iron. Towards the end of 1955 a 3.2-liter version was introduced, and the big saloon's model designation changed to '502'.

Enticed by New York based importer Max Hoffman and BMW sales manager Haans Grewenig, BMW became convinced that premier GT and sports cars would appeal to wealthy North American clientele. Though competition was stiff, Hoffman envisioned a growing market of affluent performance GT enthusiasts building in the states. Though initially conceived with modest price tags, the 503 arrived substantially over budget even though many of the mechanical components had already been developed for the 501 and 502 luxury sedans. Simply stated, BMW's proud over-engineering and demanding internal requirements for excellence would not be compromised. Even the hand-crafted aluminum body, built at BMW Karrosserieentwurf, was assembled at great cost, including a cast alloy dashboard, itself a work of art.

Delivered to production at enormous internal expense from 1956-1959, the 503 offered features and performance that competed handily with contemporary offerings. But the costly 503, produced alongside the 507, was constructed to such exacting standards it nearly forced BMW into bankruptcy. Although a fiscal challenge for BMW, the 503 would generate important brand equity for BMW, but sales were less than expected, a result, while challenging at the time, that has since become woven into the rarity of these cars. Built with the finest mechanical components, the overhead valve 3.2 liter V8 aluminum block engine, upgraded with twin carburetors and improved lubrication via chain-driven oil pump, delivered 140 hp in a light and nimble package. And while performance was impressive for the time, the remarkable feature of the 503 was the undeniably beautiful handmade aluminum coachwork, penned by designer Albrecht von Goertz, who concurrently designed the celebrated 507 roadster.

Available in both coupe and convertible variants, the chassis was developed using a ladder frame derived from the 502. Steering and suspension from the 502 were also utilized with some improvements incorporated to the front suspension system. The gearbox and drum brakes were further derived from the 502 with front disc brakes becoming available in 1957, courtesy of John Surtees who had suggested this change for both the 507 and the 503, both of which Surtees owned. Offered with power windows, the same hydraulic unit that powers the electric convertible top and side windows, also powers the windows in the coupe.

This 503 is one of 274 Coupes produced during the three-year production. According to the car’s history file, it was first registered February 27, 1959, to Dr. Elsbeth Karius of Muggensturm/Rastatt and stayed with the good doctor for the next fourteen years. The next caretaker was Herr Stefan Stahle, who looked after the car until 1978, when it passed to Herr Ulrich Vetter of Kreutzal, who would possess the coupe until 2002. Another German owner kept the car for just a year, and the last two owners each kept the 503 for ten years, first in Germany and most recently in the UK.

Today this BMW 503 presents as a captivating example finished in ivory over a wonderfully preserved original tan leather interior. Its light coloring is complemented by the generous application of chrome lavished on both the exterior and interior without interrupting the stunning Goertz design. The paint is glossy and smooth, flowing gracefully over the alloy body panels. The front and rear bumpers, headlight bezels, and other chrome are all in excellent condition. The distinctive BMW emblems are the only indications that viewers are not gazing at one of the finest Italian designs. Indeed, upon the debut at the 1955 Frankfurt Motor Show, even Battista “Pinin” Farina pronounced the 503 as the prettiest car in the entire show.

The interior is beautifully preserved with rich, original leather with a charming character earned through regular enjoyment. The dashboard sports an elegant array of gauges with crisp lettering and bright numeric indication. Further details include a sliding sunroof, Becker Mexico radio, leather covered dashboard, and a gorgeous four-spoke ivory white steering emulating, as their logo does, the high-speed prop spin marking BMW’s aviation heritage. The elegant interior continues to the trunk lining and finishes in the trunk compartment which offers ample room for luggage along with a full-sized matching spare wheel.

Under the hood, the BMW V8 engine is correctly detailed utilizing original accessories and properly finished hardware. The engine number, 30557, is consistent with numeric engine sequences reflective of factory installation. Both the engine and engine compartment have been restored and detailed including the silver painted engine and accessories, cast iron exhaust manifolds, correctly finished twin carburetors with stamped metal air cleaners, and proper hardware, and a set of tools resides in a dedicated BMW storage box on the cowl.

In addition to the visual condition, this BMW 503 offers both mechanical refinement and operational confidence. The delicately muffled V8 engine is brisk and responsive moving through all five gears. The comfortable seating position offers expansive visibility and easy to reach controls further enhanced by the pillarless design and sunroof. Driving this BMW 503 it is easy to see how these cars delighted the few but fortunate owners who purchased them new despite the considerable financial losses BMW experienced lavishing the absolute best in quality which nearly resulted in their demise.

One of the rarest and most desirable BMWs of the 1950s, It offers its next owner exquisite styling, super performance, and sophisticated German engineering in a very usable Grand Tourer package, eligible for the finest driving events worldwide.


Offers welcome and trades considered.



Stock number 7649

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