|BMW 503 Cabriolet|
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At the end of the WWII BMW found itself in a rather unenviable position. Not only were most of its production facilities factually destroyed during the war, but the company was now actually based in two countries as the Eisenach Works were located in what was to become the DDR.
Eventually the Munich facilities were sort of reestablished, and after the company had developed several activities not directly related to car manufacturing, there was apparently enough capital to restart car production. The management was able to make some key technical people return to the company to start considering what the first postwar production car was going to be. After a long period of deliberations a decision was taken to concentrate on a new luxury model, aiming at the top of the market. The driving force behind the car was Peter Szymanowski, who joined BMW at the end of 1948. It was mainly his doing that during the Frankfurt Motor Show in April 1951 the first prototype of the new '501' was presented.
Although a totally new design it did use a number of trusted elements from pre-war BMW production, including the design of the 2 liter six cylinder engine from the 326, the version with the parallel valves (contrary to similar sized the hemi-version of the 328). The separate chassis was also maintained and it was fitted with independent front suspension and a very well positioned live rear axle. Telescopic shock absorbers in combination with adjustable torsion bars provided a sporty and yet comfortable ride. The design of the body is generally attributed to Szymanowski, with assistance from Wilhelm Hofmeister, who later became the head of the design department.
Interestingly, Pininfarina was also asked to provide a design, which actually resulted in a fully operational prototype. The design was turned down by the BMW management, because it lacked a classic style and could age too fast. Many of the clues of the Pinin Farina BMW appeared later in the Alfa Romeo 1900. The 501 styling did reflect many of the classic BMW particulars, including the flared fenders and the large kidney grille. The car became known as the Baroque Angel, due to its voluptuous styling.
At the time the Munich factory had no facilities and BMW had contracted Reutter to build the first three prototypes. Reutter managed to deliver the cars with great difficulties, and the first 2000 production cars were ordered from Baur in Stuttgart. Only in 1955 BMW had created sufficient space to produce their own bodies.
The base model of the 501 remained virtually unchanged until its demise in 1964. Underneath though many more interesting developments took place. It was soon realized that the 65 BHP were not adequate to give to give the 1340 kg car reasonable performance, and power was soon increased to 71 BHP but that was about all the 2 liter engine could stand without becoming unreliable. Already in 1952 the first ideas about a new engine resulted in a decision to construct a V8 with a 2.6 liter capacity, and capable of about 90 BHP. In 1954 the result of the efforts sees an all new 2.6 liter engine, with 100 BHP and constructed with an alloy head and block, the first ever V8 to achieve this. With a bore/stroke of 74x75mm the engine is relatively square and allows serious revving, but this came as a bonus and was not the first priority. The engine crankshaft had five main bearings and used a single camshaft located between the banks of cylinders.
The engine was first introduced in the model 502, which was presented as a luxury version of the 501. Basic dimensions were the same, but the interior was upgraded, and on the outside integrated fog lamps and additional chrome distinguished the car from its cheaper brother. As a sort of stop gap measure the 6 cylinder engine of the 501 was increased in size to 2.1 liter, but without an increase in the already available 71 BHP. This model was named 501/6 to make a distinction with the 501/8, which was introduced as cheaper version of the 502.
Production of the 502 started in the end 1954 and this was the beginning of a plethora of cars with the same body, but with all sorts of designations. The only further significant change to the engine choice was the introduction of the 3.2 liter version of the V8, which was created by increasing the bore of the 2.6 from 74 to 82 mm, leaving the revving capabilities of the engine untouched. The engine produced 120 BHP at 4800 revs, the same level as its smaller sister.. Internally the cars with the 3.2 liter engine had the type designation 506, but for the market it became a 502 model, introduced in 1955. In 1957 the 3.2 liter was offered with 140 BHP and the final version (1961), with two Zenith double downdraft carbs, produced a healthy 160 BHP and could propel the 3200S to about 190 kph, then the fastest German limousine. This version even offered a floor shifter.
During its first production years, when all bodies were made by Baur, also a number of 2-door coupe and cabriolet versions (both 6 and 8 cylinders) left the Stuttgart factory, as well as small number of 4-door cabriolets. Also several other companies used the chassis for their renderings, such as Autenrieth, Beutler and Worblaufen.
The V8 engine was used in official BMW variants such as the 503 and 507, but was also offered in a (tax-determined) 2.5 liter version in the Frazer Nash Continental and the Talbot Lago America. The 503 used the 140 BHP engine, while the 507 offered 150 BHP. The USA version of the 507 had a significantly higher compression ratio and produced 165 BHP and was able to rev up to 7000 rpm, although staying at 6500 was recommended. This again is a testimony of the forward design of the first alloy V8 ever produced, which as some want to believe, was also the inspiration for the GM small block engine.
The story of the first post-war BMW ended with the 3200 CS, based on the 3200S and offered with a beautiful Bertone body, which was available up to 1965, a year after production of the sedans had stopped.
Although an important chapter in BMW history, it should not be overlooked that the company barely survived its first post-war adventure in the luxury class. By 1958 the reserves had dwindled to unacceptable low levels, and only the arrival of Herbert Quandt (and his money) allowed the company to survive. It has been calculated that BMW lost over 4000 DM on every single 'Baroque Angle produced', and with 21854 as a total production figure, that is a lot, especially considering prices were about 20,000-25,000 DM.
In 1961 BMW presented the more modest 1500, which was vital in the survival of the German manufacturer.
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