1959 BMW 501 V8
Recently imported from Sweden and currently in daily use; rare survivor of this top quality car; scope for cosmetic improvement; find another!
In common with the rest of Germany’s industrial base, BMW’s Munich factory had been all but obliterated by savage Allied bombing raids and it wasn’t until 1951 that they were able to unveil their first all new post-war model. By this time the market was already crowded with small cars, so BMW elected to launch an expensive, small-volume model instead.
Launched at the Frankfurt Show, the extravagant 501 was dubbed the ‘Barockengel’ (Baroque Angel) by the German press, a reference to its high quality, flowing lines and suicide rear doors that looked (a bit) like angel’s wings. It was initially fitted with an updated version of the pre-war BMW 326 six-cylinder engine, although unfortunately the voluminous and well-appointed bodywork weighed rather more than planned, hampering its autobahn capabilities.
This weight issue had been a concern even before launch, the management giving the green light to an all-new engine which was to make its debut in the 502 model of 1954. The new powerplant was a super-smooth all-alloy V8 of 2,580cc, its single camshaft running in the centre of the V operating pushrod overhead valves. Now with 100bhp on tap, the new car could touch the magic ton, restoring BMW to its rightful place as a manufacturer of performance machinery.
The V8 was also installed in the slightly cheaper and less luxuriously trimmed 501 (as here), this model also being known as the BMW 2.6. Costing a hefty 17,500 DM, it would have taken the average German worker around five years to afford one. The engine was later bored out to 3.2-litres which gave another 20bhp and by the time production came to an end in 1963, some 12,700 V8 models had been sold, hardly a triumph but just enough to keep BMW afloat while it developed the mass-market ‘Neue Klass’ models which were to transform the fortunes of the firm in the later 1960s.
Dating from 1959, this BMW 501 (2.6) was supplied new to the Swedish market and was to remain there until very recently. Our vendor used to live in Sweden and had known the car for about 20 years but could never persuade the owner to sell it to him. He finally managed to buy it in February this year and brought it back to London. An intrepid fellow, he has been using it as his daily driver ever since, reporting that it easily holds its own in the cut-and-thrust of city driving. He was planning to drive it up to the sale (a journey of around 160 miles), but being a doctor in the hard-pressed NHS, our opening hours and his shifts sadly ruled this out so it came on a truck instead, although he has no doubt that it would have accomplished the journey with ease.
Recently serviced and fitted with a new stainless steel exhaust system which cost £1,500 and a high-torque starter motor (which cost £299 from those good chaps at AES of Tenbury Wells), it has been starting promptly and running beautifully as we have moved it around on site, with a lovely V8 burble from the twin exhausts. As you can see in the photos, the interior could do with some attention (door cards, carpets and parcel shelf) but the seats are undamaged and the whole car appears remarkably solid and original, the paintwork having been refreshed to a decent standard in the 1990s. Eminently usable as it is, it could be smartened up over time as desired.
Although there is no real history with the car, it did sail through its last Swedish MOT in May 2019 (a famously strict test that makes ours look like a piece of cake) and it does come with two original handbooks (one for the 501 and one for the 502, both in Swedish) plus a copy of an original factory workshop manual in German. The V5C records it as a Historic Vehicle so it won’t cost you anything to tax it and it won’t need an MOT either. It even comes with a spare set of brand new tyres in the boot and is only reluctantly for sale due to a recent property purchase and attendant financial issues...
An extremely rare and interesting car from a critical time in the history of BMW, this high-quality machine is sure to prove a real talking point wherever it goes.
For more information contact James on 07970 309907 or email [email protected]
Reg No: 279XVN
Chassis Number: 55743
Engine Size: 2580
Docs: V5C; Swedish MOT from 2019; starter motor invoice; two original handbooks; maintenance manual
Hammer Price (inc. buyers premium)
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