The story starts in December 1958 in Frankfurt, Germany, when Elvis bought a used BMW 507 after starting his military service.
At the rock star’s request, BMW exchanged the car’s engine – with which Hans Stuck had previously won a hill-climbing race – for a lightweight V8 series engine with 150 hp, which was very powerful for those days. It was sensational: the most successful musician of all time in a German roadster. The pull of the car attracted other stars too, such as the first Bond girl, Ursula Andress, and the successful French actor Alain Delon.
But it was one person more than any other who made the car a legend: Elvis Presley.
The unparalleled success of “the King of Rock ’n’ Roll” was anchored in a new, easy-going way of living that turned many conventions upside-down. And the BMW 507 did much the same, and it has remained the epitome of freedom to this day. Elvis quickly decided to change the colour of his roadster. His female fans were leaving lipstick marks on his chalk-white paint every day, so he got it painted red.
When his military service came to an end in 1960, the King took his red sports car back home. Soon after, a Chrysler dealer in New York advertised the roadster as the “Elvis Car” and sold the BMW 507 for 3,500 USD to Tommy Charles, a Radio DJ and hot-rod hobbyist.
He had the car re-equipped with a Chevy V8 Borg-Warner engine and a Chevy rear axle. The car had two more owners before a Californian aeronautical engineer, Jack Castor, bought it in 1968. Castor, however, did not use the car very often and had it put in storage sometime around the year 1974.
Automotive journalist Jackie Jouret found the roadster about 30 years later in Jack Castor’s pumpkin warehouse near San Francisco. But the red BMW 507 roadster had faded from its original glory.
The engine and important weight-bearing portions of the chassis were missing. However thanks to the VIN number, the car was clearly identified as Elvis’s legendary roadster. The vehicle identification number 70079 proved its superstar status.
Back to its homeland
After many years and multiple discussions between Jack Castor and BMW restoration experts Klaus Kutscher and Axel Klinger-Köhnlein, the BMW Group Classic finally received permission to restore the BMW 507 to its original condition in Munich, Germany. It was an important moment for Klaus Kutscher, who referred the car as a “high-class scrap”.
For decades, the car was untraceable, and the original VIN number was not even known – and now I have it right in front of me.
The King’s car reincarnation
Unfortunately, there are hardly any replacement parts available for the BMW 507 today. So the first step in the restoration process was to take stock of what was and wasn’t there. Which parts were original? Which parts could be restored, and which parts needed to be re-produced by BMW Group Classic?
Luckily, many large components like the bonnet, doors and mounted parts proved to be original. Disassembly took significantly longer than in other cases, because the aluminium body and sheet steel underside had to be separated from each other in order to strip the paint.
The engineers also disassembled the chassis and interior. Next, the underside went into an acid bath.
After the paint was removed, there was still 60 years’ worth of rust to deal with. A phosphoric acid-based rust remover was used to make that indicator of the car’s age disappear. But to fully repair such major damage from corrosion, many parts had to be replaced completely.
An engine from another age
Surprisingly, it was not possible to find the engine that had been installed specially for Elvis. So, instead of the 150 hp 3.2-litre V8 lightweight engine from Bavaria, they used a large-volume engine from Chevrolet.
This made fitting in the old and new components around the engine into one of the biggest challenges. Whether it was the crank drive or the oil supply, everything required an individual solution. The result: an engine from another era that shined like new, following the original specifications of the BMW 507 in 1957 as closely as possible.
In addition to the engine, other elements such as the interior, the missing dashboard and the seats had to be manufactured to meet exact specifications. The BMW 507’s leather seats alone required days of work. The felting was inserted and sewn by hand and then covered in white linen. After that, the seats were covered in leather that matched the original leather grain.
The experts spent two years re-constructing component after component in exacting detail, or looking for original replacement parts and restoring existing elements. Even the paint in chalk white – rather than Elvis’s red – was mixed according to the original specifications. It was then finally time to put it all back together.
The time came to unveil the fully restored car on 21 August 2016, during the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, California.
Due to the small production run – only 254 vehicles were produced between 1956 and 1959 – the roadster designed by Albrecht Graf von Goertz is an icon of design and a sought-after collectors’ item worth over two million USD. The BMW 507’s triumphant return isn’t quite as miraculous as it was when the King of Rock ’n’ Roll staged his comeback in 1968, but it’s still quite a unique story.
The BMW Concept Z4 speaks the new BMW design language in all its details and from every perspective.
Just a year later, again at the Concours d’Elegance Pebble Beach, the BMW Concept Z4 celebrated its grand debut. Although it leaves everything behind it, it is the logical continuation of a fascinating roadster history.
Again one year later, BMW presents the new BMW Z4 M40i First Edition during the Pebble Beach Automotive Week 2018. Who knows? Perhaps this edition – exclusively available for a limited period – will one day win a prize at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as a perfectly preserved collector’s item.