Villa Erba | Lot 104
1957 BMW 503 Cabriolet by Bertone
€260,000 - €340,000 EUR
| Cernobbio, Italy
25 May 2013
- One of only 139 Cabriolets built
- Recent professional engine rebuild and cosmetic freshening by RM Auto Restoration
- Equipped with desirable Rudge wheels and Becker Mexico radio
- Eligible for the Colorado Grand
140 hp, 3168 cc overhead valve alloy block-and-head V-8 engine with twin Zenith carburettors, four-speed manual column-shift transmission, independent front suspension via upper and lower A-arms and live axle rear suspension with torsion bars, and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 2,835 mm (111.6 in.)
Like its rival Mercedes-Benz, BMW found itself in a tough post-war situation and needed to introduce a new model to gain the public’s attention. The 501 and its successor, the 502, were successful in achieving this, but the pre-war six-cylinder engine was dated, and it was time for a higher specification model. Highly influential in BMW’s decision to market a V-8 was notable U.S. importer Max Hoffman, who used his talent for persuasion and the size of his distribution network to convince BMW that a luxury sports car for the top 10 per cent could be sold in sufficient quantity. Engineering expertise came from the talented Fritz Fiedler, who launched his career at Horch. Styling was provided by Albrecht von Goertz, and the elegant BMW 503 debuted at the 1955 Frankfort Motor Show.
The Bertone-bodied Cabriolet’s official production began in the summer of 1956. The BMW 503 Cabriolet is notable as the first German automobile to have an electrically-operated power top. The 503 also touts welded tubular frame construction, aluminium panels, an alloy V-8 engine, and very high-quality appointments; all of this made the car very expensive to build, and production of the Cabriolet was thus limited to a mere 139 units.
This example, chassis 69146, was completed on 21 May 1957, and then it was sent to well-known German dealer Glöckler, of racing Porsche fame. By the late 1990s, it remained in highly original condition and was in a West Coast collection before being acquired by noted collector Robert Pond, of Palm Springs, California. Reportedly, during Mr Pond’s ownership, the very original 503 was treated to a comprehensive cosmetic restoration and mechanical recommissioning. The exterior was taken down to bare aluminium and refinished in this attractive white, and the exterior brightwork was either detailed or replated as necessary. The interior was retrimmed in blue leather with white piping, and today, it exhibits only light wear from gentle use; the top was reupholstered with a heavy blue canvas top, which remains taught and outstanding to this day. At the same time, all gauges, knobs, and hardware were refreshed. Mechanically, only items that were required to make the car roadworthy were addressed, in order to preserve the integrity of its originality. The 503 then passed to Michael Schudroff, of Greenwich, Connecticut, before it was acquired by its current owner.
The current owner acquired this car with the intention of using the handsome sports car in one of the many rallies and concours events for which it is eligible. After some driving and a full inspection, it was determined that the car required significant sorting for reliable long-distance touring. In April 2011, the owner commissioned the award-winning RM Auto Restoration to commence a detailed cosmetic and mechanical refurbishment of the 503.
The engine was fully rebuilt, and all mechanical and electrical aspects of the car were properly sorted, at a cost of approximately $80,000. At this time, the owner opted to acquire a set of factory-style Rudge knock-off wheels shod with new tyres, which alone cost $20,000. In addition, the brakes, suspension, and steering were properly sorted, and a new flywheel and clutch were installed. The work performed was intended to make the car 100 per cent functional, whilst also addressing a number of minor cosmetic items found along the way.
Today, the white 503 is exquisite; there is arguably no other colour combination that is more flattering on the lines of this car. The odometer reads only 890 kilometres, giving the new owner full faith in the car’s ability to glide along with four passengers. Today, these cars are treasured by collectors, as they represent a fascinating period in BMW’s history, when the important German firm was struggling to form an upscale identity in a difficult economic climate. The 503 is eligible for a number of rallies and events across the globe, and with such a meticulous degree of sorting, there is likely no better candidate than this example.