1957 BMW 507
Year of manufacture1957
Number of seats2
The John Surtees CBE, one owner from new
1957 BMW 507 Roadster with Hardtop
Registration no. 22 GKN
Chassis no. 70067
JOHN SURTEES (1934-2017)
The only man ever to win World Championship titles on both two wheels and four - that was Britain's outstanding road-racing warrior of the 1950s to the 1970s, John Surtees.
Dedicated, outspoken, and totally focused upon his racing, Surtees was a simply brilliant motorcyclist who then built a new career as one of the fastest racing drivers of his day.
His father, Jack Surtees, was a garage proprietor from Kent, and had been an effective racing motorcyclist. John became proud owner of his first motorcycle when he was only 11. He left school at 15 and began work immediately in his father's garage business as a mechanic. In 1950 he made his competition debut as sidecar passenger on his father's racing combination, and his solo debut followed in 1951 on a grass track at Luton.
John Surtees won his first race, aged 17, on the Brands Hatch circuit in Kent. By 1955 had not only beaten the great Geoff Duke but had won 68 of 76 races in that season alone.
His reward was an offer from Count Domenico Agusta in Italy to join the mighty MV Agusta factory team for the 1956 season. John promptly ended the year as 500cc World Champion and would add six more World titles to his trophy cabinet by the end of 1959. He enjoyed working in Italy with the Italian team, and they came to adore him because all Italian racing mechanics and the tifosi simply love a real racer.
John Surtees was all of that, and more...
With his firm grounding in practical technicality, he recognised the importance from the outset of optimising the equipment that he raced, and he would spend countless hours with engineers and mechanics ensuring that any obtainable advantage was built-in to his motorcycles before he would even ride them to the start line.
The Italians in fact doted upon him. To them, this wiry but broad-shouldered figure became 'Il Grande John' 'John the Great' and when he turned to four wheels in 1960 the British motor racing press mistranslated this as 'Big John'. The tag seemed to stick with him, despite being really rather inappropriate.
It had been in 1955, that Norton's celebrated racing director and chief engineer, Joe Craig, had given Surtees his first factory-sponsored ride. He finished that year by beating reigning World Champion Duke at Silverstone and then again at Brands Hatch. However, with Norton in financial trouble and uncertain about their racing plans, Surtees accepted an offer to race for the MV Agusta factory racing team, where he soon earned immense affection and respect.
In 1956 Surtees won the 500cc World Championship, MV Agusta's first in the senior class. In this Surtees was assisted by the FIM's decision to ban the defending champion, Geoff Duke, for six months because of his support for a riders' strike for more starting money. In the 1957 season, the MV Agustas were no match for the Gileras, and Surtees battled to a third-place finish in the 500cc World Championship.
When Gilera and Moto Guzzi withdrew from Grand Prix racing at the end of 1957, Surtees and MV Agusta went on to dominate the competition in the two larger displacement classes 350cc and 500cc accumulating seven World Championships in all. In 1958, 1959, and 1960, he won 32 out of 39 races and became the first man to win the Isle of Man Senior TT three years in succession.
In the winter of 1959-60, while he was still contracted to MV, John was taken under the wing of Reg Parnell, the Aston Martin Team Manager, and of Tony Vandervell, the industrialist, to test Aston Martins and a front-engined Vanwall Grand Prix car at Goodwood.
The point of the exercise was to learn how to handle a racing car while making his mistakes in private. "I had no way of knowing where the limit was, of knowing how fast I should be going", he recalled. "I reached the point where the car wouldn't corner any faster, and would spin off!" In his hands that point was nearly two seconds inside the unofficial lap record.
Ken Tyrrell then entered a brand-new Formula Junior Cooper-BMC for John to drive in the opening BARC Member's Goodwood meeting of 1960. It was actually the first motor race the multiple motor-cycle World Champion had ever watched throughout, although his vantage point was over the windscreen of the unpainted Tyrrell Cooper...
He finished second, beaten only by Jim Clark's works Lotus 18. Colin Chapman was intrigued by Surtees' obvious promise, particularly when he won the Spring Formula 2 race at Oulton Park in a Lotus 18. Sure enough, on May 14 John made his Formula 1 racing debut, at Silverstone, driving a works Lotus 18. He would drive for Colin Chapman's team whenever his two-wheeled commitments permitted through the rest of that memorable season, staggering the motor racing world by finishing second in the British Grand Prix. In the Portuguese Grand Prix he started from pole position and led before crashing. In what he described as "my ignorance at the time" he was pushing both himself and his car to discover how both would react to this strange form of racing. Sometimes he would find himself committed to situations that even his lightning reflexes were not up to retrieving. He had a series of spins, crashes and collisions, which made other established drivers eye him with considerable suspicion and wariness. For a period he was viewed as 'The Wild Man', to be avoided.
In 1961 he abandoned motorcycle racing to concentrate totally upon cars, but his Yeoman Credit/Bowmaker Team Coopers proved sub-standard, and after two early minor wins he accumulated only four World Championship points. He tied with Jack Brabham but remained deeply dissatisfied, having achieved less than in his novice season of 1960.
He wanted a car of his own that he could test and co-develop. Reg Parnell managed the Bowmaker team, which was then built around Surtees for 1962, while Eric Broadley of Lola Cars built a spaceframe chassis to accept a Coventry Climax V8 engine. Effectively co-engineered by Broadley and Surtees, by mid-season '62 the combination became a regular front-runner.
The operation did much to fulfil this rather introspective, naturally somewhat suspicious sportsman's sense of independence. But fourth place in the World Championship was still far from good enough, and Mr Ferrari invited him to visit Maranello 'to talk'.
'The Old Man' had greatly admired Surtees in his Championship years with MV Agusta. He had always had a soft spot for Englishmen, and for motorcycle-trained racing drivers such as Nuvolari, Varzi and the pre-war Auto Union star, Bernd Rosemeyer. Now John Surtees agreed to make the move and became Ferrari's numero uno on a three-year contract from 1963-65. He was to work among Italians once more, in a culture and society he greatly enjoyed.
His first Formula 1 World Championship-level success came with victory in the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, while he also won non-Championship Formula 1 events at Enna in Sicily and Kyalami in South Africa. There was also success in a whole gaggle of sports car endurance classics. Determined, cool and sensitive always displaying his high degree of mechanical understanding and touch Surtees's driving had matured immensely since his 'wild man' days of 1960-61. He in turn helped Ferrari's new Chief Engineer, Mauro Forghieri, to revolutionise Maranello's technology, bringing to Ferrari his knowledge of the latest state-of-the-art chassis engineering, suspension geometry and general good practise.
With new V8-engined cars in 1964, John Surtees rose to the occasion. He absolutely excelled in the second half of that season, and stole the World Championship from Graham Hill and Jim Clark on the last lap of the final race - the Mexican Grand Prix in Mexico City.
At this stage in the game the new World Champion enjoyed a tremendous reputation as a tough and formidable competitor, and as a painstaking and intensely committed test and development driver. His utter dedication both at the wheel and behind the scenes was paying off.
But, during 1965, pressures began to mount within Ferrari. The team manager, Eugenio Dragoni, was a manipulative man who regarded Surtees as a foreign 'hired gun' and greatly favoured his own protégé Lorenzo Bandini. Dragoni saw himself as the man who would recreate the glory days of Italian motor racing, when an Italian driver had carried Ferrari to top honours.
Surtees, in the meantime, had maintained close contact with Eric Broadley and with Lola Cars. The introduction of a new, unlimited-capacity, Group 7 sports-racing class in the United Kingdom attracted his attention for a new enterprise Team Surtees which would run V8-engined Lola T70s in races in which Ferrari had no interest. He also drove the Midland Racing Partnership's quasi-works Lola Formula 2 single-seaters. Despite John's unusually warm and close personal relationship with Mr Ferrari, his extra-curricular activities did not sit well at Maranello.
John could, and did, argue forcefully that the Lola activities kept him absolutely up-to-date with motor racing's cutting edge, especially in all-important tyre technology where the big Lolas ran the rapidly improving rubber from Firestone. But as far as Mr Ferrari was concerned, his number one driver should not be risking injury in someone else's cars. At the Canadian Mosport track in 1965, John was badly hurt when his Lola T70 somersaulted after a component failure, and his place at Ferrari for 1966 appeared seriously threatened.
But he staged a near-miraculous recovery to win again for them in a rain-swept Monza 1,000kms on April 25. The new 3-litre V12 Ferrari was the first of the new Formula 1 batch to appear that year and John won brilliantly, despite pouring rain, at Spa. But irreconcilable differences, essentially with Dragoni, became impossible to tolerate further and Surtees left Ferrari, abruptly, at Le Mans. BP arranged an alternative drive for him, with Cooper-Maserati, and he shone in their thirsty V12 Formula 1 cars at Reims before rounding off a turbulent season with victory for Cooper-Maserati in the closing race in Mexico.
As a racing motorcyclist, John Surtees had been immensely impressed by Honda's rise to fame and glory on two wheels, and for 1967 the Japanese company snapped up his services. Their equipment failed him consistently until the Italian Grand Prix, where his Lola-chassised 'Hondola' won an epic race.
Ferrari's nose was badly put out of joint on home territory, but the Monza tifosi still went wild with enthusiastic joy on Surtees' behalf. Not for Honda, mind, but for 'Il Grande John'. They simply loved him.
Honda Racing was very much a Surtees operation, based in Slough, Buckinghamshire, and run totally by the man himself. Never a man to delegate anything he felt he could handle better himself, his increasing involvement with all the minutiae of administration, transport, bookings, as well as design, development and driving to some seemed more often to foil than to promote his expectations.
Honda opted out of Formula 1 at the end of 1968, and while Team Surtees proceeded with development and manufacture of a Len Terry-designed series of Formula 5000 single-seater cars, John himself signed with BRM for Formula 1
If ever a team needed Surtees' skills as a 'team doctor' it was BRM. But his abrasive, demanding style clashed almost instantly with that of the staff both senior and junior at Bourne. The season became a clear case of oil and water absolutely failing to mix. He was rightly outraged, and initially dismayed, by BRM's working practises, and secondly by a series of stupid, life threatening, car failures.
They, in turn, quickly became appalled at what they saw as his arrogant, dismissive nature. The result was an appalling season in Formula 1, exacerbated by a further bad experience with Jim Hall's radical CanAm Chaparral 'banana' car. Against this background Team Surtees itself represented a haven where the former World Champion could be as much chairman, managing director, driver, administrator, designer, works manager, or even mechanic, as he could possibly wish.
In 1970 he took Team Surtees into Formula 1, campaigning the McLaren M7C bought from Bruce until his own new Surtees-Cosworth TS7 car could make its debut for the British Grand Prix at Brands Hatch. He used this car and its successors designed very much under his own direction to win two Oulton Park Gold Cup non-Championship Formula 1 races, although Grand Prix success itself remained elusive. By 1972 John began to phase himself out of driving, making a single appearance in the Italian Grand Prix essentially to 'race-develop' his latest TS14 F1 design. By that time he had others driving for him, although he still tested and developed the cars himself.
His fellow multiple motorcycle World Champion, Mike Hailwood, had shone in Team Surtees' Formula 5000 and Formula 2 cars, and now led the Surtees Formula 1 team before moving to McLaren in 1974. But as sponsorship requirements and overall funding became ever more critical and ever harder to find and to maintain Surtees' foothold in major-league motor racing became increasingly insecure. Ultimately, at the end of the 1978 season, he closed down his racing operations, and the Surtees name left the Formula 1 scene that it had graced so nobly for 19 frenetic, intensely committed, years.
And through every one of those years in the garage of his magnificent Kentish country house the multiple World Champion had conserved, preserved, and maintained his much-loved part-present from Count Domenico Agusta for having won that 1956 500cc Motor-Cycle World Championship: his BMW 507 offered here.
BMW 507 THE BACKGROUND STORY
The gloriously handsome BMW 507 Coupé was initially the brainchild of an American, the car importer Max Hoffman who, in 1954, persuaded the BMW management to produce a roadster version of the BMW 501 and BMW 502 saloons. His idea was to plug the contemporary gap between the expensive German Mercedes-Benz 300SL and the cheap and relatively under-powered British Triumph and MG sports cars.
BMW engineer Fritz Fiedler of pre-war BMW 328 fame - was assigned to design the rolling chassis, using existing components wherever possible. Early body designs by Veritas-BMW performance-car specialist, Ernst Loof, were rejected by Hoffman, who found them unattractive. In November 1954, largely at Hoffman's insistence, BMW contracted industrial designer Albrecht von Goertz to style both the BMW 503 and the top-end 507.
Count Albrecht Graf von Schlitz genannt von Goertz von Wrisberg had been born on 12th January 1914 in Brunkensen, Lower Saxony. He was the second of three children, and while Albrecht did not technically inherit the family title upon his elder brother's premature death, he began to call himself 'The Count' and would often be referred to as such.
He was apprenticed to Deutsche Bank in Hamburg and then to the private bank of Herbert Wagg & Co in London, but his prospects did not prosper; so, in 1936, he emigrated to the USA, settling in Los Angeles where he worked at a car wash and in an aero-engine factory. In 1938 Goertz rented a garage and showroom. He restyled and modified Ford Model A and B cars and built a two-door coupé on a Mercury chassis entitled the 'Paragon', which was exhibited to considerable acclaim at the 1939 World Fair Exhibition in New York.
After five years of wartime service with the US Army, Goertz took the 'Paragon' to New York and while driving it accidentally encountered Raymond Loewy, the leading automotive stylist. Loewy invited Goertz to his office, sent him to college to study formal design, and later gave him a job in the Studebaker studio in Indiana.
In 1953 Goertz set up his own design consultancy and met Max Hoffman, BMW's leading importer into America. Hoffman knew of BMW's plans to build a sports car and suggested that Goertz should contact BMW in Munich. Discussions went well, particularly when Geortz's sketches were studied in comparison to Loof's, and Goertz was then engaged to design both the BMW 503 and BMW 507, initially for the 1955 model year but extending in the case of the 507 into 1956.
We understand that 34 Series I BMW 507s were built in 1956 and early 1957. These vehicles featured 110-litre (29.1 US gallon) competition-style welded aluminium fuel tanks installed behind the rear seats. These large tanks limited both boot and passenger space, and left the cabin smelling of petrol when the hood was erected or the hardtop fitted. In consequence, Series II and later 507s had 66-litre (17.4 US gal) fuel tanks carried beneath the boot, shaped around a space to accommodate the spare tyre.
The BMW 507 was based upon a shortened Typ 503 chassis frame, providing a wheelbase length reduced from 2,835mm (111.6 inches) to 2,480mm (98 inches). The Coupe's overall length was 4,835 mm (190.4 inches), and overall height 1,257mm (49.5 in).
Kerb weight was a claimed 1,330 kilograms (2,930lbs). The exceptionally shapely and fluid bodywork was almost entirely panelled in hand-formed aluminium sheet, and every 507 left the factory as an individual - no two were precisely the same.
Eleven of the cars were sold with an optional hand-fabricated removable hardtop, and again, as befits bespoke hand-made tailoring, each hardtop fitted only the individual car for which it had been made.
Front suspension was by parallel double wishbones while the rear suspension featured a live axle. Springing was by torsion bars front and rear, and there was an anti-roll bar provided at the front while the live axle was firmly located by a Panhard rod and a central, lateral A-arm to resist acceleration and braking forces.
Brakes, as standard, were Alfin drum type: 284.5mm (11.2 inches) in diameter, with optional power assistance. Late-model 507s were eventually fitted with British-made Girling disc brakes at the front. The John Surtees car as offered here actually features disc brakes all round, front and rear as explained in the main text.
The BMW 507 Coupé's power unit was an aluminium-alloy pushrod-operated overhead-valve V8 unit, displacing 3,168 cc (193.3 cubic inches). It breathed through two Zenith 32NDIX two-barrel carburettors, and featured a chain-driven oil pump, high-lift cams, a different spark advance curve compared to the associated saloon models, polished combustion chambers, and a compression ratio of 7.8:1. Power output was claimed to be 150 metric horsepower (110kW) DIN at 5,000rpm. This impressive-looking and sounding power unit was mated to a close-ratio four-speed manual transmission. The standard final-drive ratio was selected as 3.70:1, with options of 3.42:1 and 3.90:1 optional.
A contemporary road test of a BMW 507 with the standard 3.70:1 final drive appeared in the Swiss magazine Motor Revue, citing 0-100km/h (0-62mph) acceleration in 11.1 seconds and a top speed of 122mph - heady figures for 1956-57. Here indeed was a rocket ship for the public road.
The brand-new BMW 507 made its debut at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York in the summer of 1955 and production began in November 1956. Max Hoffman intended the 507 to sell for some US $5,000, which he believed would support a production run of 5,000 units a year. However, production costs of this svelte new German beauty ran away with the project, and the German market price inflated relentlessly: first to DM 26,500 and later 29,950, which pushed up the US market price initially to $9,000 and then $10,500.
The 507 Spyder and Coupé's undoubtedly startling looks attracted such celebrity customers as Elvis Presley (who owned two), and Hollywood movie director John Derek, while in Germany pre-war Grand Prix racing champion Hans Stuck and motorcycling star Georg 'Schorsch' Meier became prominent owners.
Despite having been conceived to revive BMW's sporting image, and to drive brand perception and sales volume forward, the 507 failed to attract more than 10 per cent of the sales volumes enjoyed by its Stuttgart rival, the six-cylinder Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Yet for many it was an infinitely better looking, more glamorous, lighter handling and rapid alternative.
Their sales difficulties with the 507 instead took BMW to the edge of bankruptcy. In 1959 the Munich company's losses reached DM 15 million. The company lost money on every 507 built, and when production was abandoned late in 1959 only 252 had been completed, plus two prototypes. Fortunately for the Bavarian company, an infusion of capital from Herbert Quandt, and the launch of new, cheaper models (the BMW 700 and later the 'New Class' 1500) intended for a very different sector of the road car market, helped the company recover, placing it on the launching pad to its continuing success.
The BMW 507, despite its contemporary commercial limitations, proved to be a landmark model for the German manufacturer. As early as 2007 one example sold at auction in London for £430,238 (US $904,000) and at the Amelia Island Concours in March, 2014 a 507 sold at auction for US $2.4 million.
Just over 200 BMW 507s are known to survive in 2018, and among them all we are confident this one-owner-from-new example, belonging to the late John Surtees, is the most mouth-wateringly covetable.