Villa Erba

25 May 2013

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Lot 104

1957 BMW 503 Cabriolet by Bertone

  • Chassis no. 69146
  • Engine no. 30152
  • Body no. 1146

€260.000 - €340.000

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.)

  • 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

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.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

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California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more