BMW 501

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BMW 501
BMW 501
Automotive industryBayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)
ProductionOctober 1952 - 1964
PredecessorBMW 326
BMW 340
SuccessorBMW 2500 / 2800 ‘New Six’
Car body styleSedan (car), Cabriolet (automobile), Coupé
Automobile layoutFR layout
Internal combustion engine1971 cc Overhead valve Straight-6
2077 cc Overhead valve Straight-6
2580 cc Overhead valve V8
3168 cc Overhead valve V8
Transmission (mechanics)4 speed manual
Wheelbase2835 mm (111.6 in)
Length4730 mm (186.2 in)
Width1780 mm (70.1 in)
Height1530 mm (60.2 in)
Curb weight1340 kg (2954 lb) or more
Fuel capacity70 L (18.5 US gal; 15.4 imp gal)
BMW 502 V8 3,2 L hr.jpg
The 501's predecessor, manufactured in Eisenach before and, briefly, after the Second World War, was reworked by the Thuringian plant's new controllers to be sold as the BMW 340, the car being produced without reference to BMW's Munich head office. Protracted disputation followed by litigation concerning the rights to the BMW brand and various tangible assets ensued. As the postwar division of Germany became ever less ambiguous, the BMW 340 turned up badged as the EMW 340, the familiar blue-white roundel badge replaced with a similarly shaped red-white one.

The BMW 501 [1] was a large Straight-6 passenger saloon produced by BMW, first seen in public at the first Frankfurt Motor Show in 1951, and offered for sale between 1952 and 1964. It was joined, in 1954, by the BMW 502 [1] which was a V8 version of the same car.

The 501 was the first BMW automobile to be built in West Germany after the Second World War. Few could aspire to drive one, but it nonetheless made a public impression, quickly acquiring the soubriquet “Baroque Angel” („Barockengel“).

Contents

BMW 501 Background


Immediately after the end of the Second World War, workers returning to BMW’s Eisenach plant started to assemble pre-war models including the six cylinder BMW 326 saloon. This was soon updated, the characteristic 'twin sausage' front grill replaced by more modern looking horizontal slats, to be sold as the BMW 340. However, Thuringen had fetched up in the Soviet occupation zone: it became apparent that the Soviets were not minded to give BMW back their factory: a precise chronology is hard to determine, but in or shortly after 1948 the six cylinder BMW 340 appeared badged as the EMW 340. (The B in BMW stood for Bayerische/Bavarian: the E in EMW stood for Eisenacher.)

Eisenach had till the Second World War been BMW's principal car plant. BMW's Munich plant had spent the war producing aircraft engines and by 1945 had been bombed to destruction. The 501, first unveiled in 1951 and produced from 1952, was therefore the first postwar BMW automobile built by BMW in Munich.

BMW 501 Details


At its launch, the 501 featured a straight six 1971 cc engine of prewar design, and more recently fitted in the Eisenach built BMW/EMW 340. For the new 501, the engine had a claimed power output increased to 65 bhp (48 kW). The car was longer and slightly wider but also lower than the 540. Its curvaceous styling reportedly conferred better than average Automobile drag coefficients [2]. The twin sausage front grill recalled popular BMW models of the 1930s, repudiating the 'modern' front of the 340 and anticipating the 'twin kidney' grill of late twentieth century BMWs. This was nevertheless a heavy car, and even in 1952 a top speed of 135 km/h (84 mph) compared unfavourably with six cylinder competitor models from Mercedes-Benz W187. The car was offered with a four speed gear box from the beginning.

Concerns about performance would to some extent be addressed in 1955 when a 2077 cc engine providing a power output of 72 bhp ( 53 kW) was provided in the 501. By now, the V8 powered 502 version had also become available. In 1958, the six cylinder 501 was withdrawn. In that year, 501 first received the 2.6 litre V8 engine originally introduced for the 502 back in 1954: being less luxuriously equipped the 501 V8 was lighter and therefore measurably quicker than the 502 with the same engine specifications. During the model’s life, and especially after 1954, further engine improvements conferring upgraded power outputs appeared regularly. The V8 501 now supported the reputation BMW had acquired in the 1930s for building sporting sedans. Improving performance also caused the model to become popular with members of the Fire service and Police service services.

Two levels of trim were offered, the versions being designated respectively 501A and 501B. Driver and passenger comfort were identified as 501 strengths, the heating system and ride quality in particular receiving press plaudits. [2] Billed as a six seater sedan, the 501 was launched as a large four door saloon. Some two door coupé and cabriolet versions were produced during 1954 and 1955, but most two door versions of this model were based on the more powerful BMW 502. The range underwent its principal facelift in 1955. Post facelift saloons are most readily distinguished from earlier models by a full width wrap around three piece rear window arrangement which later would be replaced by a single curved glass section.

Commercially, the 501 was a success when compared to contemporary six cylinder Borgward saloons. During the 1950s, the sector was increasingly dominated by Mercedes Benz, however, and 501 volumes never approached those achieved by Stuttgart built competitors. During a twelve year run, 9,017 six cylinder 501s were produced along with 5,568 of the later eight cylinder versions. Throughout the 1950s, BMW’s finances were believed to be precarious, following the loss of their Eisenach plant. The relatively low sales volumes achieved by the 501 was one among various reasons offered by commentators for the company’s financial woes. Matters came to a head when a Mercedes takeover was threatened, averted in 1959 only with Herbert Quandt’s dramatic rescue of the company.

BMW 502
BMW 502 V8 3,2 L vr.jpg
2007-07-22 BMW 502 - Baur-Cabriolet in Montabaur (01a klein r).jpg
Automotive industryBayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)
ProductionOctober 1954 - 1964
PredecessorBMW 335
SuccessorBMW 2500 / 2800 ‘New Six’
Car body styleSedan (car), Cabriolet (automobile), Coupé
Automobile layoutFR layout
Internal combustion engine2580 cc V8
3168 cc V8
Transmission (mechanics)4 speed manual
Wheelbase2835 mm (111.6 in)
Length4730 mm (186.2 in)
Width1780 mm (70.1 in)
Height1530 mm (60.2 in)
Curb weight1440 kg (3175 lb) or more
Fuel capacity70 L (18.5 US gal; 15.4 imp gal)

BMW 502 Background


The 502 first appeared at the 1954 Geneva Motor Show as a response to the need for a faster version of the 501 in order to reassert BMW’s reputation as a producer of sporting sedans. It shared the body of the 501, but addressed that car’s perceived performance deficit and prepared the way for a series of high powered saloons that would form the basis of BMW’s success in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

By launching their V8 in 1954, BMW stole a march on Mercedes-Benz whose first postwar Mercedes-Benz M100 engine would appear only in 1963.

BMW 502 Details

The innovative lightweight 2580 cc V8 engine offered a claimed power output of 100 bhp (74 kW). The published top speed of 160 km/h (99 mph) comfortably bettered that of the first six cylinder version of the Mercedes-Benz W180 launched the same year. Later, a 3168 cc version of the new V8 was also offered, initially with a claimed 120 bhp (89kW) power output, though power increased further with subsequent iterations.

The 502 was distinguished from the 501 by additional chrome trim and more lavish interior fittings. Commended, like the 501, for the extent to which the car cossetted its driver and passengers, the 502 would increasingly be known also for its speed and acceleration. Fuel economy was perhaps of less interest to buyers. Comparing mpg claims from this period with moderated twenty-first century data is not simple. However, in 1963 when the 502's engine had grown to a 3.2 litre capacity, a report estimated the 502's consumption atConvert/km/L.

Also innovative was the attention paid to passive safety. The car featured a robust chassis providing above average side impact protection, an unusually short steering column with the steering gear set well back from the front of the car, and a fuel tank placed in a carefully protected location above the rear axel in order to minimize fire risk in the event of an accident.

As well as the saloon version, BMW offered Karosserie Baur two door cabriolet and coupé versions of the 502 in 1954 and 1955[3]. Subsequently, the 502 provided the underpinnings for the BMW 503 sports car launched in 1955 and, during its final years, for the Bertone influenced BMW 3200 CS. Other 502 variants included an ambulance conversion commissioned by the German Red Cross and built by the Lorsch based ambulance specialists, De:Binz (Fahrzeuge).

The Frankfurt Show in 1955 saw the presentation of the BMW 505, an enlarged 502 lengthened to 5.1 meters, and designed for chauffeur use, complete with a drinks bar in the back. BMW saw this as a car for statesmen, to compete on equal terms with the Mercedes-Benz 300. Konrad Adenauer was persuaded to embark upon a test drive with his chauffeur. On entering the car, however, Adenauer’s knocked his hat which displeased him. No orders were received from the Chancellor of Germany (Federal Republic) and the 505’s Mercedes-Benz Type 300 went on to acquire the nickname “Adenauer Mercedes” because the chancellor was so often seen sitting in one. BMW’s 505 never went into series production, though two of them continued to turn up at shows and exhibitions for a while.

Sources and further reading

  1. 1.0 1.1 Oswald, Werner (2. Auflage 1979). Alle BMW Automobile 1928–1978. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 3-87943-584-7. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Stoof, Kurt (1953). Deutscher Sportverlag. Köln. 
  3. Gloor, Roger (1. Auflage 2007). Alle Autos der 50er Jahre 1945 - 1960. Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag. ISBN 978-3-613-02808-1. 
  • This article is based on a translation of the article De:BMW 501/502 from the De:Hauptseite.
  • This article incorporates text translated from Fr:BMW 501 as of 2008-02-08 concerning the BMW 501.
  • This article incorporates text translated from Fr:BMW 502 as of 2008-02-08 concerning the BMW 502.
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