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The staggeringly beautiful and genuinely unique BMW 507 owned by the late John Surtees CBE from new has just sold at auction during the Festival of Speed at Goodwood.

Any BMW 507 is a breath-taking piece of machinery and highly coveted. For obvious reasons! Mostly so probably the exquisitely elegant lines of the Albrecht von Goertz roadster design. Then there’s the lovely 3.2-litre all-alloy V8 engine. The fabulous German engineering and build quality. The famous Max Hoffman connection. The many celebrity owners such as Elvis Presley and pre-war Grand Prix Champion Hans Stuck Senior. Or even the extreme rarity with a mere 252 examples built. But even among diamonds, there’s always one diamond which shines brighter than the rest.

But rather than me just rattling on, why not let the previous owner of 60 years do the talking. The vast documentation accompanying this Bavarian beauty also includes a draft text written by the great eight time World Champion himself, detailing the history of this magnificently well-preserved and immensely attractive BMW. John Surtees:

The Story of my BMW 507

I was well established in my motorcycling career when I finally drove a car. This was a Jowett Jupiter that I saw in a showroom window on a day that the heavens had opened and I was riding a big Vincent Rapide to the factory at Stevenage. The Jowett was a super little car and I enjoyed it immensely.

My father was doing a little business with the AFN company who were the BMW and Porsche importers. One day I went with him and was given the opportunity of trying a 356 Porsche. That again was a superb car. I experienced my first ever spin in it as it handled somewhat different to the Jowett.

Fast forward to my first year with the MV Agusta team in 1956. At the time I had reverted to a Ford as it was more convenient because of all the equipment I would carry. The season went well with me winning my first TT and, whilst lying in a German hospital in Stuttgart following a crash in the 350cc race at Solitude, I also became World Champion. Count Agusta was delighted and, perhaps thinking that my terms hadn’t been that generous, he said “We must buy you a prize, do have a think”.

I went away and did some serious thinking. There were a number of cars that quite excited me but I had done nothing about it. In 1957 at the start of the season I went to a race event at Hockenheim in Germany. There I saw my old friend and BMW development head Alex von Falkenhausen. What interested me was the beautiful car that was standing alongside the BMW pit. Alex saw me looking at it and said to take it for a run. So I jumped in and drove it all around those woodland roads which then existed at Hockenheim, and liked what I saw. Alex, when returned, introduced me to one of the sales directors who said “John these cars are very very rare and if you wanted one we would have to allocate it specially and would advise you”… After a few days they advised me I could have one possibly in July and told me the colour, interior and specification it had to be. I was excited…

I went to Count Agusta and said I knew what I would like. It was a 507 BMW. His first words were how much? To which I replied £3,200. Both of us managing to converse in the Italian I was developing. There was a hesitation so I went in and said 50%, and we had an agreement.

The MV Agusta team was based at Gallarate which is just on the side of Milan airport at Malpensa. I could therefore take a route through using the Brenner and dropping into Munich where the BMW was based. I collected my car and drove it carefully back again through to Italy. I did the trip a number of times as well as the trip to England.

When the car was fully run in I asked to speak to Alex von Falkenhausen. I said to him the car was not like his. ‘It goes up the mountains too slow and down the mountains too fast’. He replied “Yes I do have more horsepower in my car and can improve yours as well, we will do that. On brakes it is an opportune moment because we are working with Dunlop in England on introducing disc brakes and you can be part of that development programme”.

It was therefore agreed that I should take my car to Fort Dunlop and they would fit the car with four-wheel disc brakes. I think it is the only 507 in the world with this arrangement.

I carried out a lot of development running until I had provided the information required. In relation to speed, when the engine performance had been improved, the car had been fitted with a full under-belly fairing which gave it something like 10-15 mph more top speed. The most speed I ever did in it was on the Gallarate to Milan Autostrada – with the help of a little downhill section and good weather the car went over 140 mph…

I continued to run the car taking it to most of the Grand Prix’s I went to, normally with my team mate John Hartle. To get more luggage space I removed the hood from inside the hardtop so that I could have the back shelf available We have since replaced the original hood.

As I said, the car was used continuously up until I joined Ferrari. On joining them at the end of 1962 Enzo Ferrari came out of his office after we had made an agreement and said “German car, not possible” I thought I was going to be given a Ferrari. But that didn’t happen, although I did end up with a 330 GT…

I drove the BMW home and basically laid it up in the garage. My father had a very good friend he did business with who lived in Barnet and had cafes in both Dunstable and just off the Great North Road. He had previously hired from me one of the rather special motorcycles I had built. Dad called me and said “Mr Greenfield would love to have the BMW”. I was very dubious but on checking where it was going to be and where it was going to be driven, I agreed. So for a short time the car was hired to Mr Greenfield who treated it extremely well and never in any way pressed it. He just had the pleasure, as with the motorcycle, of driving between his various venues with special pieces of equipment.

When I moved and had more accommodation I took the BMW back and it has been in my possession ever since. A car with many memories and one where purely its original specification makes it very very special.

His own words largely sum up just how special this BMW 507 is. A one-owner car, with a very rare factory-tuned engine, a unique Dunlop disc brake set-up, a rare factory hardtop and not least presented in stunningly original and well-preserved condition. This diamond shines brighter than the rest. There is no other BMW 507 quite like it.

The late John Surtees CBE with his beloved BMW 507 shortly after being given the car by his employer MV Agusta.

And the classic car market has clearly just confirmed this when chassis number 70067 was put up for auction by Bonhams last Friday during the Goodwood Festival of Speed. This truly unique BMW 507 had been given an estimate of £ 2,000,000 – 2,500,000, but interest was strong as was bidding. Eventually the hammer fell at a staggering £ 3,809,500 including fees, making it the highest price ever achieved by a BMW at auction. This is no doubt the most sublime piece of Bavarian motoring history…

4 Responses

  1. Tony Wawryk

    What a car, and what provenance!
    As an aside, it still irritates me that Surtees was never knighted, and of course it’s now too late.

  2. Claus Ebberfeld

    Brilliant history and a beautiful car. The 507 has long been a car I’d love to try in real life as I’ve always imagined that it would drive far less brilliant than it looks being very much Fifties technology – but again, beautifully packaged.

  3. Rob

    Agree about the lack of a knighthood, Surtees turned tragedy in his life into a positive, doing so much good work. Unequaled with his victories on both two and four wheels.

  4. Anders Bilidt

    I thoroughly agree! If any British racing driver deserved a knighthood, surely it would have to be Surtees.
    But of much higher importance, if any classic car enthusiast ever deserved owning this unique BMW 507, I strongly feel it would have to be me… ;-)


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