Wednesday, August 17, 2016

BMW finds and restores Elvis Presley's old BMW 507 roadster

Elvis Presley may be known for his affinity with Cadillac, having owned and given away quite a few during his lifetime, but the King of Rock n' Roll at one time also owned a BMW.

For two years, from 1958 to 1960, Elvis served in the Army after having been drafted by the United States military. After completing his basic training in Fort Hood in Texas, Elvis was assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, West Germany. It was during his stint in the European country that Elvis bought the BMW 507 roadster.

Ironically enough, the BMW 507 was not brand-new when Elvis acquired it. According to various sources, the car was first owned by German racing driver Hans Stuck who used the car--finished in Feather White and bearing chassis number 70079--in a number of hill climb races in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland between May and August 1958. After every race, the 507 was serviced by BMW and had been fitted with an upgraded engine and a new gearbox when it ended up with a dealer in Frankfurt in 1958. It wasn't long after that Elvis, who ostensibly needed a car to transport himself between his home in Bad Nauheim and the US Army Base in Friedberg, saw the car at the dealer and immediately bought it after a brief test drive.

The 507's white paint job was a problem for Elvis since female fans would reportedly leave messages on the car itself using their lipsticks. Elvis solved this dilemma by having the car painted in red.

After Elvis' stint in the military ended in March 1960, he had the 507 shipped to the United States. It didn't stay long with him though since a few months later, Elvis traded it in at a Chrysler dealer in New York. From there, the car changed ownership three times and was heavily-modified more than once--with the BMW engine being swapped out for a Chevrolet mill that was so large, parts of the car's front frame carrier was supposedly cut out--on top of its gearbox, rear axle and instruments in the cockpit being replaced. By 1968, Elvis' old 507 found its way to California under the ownership of its most recent owner, Jack Castor, who used it occasionally as a runabout for everyday use before deciding to put the car into storage for future restoration. 

A collector who had already amassed an impressive collection of automobiles, Castor delved into the history of the vehicles he acquired and it was while reading an article about the 507 in the Bimmer magazine written by Jackie Jouret that he decided to contact her to tell her about his car.

On a visit to Castor's property, Jouret was led to a pumpkin warehouse where the 507 was stored alongside other classic automobiles, not to mention a large number of parts carefully stowed in boxes for the planned restoration of the roadster to its original condition. What Castor lacked though was an appropriate engine and the time to complete the project. However, when the 507's engine compartment was opened and the car identified by its stamped chassis number 70079 that things began to move rapidly for Castor and his roadster.

First, the people at BMW Group Classic Archives ascertained the car's provenance by finding an insurance proposal from December 1958 which contained the chassis number 70079 alongside the registration of the vehicle's owner as Elvis Aaron Presley. BMW Group Classic then discussed with its experts for restoring classic cars, Klaus Kutscher and Axel Klinger-Köhnlein, than an agreement was reached for the 507: besides being purchased by BMW Group Classic, the car will be restored as authentic as possible as envisaged by Castor.

After arriving in Germany, Elvis' 507 was first completely dismantled, a process which took an entire week instead of two days as originally planned. To retain as much of the original material as possible, the aluminum body was separated from the sheet steel floor assembly. The paint from the floor assembly and body was then stripped in an acid bath and an alkaline bath, respectively.

Also, despite the number of spare parts collected by Castor,a lot of the components had to be remanufactured from scratch since stocks of the original parts for the 507 are limited in numbers, even at BMW Group Classic, since only 254 examples were produced between 1955 and 1959. The window winders and door handles, for example, were remanufactured through 3D printing process based on the original dimensions. After producing a digital data set by three-dimensional scan of the original part, a copy was made with the help of additive manufacturing and mirror finished afterwards. By contrast, the rubber seal for the tank cover was reproduced via conventional manufacturing process, thereby benefiting other 507 owners since as a limited number was produced which means the part can now be sourced at BMW Group Classic.

As for the engine, the 150hp, 3.2-liter V8 was completely rebuilt from spare parts and conforms with its original specifications though it wasn't given an engine number due to its use of old and new components. The front frame carrier, which had been cut down to fit a Chevrolet mill as mentioned earlier, also had to be reproduced in its original geometry and integrated in the floor assembly.


In accordance to Castor's wish, the car was painted once more in Feather White. But instead of having the primer, filler, and top coat applied using today's methods, these were implemented using a procedure that corresponds to the technology used when the 507 was produced some 60 years ago, eliminating the color brilliance that is expected in modern cars but considered inappropriate for classic cars like the 507.

While the restoration of Elvis' 507 is certainly a joyous occasion, it does somewhat end with a sad note. Jack Castor wasn't able to see the car restored to its former glory as he passed away in November 2014 at the age of 77.

"The opportunity to bring back the BMW 507 owned by the King of Rock’n’Roll to us here in Munich for purposes of restoration in accordance with the wishes of the previous owner, Jack Castor, was a dream come true for all those involved," said BMW Group Classic chief Ulrich Knieps. "This was an exceptionally fascinating project."

Restored to its original condition as it was when Elvis Presley took delivery of the car on December 20, 1958, with center-lock rims, black and white interior, and a Becker Mexico radio, the BMW 507 with chassis number 70079 will be on display at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, California on August 21. 

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