BMW 503, the misunderstood coupe

The BMW 503 is a two-door 2+2 car produced in the 1950s by BMW. The company developed the BMW 503 along with the 507 roadster in an attempt to sell a significant number of luxury cars in the United States, where it did not have a very large market share, and the 503 was the first BMW sports coupé produced after World War II.

The design of the BMW 503

Hanns Grewenig, BMW’s sales director, repeatedly asked the Munich-based brand’s management to develop a sports car based on its 501 and 502 luxury sedans, so in early 1954, influenced by the public reaction to the Mercedes-Benz 300SL and 190SL cars presented in New York in February 1954, BMW’s management approved the project.

Max Hoffman, an influential car importer in the United States, saw the first design sketches of BMW’s Ernst Loof and suggested to industrial designer Albrecht von Goertz that he should send his design proposals to BMW. Based on these proposals, BMW hired Goertz to design the 503 and 507 in November 1954.

The 503 was a 2+2 grand tourer that was available as a coupé or convertible. It was notable for having a cleaner and more modern design than the 501 and 502 sedan, also known as “The Baroque Angel”. The convertible version of the 503 was the first European convertible with an electrically operated top.

Engineering and development of the BMW 503

Engineer Fritz Fiedler designed two versions of a new chassis, one with the same wheelbase as the 502 and one with a shorter wheelbase, the long-wheelbase version being the 503.

Both cars used the 3.2 L version of the BMW 502’s V8 engine developed for the 3.2 sedan, but with twin carburettors. The 503’s V8 had a compression ratio of 7.5:1 and produced 100 kW (140 PS) at 4,800 rpm, enabling it to accelerate from zero to 100 km/h in 13 seconds and reach a top speed of 185 km/h (185 mph).

Sales of the BMW 503

Hoffman intended BMW’s new sports car to be positioned in the market between the Triumph sports cars and the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL, with an asking price of around DM 12,000, assuring BMW management that he would order thousands of his sports cars at that price. After its presentation at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1955, the 503 went into production in May 1956 with an asking price of 29,900 DM, while the 507 roadster sold for 26,500 DM when production began seven months later, a price far higher than Hoffman’s target price, thus causing BMW to make a huge loss.

During production from May 1956 to March 1959, 413 units of the 503 were built. Although it was a prestige model, and BMW was counting on it to contribute to the recovery of its delicate accounts, it resulted in heavy losses for BMW.

It was replaced by Bertone’s BMW 3200 CS in 1962.