41 Year Sleep: 1961 BMW 502

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This 1961 BMW 502 V8 here on eBay has recently been unearthed from a Canadian barn after being stored for over 40 years. The personal car of a Canadian military sergeant, it was purchased in Germany with unique options like the Webasto-style sunroof and then shipped to his home country. It has under 40,000 original kilometers and remains surprisingly complete. 

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As seen here, the sellers were able to test a variety of vehicle functions, ranging from the headlights to the radio, after fitting a new battery. Even the engine appears to turn freely, which speaks to the original owner’s efforts to keep it preserved and the security of the barn! Obviously, the paint is tired and a full mechanical assessment will be required before attempting to drive it, but I’d want to change as little as possible in any effort to make it road-worthy.

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The later 502 cars were fitted with the automotive industry’s first mass-produced aluminum-block V8 engine, and was vital to BMW’s efforts to position itself as an upmarket brand with serious driver’s cars. Of course, that notoriety would come with the later 1600s and 2002s, but the 502 was still a quantum leap forward for the company, especially since the 501 was seen as expensive and underpowered. If the seller is right in their assumption that the engine will fire will fresh fuel and oil – well, that would be a credit to the car’s original build quality.

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I’ve never been a huge of these pre-neue klasse BMW models, but this one is different. It’s so well preserved and appears to be a healthy specimen, one that won’t fight you in the efforts to bring it back to life. And I love the story, along with the fact that it will come with its original registration documents from Germany. The price is steep, with a $15,000 opening bid and a reserve, but the chance to own a 502 in such original condition that isn’t rusty doesn’t happen often.

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Comments

  1. sunbeamdon

    What an incredible find – one never knows what my fellow Canucks have secreted away in the barn.

    Best of luck to the successful buyer

  2. rdc

    I am impressed with the preservation. Not sure I would do any restoration efforts beyond getting it functional and drivable with NOS parts if possible. Rebuild as many original parts as possible.

    Wonder how unique it is? Love the interior. reminds of early post wwII American cars.

  3. rogerowen

    Brilliant Barn Find! Strangely a RHD one was unearthed in the UK recently in very similar condition and went to auction for a guide price of £6,500.

    • Jeff Lavery Jeff Staff

      They aren’t worth much but they’re a rare find no matter the specification.

  4. RayT Member

    I’ve had a little experience driving a 502 and remember being impressed with it. A quality product, to say the least, and the little V8 was lovely. Of course I’m a fan of German design from this period, which doesn’t hurt.

    While it goes against the Bran Find Code, I’d have to go the full route on getting it back to factory-fresh condition. These cars have a remarkable presence when all shined up; the one I drove had been restored — carefully and expensively — from a condition only sightly worse than this one. It was all the more striking as a result.

    $15K doesn’t seem all that unreasonable. If it’s not worth keeping as an Investment-Grade Collectible, it’s still a car to cherish. And drive!

  5. Scotty Gilbertson Scotty G Staff

    That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout! Nice find, Jeff!

  6. Horse Radish

    I guess there are little “Gullwing BH clubs” popping up everywhere including Canada.
    .
    Hey, what’s better than selling these cars and making the profit just for ‘stealing’ it out of a barn and re-offering it for 20 times what he paid, right ?
    And do absolutely nothing to the cars.
    Ooops, sorry, I forgot. He hosed it off and stuck it into a showroom…….

    HUGE kudos to the guy, who kept it 30 years and kept it indoors and from deteriorating, which he has absolutely nothing of

    • Dave Wright

      You sound jealous………these are very cool under valued cars that will someday be very expensive.

  7. grenade

    Wow, that is an actual Barn find. Super cool. Dig the car and the story!

  8. Dennis M

    The 501 and its derivatives, including the V8 powered BMW 502, were nicknamed “Baroque Angels” by the German public.

  9. Dolphin Dolphin Member

    Probably one of the rarest barn finds we’ll ever see. BMW made these sedans with 2.6 or 3.2 liter engines, which were the first mass produced aluminium block V8s. These were one of the most luxurious sedans in Europe back then, and they almost broke BMW because they were large, expensive to make, and they didn’t sell many. That translates into a financial disaster, and it’s one of the reasons why BMW started making much smaller cars in much larger numbers.

    Despite all the problems making these ‘Baroque Angles’ caused BMW they are still special cars, and a reminder of a fairly short period before BMW completely changed it’s designs. This one is remarkably well preserved. It would be a hoot to take it in for servicing at your local BMW dealer and see if anyone there has even seen one, let alone worked on one.

    These are expensive to fix and buy parts for, so I hope that someone steps up to buy it and do the right thing. Maybe BMW N.A. should buy it to restore and display at their headquarters. I can’t remember whether there is one at the BMW museum in Munich, although I do remember seeing one of it’s much sportier—and valuable—brothers, a 507 on display there.

    This car has the same 3.2 liter engine as the 507, but with a single carb instead of the pair that the 507 has. The seller will probably have trouble getting much money for it, while a good 507 is now worth about $2 million. Lets hope a 507 owner doesn’t buy this car for its engine and gearbox and turf the rest of the car.

  10. stillrunners

    cool find and car…..

  11. Bill McCoskey

    Dolphin; Credit for the first production alloy [aluminum] V8 block goes to the Czech automaker TATRA. Their 1934 introduction of the Tatra T-77 paved the way for Tatra alloy V8 engines into the late 1990s.

    • Dolphin Dolphin Member

      Yes, I had forgot the Tatra, a very advanced Czech design. I don’t know too much about them but Wikipedia says they had electron (magnesium) blocks and that they made 249 Tatra 77 and 77A cars from 1934 to 1938, while BMW made close to 15,000 cars with aluminum V8s during the 1950s. So I guess it depends on whether we distinguish aluminium from magnesium, and how to define ‘mass produced’.

      • Bill McCoskey

        The Wiki post is not accurate, as the T-77 block is a mix of metals, but mostly aluminum and magnesium. I don’t know the exact percentage, but as I understand, above about 30%, a magnesium casting burns without oxygen, and is impossible to extinguish, hence the importance of the alloy mix.

        Production: Even without the T-77, Tatra made far more of it’s T-87, 1936 thru 1950, so if we discount the T-77 as not a true production vehicle, the T-87 is still older than the 502. That said, most automotive authorities agree that to qualify as a production car, a minimum run of 200 vehicles must be manufactured & made available to the buying public.

        Now if you want to make the claim that the BMW V8 was the first MONOBLOCK V8 engine, I believe that’s more accurate. The Tatra, being an air cooled engine, has cast iron cylinders.

        But wait — There’s more!
        About 1914 The KING automobile began manufacturing in Detroit, and featured an all alloy block V8. I am unable to find out details on the motor, other than it was an alloy unit. That could mean only the bottom crankcase was aluminum with cast iron banks of cylinders on top, or an entire motor of alloy construction. Considering the era, I’m thinking it was only the crankcase that was aluminum. That said, many of the lesser known manufacturers did make incredible inroads quite early in vehicle design & manufacturing. This often led them to ruin due to higher costs & disastrous mistakes!

        I do know from my research that King made quite a few V8 cars, the biggest production year was 1916, with over 3,000 cars produced! I have an early set of silent movie colored slides from the mid teens, featuring King V8 advertising. One of them shows a long line of King V8 cars waiting shipment, and another shows King V8 cars being loaded onto rail cars, and the caption says “Another shipment of 200 King V8s today!”

        I have yet to figure out how to copy these glass slides onto digital media, so I can’t show you guys the slide of all the King V8 cars!

    • Dave Wright

      Google failed Dolphin again…………….I sat in a Tatra while in Europe last fall. They are more impressive in person than in photos. There is a little museum outside of Stutgart that has a couple of them.

      • Dolphin Dolphin Member

        Hey Dave, I got no emotional, financial, or any other kind of stake in Google, Wikipedia, Tatra, Stuttgart, or any of them things.

        OTOH, the 507 is a truly beautiful car, and the market thinks so too since they are hard to find at less than about $2 million. And they have aluminum V8s in them, from among the ~15,000 that the company made in the ’50s, which is pretty good for a small, bombed out, struggling company back then. All of that’s good enough for me even if the engine is mainly aluminum and not elektron.

  12. Bill McCoskey

    Forgot to mention I had one of these wonderful BMW cars in the early 1980s, a very late version, by then known as the 3200 for the 3.2 liter engine. It was a delight to drive, plenty of power, and the interior; Soooo very plush & comfortable, far away a better car than the 300 series sedan Mercedes was offering [I’ve had a couple of them too]. Dark blue [almost black], It had come out of the city of Washington DC, and the guy I bought it from was claiming it was the ambassador’s personal car, but I never did follow up on that, as the cars were not very collectable at the time. I ended up parting out the car as no one wanted it.
    Why? The big problem I had with it was quite common — They had a tubular steel ladder chassis, and the main tubes had rusted badly, from the inside out. When I started checking the other chassis tubes, I was able to put a screwdriver thru most of them. With values topping off at $3,000 for a very nice one, It was a great parts car.

  13. sunbeamdon

    You guys have to stop educatin’ us mere mortals, how the heck can I bill my clients for the time spent on these great comments/insights? Oh well, just pad the bill!

    Tell us more about the King (not Elvis that is)

  14. Bill McCoskey

    Thought I might have an answer on the King car, as one of the 1918 King catalogs I have states that they used “Gray” engines [became Gray Marine later on]. However when looking closer at Gray engines at the time, they made both monobloc alloy and monobloc cast iron, or separate crankcase/block for both versions. Seems Mr. King was an investor in Gray Motors, hence it was only logical they would supply the motors for his car!

  15. Dave Wright

    When I bought my car repair shop in Germany…..1977…..there was one in the back corner of the shop, as well as numerous VW’s 356’s and others…….I never got the time to really play with it but it was a very nice car with little retail value. I eventually sold the car to a F15 pilot at the base who shipped it home.

  16. Dave Wright

    Were the Lycomings in the Tucker aluminum? Off course, all “aluminum” engines have high magnesium content to make the alloy more durable.

  17. Bill McCoskey

    Dave
    All the engines in Tom’s “museum” were painted a medium gray. The lycoming variants had the smoother finish of cast alloy, and the final Tucker variant was rougher, suggesting cast iron.

  18. slickimp

    Learn something new ever day . never knew BMW had a v8 back then neat car

  19. Bob S

    I saw a Tatra in an obscure place named Vernon BC, when I was about 12 and already crazy about cars. I never did see either the 501 or 502 on the road here, but, being a BMW lover, particularly cars like the 514, I always looked for them when I was in Germany. Other than pictures, the only 514 I have ever seen, is the model I have on my mantle.
    In the mid 70s, they did have some classic BMWs on display in the Technical Museum in Munich along with some other unusual cars such as a stainless steel bodied Porsche. I am sorry that it is too long ago to remember exactly which models, other than the iconic BMW Isetta.
    I would love this car, but my project bucket is full.
    Bob

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