BMW 503

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BMW 503
BMW 503 Coupé (5746741521).jpg
ManufacturerBayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW)
ProductionMay 1956 – March 1959[1]
413 built[1]
DesignerAlbrecht von Goertz
Body and chassis
ClassGrand tourer (S)
Body style2-door 2+2 seater coupe
2-door 2+2 seater cabriolet[2]
LayoutFR layout
RelatedBMW 507
BMW 502
Engine3,168 cc (193 cu in) BMW OHV V8[3]
Transmission4-speed manual
Wheelbase2,835 mm (111.6 in)[2][4]
Length4,750 mm (187 in)[4]
Width1,710 mm (67 in)[4]
Height1,440 mm (57 in)[4]
Curb weight1,500 kg (3,300 lb) approximately[4][5]
PredecessorBMW 327
SuccessorBMW 3200 CS

The BMW 503 is a two-door 2+2 gran turismo manufactured by German automaker BMW from 1956 until 1959. The company developed the 503 alongside the 507 roadster in an attempt to sell a significant number of luxury cars in the United States. The 503 and 507 cost about twice their projected price and did not recover their costs. During production from May 1956 to March 1959, 413 units of the 503 were built. Even though it was a prestige model it resulted in heavy losses for BMW.

Concept and design[edit]

Hanns Grewenig, sales manager of BMW, repeatedly requested the development of a sports car based on their 501 and 502 luxury sedans.[6] In early 1954, influenced by the public reaction to Mercedes-Benz 300 SL and 220 SC show cars in New York in February 1954, the management of BMW approved the project.[7]

Max Hoffman, an influential automobile importer in the United States, saw early design sketches by BMW's Ernst Loof, and suggested to industrial designer Albrecht von Goertz that he should submit design proposals to BMW.[8][9] Based on these proposals, BMW contracted Goertz to design the 503 and 507 in November 1954.[10]

The 503 was a 2+2 grand tourer that was available as either a coupe or a cabriolet. It was noted for having a cleaner and more modern design than the "Baroque Angel" 501-based sedans.[11] The cabriolet version of the 503 was the first European convertible with an electro hydraulic hood and windows.[12]Only 3 RHD cabriolets were hand made for the British market.

Engineering and development[edit]

Tasked with designing rolling chassis for two cars while using as much as possible from the existing 502 sedan, engineer Fritz Fiedler designed two versions of a new ladder frame, one with the same wheelbase as the 502, and one with a shortened wheelbase. The long-wheelbase version was used in the 503.[2] Both cars used the steering system and a variant of the front suspension system from the 502; the 503 also used the 502's rear suspension.[3] As originally designed, the 503 used the 502's remote gearbox placement and shift linkage.[2] Both cars used the braking system developed for the 3.2 sedan, using drum brakes with vacuum assist.[3] From 1957 all 503s were fitted with discs on the front as a result of recommendations from John Surtees who had bought a 507. Later he also bought a 503. All 503s were configured for left hand drive except for 3 Coupés, and 3 Cabriolets handbuilt for the UK market.[13] John Giles, the proprietor of specialists TT Workshops in the UK, converted a LHD Cabriolet to RHD in the 1990's.

Both cars used the 3.2 L version of the 502's V8 engine developed for the 3.2 sedan, but with two carburetors and with an improved lubrication system using a chain-driven oil pump. The 503's V8 had a compression ratio of 7.5:1 and yielded 140 bhp (104 kW; 142 PS) at 4800 rpm.[3][9] Some UK 503s were delivered tuned to 507 specification, either by BMW or, before delivery, by AFN Ltd, the BMW Concessionaires for the UK, the engines of which developed 150 bhp.

The 503 had sixteen inch wheels and standard final drive ratio of 3.90:1,[2] A final drive ratio of 3.42:1 was optional.[3] Acceleration of the 503 from standstill to 100 km/h (62 mph) had been measured at 13 seconds; the top speed of the 503 is about 120 miles per hour (193 km/h).[5]

In September 1957, the 503's drivetrain was revised. The gearbox was bolted to the transmission and the shifter was moved from the steering column to the floor.[4][5][12][13] All RHD cars had floor shifts.


Hoffman had wanted BMW's sports and GT cars to be positioned between Triumph's sports cars and the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL,[2] at a selling price close to US$5,000 ($50,578 in 2021 dollars [14]).[1] He told BMW he would order thousands of their sports cars at a purchase price of DM12,000.[15] BMW, however, saw themselves as catering to the wealthy and aristocratic, and were not interested in cut price sports cars. They were after the Mercedes 300SL market.

After its introduction at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1955, the 503 began production in May 1956 with a selling price of DM29,500, while the 507 roadster sold for DM26,500 when it began production seven months later.[1]

While some, such as Battista "Pinin" Farina, felt the 503 was superior in design to the 507,[1][9] the 503 was later largely overshadowed by it.[1][11][12] However, while neither the 503 nor the 507 sold well enough to earn a profit,[16][17] the larger, more luxurious, more elegant, and more expensive 503 sold 412 units to the 507 roadster's 253.[12][18] The problem with the 507 Roadster was that the performance did not match its looks or the price in a market that was used to big V8 cars. Another difficulty for both cars was that Hoffman took fright at the very high price and cancelled his arrangement with BMW. Thus BMW had no dealership or servicing arrangements in the US which potential purchasers were wary about. The 503 did better amongst the upper levels of society in Europe, with many going to Heads of State (eg Tito) and the nobility (eg Count Faber-Castell). It won numerous gold medals in International shows at the time. 139 of the 503s made were cabriolets.[4] Production ended in March 1959.[1]


The 503 was BMW's first postwar sports coupe.[19] It was replaced by the Bertone-bodied BMW 3200 CS in 1962.[20][21]

A 1956 BMW 503 Cabriolet with Portuguese plates was driven by the George C. Scott character in the 1971 movie The Last Run.

A 1957 BMW 503 Coupé appears in the BBC drama Father Brown, episode 2, series 4, The Brewer's Daughter, first broadcast January 2016. That car was right hand drive.

John Surtees CBE, the former Motorcycle and F1 World Champion bought a 1957 503 Cabriolet in 1992, which he restored and owned up until his death in 2017.



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Norbye, Jan P., BMW - Bavaria's Driving Machines, p.115
  2. ^ a b c d e f Norbye, p.96
  3. ^ a b c d e Norbye, p.113
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Car Body Design: BMW 507 and 503 (1955-1960)
  5. ^ a b c Norbye, p.116
  6. ^ Norbye, p. 95
  7. ^ Norbye, pp. 95-96
  8. ^ Norbye, pp. 113-114
  9. ^ a b c Buckley, Martin, BMW Cars, p. 40
  10. ^ Norbye, pp. 114-115
  11. ^ a b Noakes, Andrew, The Ultimate History of BMW, pp. 49-50
  12. ^ a b c d Lewin, Tony, The Complete Book of BMW: Every Model since 1950, pp. 28-29
  13. ^ a b Buckley, p. 41
  14. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  15. ^ Noakes, p. 52
  16. ^ Norbye, p. 130
  17. ^ Lewin, pp. 29-31
  18. ^ Norbye, p. 251
  19. ^ Langworth, Richard M., Complete Book of Collectible Cars: 70 Years of Blue Chip Auto Investments 1930-2000, p. 49
  20. ^ Noakes, pp. 63, 65
  21. ^ Norbye, pp. 131-132


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