Monday, June 1, 2015

BMW 501: First Postwar BMW Sedan Design

As this Wikipedia entry mentions, it took a while for BMW to straighten out its post- World War 2 affairs.  These were complicated by the fact that its Eisenach production facilities were in the Russian occupation zone and needed to be legally divested.  Eventually things fell into place and the firm began planning a postwar line of cars, the 501 model and its derivatives.

The 501 was introduced at the 1951 Frankfurt auto show and produced 1952-1962.  During the planning stage, an in-house design was prepared by Peter Schimanowski.   But management was unsure of its worth, so Italian stylist Pininfarina was commissioned to create an alternative design.  However, according to the link above, it was rejected because it was thought to be too similar to an Alfa Romeo design.

As we shall see below, the production 501 was conservatively styled in the general manner of some postwar English cars.  It seems to have been given the ambivalent nickname Barockengel (Baroque angel) by some of the motoring public.

Less than 23,000 500-series cars were built over a ten-year span, so BMW remained financially precarious until late in that period when the Quandt family put money into the firm and the 1500 model was introduced.


Above are two views of the 1950 Pininfarina version of the 501.  The air intakes on either side of the traditional BMW grille are indeed similar to Alfa Romeo styling details that emerged in the late 1940s.  The smaller lights next to the headlamps are placed too close to the snout containing the main grille, helping (along with the cramped Alfa-like intakes) to create a cluttered, awkward front ensemble.  The rest of the car is cleanly styled and in line with design fashions of the time.  The passenger compartment "greenhouse" has a windshield that looks the same as that of the production 501.  The doors are hinged at the front and the lower edges of the windows look misaligned.  But that is an optical illusion caused by the fact that the fender line seems to be bowed slightly upward towards the B-pillar.

A 1957 501.  The "greenhouse" is airier than that of Pininfarina's design due to thinner pillars and the six-window motif.  Otherwise, the design is a step or two behind the times, English cars excepted.  The doors are hinged front and rear.  The fenderline is not far removed from that of a 1942 Buick.  The real wheel opening relates poorly to the curve of the rear fender, and the same can be said to a lesser degree regarding the front wheel opening and its fender.

The 501 is smaller than it seems.  In this image, the attractive model provides a sense of scale to the car.  Note the disjointed profiles of the main grille and air intake below the headlamp.

The front is cleaner than that of Pininfarina's version even though the auxiliary air intakes are poorly shaped in reference to the other elements and placed too close to the headlights.

A rear view of a 501 licensed in Switzerland.  The trunk is strongly bulged, which isn't very attractive, but has the virtue of practicality  The lip tying the rear fenders together is a styling oddity that at least distinguishes BMW 501s from other cars.

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