The Mystery of Elvis’s Missing BMW 507…
…and how it was rediscovered by smart research from a US journo.
The BMW 507, produced in the late 1950s, is one of the most sought-after rarities in the history of the brand. The 507 was the very embodiment of the changing spirit of the times, setting the tone for a new era after the disillusion and deprivations in the wake of WW2: a beautiful and game-changing roadster, at once light and elegant in design but exuding an aura of power and speed.
Just 254 of these legendary automobiles were produced, making it one of the rarest classic cars of its time. Each one is a gem, and none could be more of an embodiment of the model’s spirit than the one that belonged to the definitive pop culture icon of the era: Elvis Presley.
Elvis drove his famous BMW 507 while he was doing his military service in Germany. As a 23-year-old star, he bought his BMW 507 in Frankfurt in December 1958 soon after his arrival in Germany, and drove it until he returned to the US in March 1960.
All trace of the famous car vanished after Elvis’s return to America. Nobody knew anything about its subsequent ownership and there were even doubts that Elvis had ever brought the car back with him. It was given a registration from the US military that changed every year. This was part of the reason why subsequent identification of the vehicle proved to be complicated. For five decades, the mystery persisted.
That is, until American journalist Jackie Jouret, who works for Bimmer magazine in California, came across a curious anomaly in the archive regarding the legendary roadster’s serial number. Jackie was researching Elvis’s mystery BMW 507 for the back page of the magazine’s December 2006 issue. She began her routine of going into the history of the model, trying to establish timelines and ascertain facts such as the serial number of the car.
“I found a major discrepancy,” writes Jackie in her account of the events that followed. “The 507 bearing serial number 70192 was widely reported to have been the car that Elvis drove while stationed in Germany with the US Army, and had even been auctioned as such by Barrett-Jackson. But that conflicted with Dr Karlheinz Lange’s definitive history of the 507, written for BMW Classic.”
Jackie had been able to establish that the BMW 507 driven by Elvis had previously been used by racing driver Hans Stuck. It turned out that Stuck’s BMW 507 was quite well documented: it had been exhibited at various motor shows and was used for test drives by the press. Between May and August 1958, Stuck had won a number of races in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in a white BMW 507.
She continues: “Although Lange didn’t specify which car had been driven by Elvis, he did identify the two cars driven by Hans Stuck by serial number: 70079 and 70145. Since Stuck had been racing 70145 throughout 1959, that car couldn’t have been driven by Elvis that year. It could only be 70079, the car Stuck drove in 1958, before Elvis had arrived in Germany.”
So Jackie wrote the feature revealing her discovery and ended the article with a request for anyone who knew anything about the car bearing serial number 70079 – the real BMW belonging to Elvis – to get in touch.
“A year or so later, I got a letter from Jack Castor, who owned 70079,” she writes. Jack, a former aerospace engineer, happened to live relatively close to Jackie, south of San Francisco. Jackie went to see him and took a photographer with her. Jack had a large collection of cars, but couldn’t always afford to restore them. “[T]he three of us made our way down the coast to the pumpkin warehouse where the 507 had been stored for more than a decade, along with another 507, a few more BMWs and a vintage Alfa or two,” recalls Jackie.
Although the original body parts and other components were virtually all present and intact, the roadster had lost its engine and gearbox. (At some point the car had been fitted with a Chevrolet engine.) The rear axle had also been replaced, rust was eating away the floor assembly, the seats were worn and there was no instrument panel. But sure enough, it bore serial number 70079.
When Jack had bought the car in 1968 (he’d had it in storage for 40 years!), he’d wanted a car to use as a parts bin for a blue BMW 507 he already had and was restoring. When he discovered his new acquisition’s racing provenance, he gradually began gathering parts to restore it too, although he never got around to it.
Jackie writes: “After that, BMW was able to officially verify the car as having belonged to Elvis.” The experts from the BMW Group Classic Archives managed to find an insurance proposal from December 1958 that contained the chassis number 70079 alongside registration of the keeper of the vehicle as Elvis Aaron Presley.