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70 Years of the BMW 501

Phoenix from the Ashes

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With the BMW 501, a real cult car has become 70 - it is popularly known as the 'Baroque Angel' because of its curved lines. It was equipped with the brand-new four-speed all-synchromesh transmission with steering wheel shift from ZF.
Janine Vogler,
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Janine Vogler Vintage cars related to ZF-products have been at the heart of the journalist. Outside of work, she enjoys to ride motor bike or to be accompanied in nature by her dog.
The successful collaboration with BMW, which continues to this day, began in the 1930s. The requirements that were placed on the engineers at Lake Constance were originally formulated roughly as follows: “The demands that the driver places on a modern transmission can be summarized in the following requirements: Reliability, smooth operation in all gears, enhanced driving performance, fuel economy and easy, simple shifting. ZF was able to deliver: The S4-15 was designed in such a way that, with a very large overall ratio range, the steps of the four gears are coordinated for optimal acceleration and speed under all driving conditions. The S4-15 from ZF was characterized by its particularly smooth operation and was produced from 1952 to 1959 with a number of 18318 - almost all S4-15s were made for BMW. .
Bayerische Motoren Werke had a hard time after the war: around 60% of the BMW plants were destroyed and the plants in the Russian-occupied part of Germany were no longer available. In order to get back on its feet economically, the BMW management initially concentrated on getting the production of motorcycles going again - that made less demands on capacities than automobile production. In order to be able to gradually build up car production again, the development department was commissioned as early as 1947 to tackle a new luxury car model. Following on from the company's pre-war tradition, the new BMW Type 501 was created on the basis of the basic design of the BMW 326 engine, but with the Solex twin downdraft carburetor in particular, the output could be increased to 65 hp at 4,400 rpm.

The BMW 501 a.k.a. Baroque Angel.

The baroque line brought him the name Baroque angel.

Gert Milmer, a policeman in Munich for many years, owns a police car 501.

The line routing is also striking at the rear.

"Isar 12 please come" - Police film car of the 60s.

The successor BMW 502 was first equipped with S4-15 and later with S4-17.

At the 1951 IAA, the car, with which BMW wanted to resume its once leading role in European automobile market, was presented for the first time as a prototype, with a very positive response: The 501 was a real sensation, because the BMW engineers really had developed an automobile which they skillfully combined proven technologies with new approaches. After extensive tests, the ADAC motor world spoke of the “obsessive love of the technically perfect solution”. Last but not least, the salon-like interior, which offered space for up to six people, as well as the generous range of equipment, were extremely well received.
The newly developed transmission from ZF played an essential role in this. In order to gain more interior space for the passengers sitting in front, the transmission was not directly interlocked with the engine, but rather controlled a little further back via a cardan shaft. As a pleasant side effect, the cardan shaft could also be made shorter and vibrations reduced and the vehicle’s weight distribution also benefited from this. The chassis had been redeveloped for the type 501. It consisted of box-section girders and, with two rectangular frames built into one another, was significantly stiffer than the chassis of the pre-war type 326 and was lighter in weight. That was a very advanced solution for the times. The rigid rear axle, on the other hand, was adopted largely unchanged from the BMW 326.

ZF advertising brochure for S4-15.

The patience of BMW customers willing to buy, however, was to be put to the test: 20 months would pass from the presentation at the IAA to the first delivery at the end of 1952. So the long waiting time had to do with the difficult construction of the production facilities and processes. But it was used by the BMW engineers to perfect the car and the press was more enthusiastic than ever. The only color that could be ordered was black. That explains why you only see black 501s today, if at all.
Exactly ten years after the first exhibition, the first Bavarian television series “Funkstreife Isar 12” started and quickly advanced to a cult series - and with it the baroque angel became a cult car. From an economic point of view, the BMW 501 was well below the manufacturer's expectations, because in terms of price it was also in the upper class: at an entry price of DM 15,150, sales were very sluggish and complex production was ended as early as 1954. It was replaced by the more powerful model 502, which was powered by the first V8 engine newly designed in post-war Germany with a displacement of 2.6 liters. ZF transmissions remained a staple: the S4-15 was only replaced by the ZF S4-17 from June 1959. Also other well-known sports car manufacturers such as Maserati, Osca and Talbot, who were elitist at the time, had also become aware of ZF and ordered the 4-15, albeit in small numbers.

Vehicle handover on the Canary Islands with ZF S4-15.