1951: the ‘Baroque Angel’ featuring innovative suspension technology and, in the guise of the BMW 502, the world’s ﬁrst light-alloy V8 power unit.
A prestige look, lots of space, and top-class materials within the interior shaped the character of the outstanding saloon which took BMW back into the luxury class in the early 1950s.
The BMW 501 soon to become known as the ‘Baroque Angel’ on account of its sweeping body lines, clearly showed the far-reaching ambitions of both its owners and the company. Beneath the beautiful body was a proven drive concept and revolutionary suspension technology teaming up for the ﬁrst time: The engine development specialists had substantially updated the straight-six power unit from the pre-war BMW 326, the 2.0-litre power unit ﬁ rst developing maximum output of 65 hp and enhanced three years later to 72 hp. The innovative, unusually soft engine mounts, in turn, gave the BMW 501 truly phenomenal motoring smoothness and reﬁnement.
The front stub axles of the BMW 501 each came on two wishbone arms running in needle bearings. This low-friction bearing technology ensured a particularly sensitive response of the suspension featuring a longitudinally arranged torsion bar.
The dampers rested at the outside on the lower wishbone arm and at the top on the upper track arm, separating them completely from the fully sprung body and avoiding the transmission of even the slightest noise.
At the rear torsion bars mounted on spring arms at the outside likewise provided the appropriate suspension damping. The dampers themselves were ﬁ tted at an angle between the spring arm and the frame.
In the middle of the rear axle the differential housing rested on yet another wishbone arm mounted at the bottom on rubber bearings in the frame of the car.
Featuring this kind of progressive technology, both the suspension and the drive comfort of the BMW 501 reached such a high level of perfection that motoring experts at the time waxed lyrical about the rear axle, calling it the “ultimate in the development of the live axle”. In 1954 the BMW 502 with its 100 hp 2.6-litre power unit launched at the Geneva Motor Show clearly proved the innovative power of BMW’s engine development specialists. For beneath its sheet metal this new ﬂagship in the range featured the ﬁrst German eight-cylinder built after the war and, at the same time, the world’s ﬁ rst light-alloy engine to enter standard production – a power unit which quite literally made critics reach for the stars: “BMW’s new lightweight V8 may well be the best synthesis seen so far of automotive engineering this side and the other side of the great ocean” was how Motor Review described BMW’s new Luxury Performance Saloon.
Several 3.2-litre versions of BMW’s eight-cylinder were built as of 1955, with maximum output of up to 160 hp. In all, sales of the ‘Baroque Angel’ amounted to almost 22,000 units by 1963.