BMW offering a V8 engine goes back much further than the current turbo N63, the 8,450-rpm S65, and even the old M60. Go back more than half a century, and BMW was building an all-aluminum V8 using a pushrod-actuated, overhead-valve design not far off from that of what Oldsmobile had debuted in 1949 under the name Rocket. Although BMW’s technologically advanced alloy V8 would be produced for only a decade, from 1954 until 1965, it’s one of the most fascinating pieces of brand’s history. After all, this was the engine used to power the legendary 507 in twin-carb 150-horsepower form.
Over the last few months, BMW has lifted the lid from BMW Group Classic, and has been showing off some of the incredible cars that are preserved for display and occasional use within. Among the E30 M3s, priceless one-off concepts, and breathtaking 507 Roadsters is something a bit more mundane, but nonetheless interesting. It’s a 1955 BMW 501 V8 taxi, complete with suicide doors and its original functioning meter, which only accepts Deutsche marks—this car was retired from service long before the introduction of the euro. This isn’t just any old 501 though, as through its fifteen years of service as a Taxi, it accumulated over 1,000,000 kilometers. That’s 621,371 miles, an incredible amount for any car, of any make, from any era.
It’s not just the chassis that has enough mileage to have gone to the moon and back more than once though, because the M502/1 2.6-liter all-aluminum V8 was there for the entire journey as well. Rather under-stressed in its design and tune, the M502/1 V8 used in the 501 was among variants with the lowest output and compression, with just 95 horsepower available at 4,800 rpm and approximately 130 pound-feet of torque at 2,500. We suppose those qualities may have helped this one survive so long. At one point, BMW Classic technicians dismantled the engine, only to find it in perfectly operational shape. It was subsequently reassembled, and reportedly runs quite well—amazing.
BMW’s V8 was the first aluminum V8 produced in Germany post WWII. Seeing one of these engines in person today is an incredibly rare treat, and the same goes any model BMW they came fitted in. Seeing one with any kind of serious mileage is another story though, which makes this 501 stand out even more. No wonder BMW traded the owner and driver of the car a new 1500 for it in 1970, when it was retired from service.—Alex Tock
[Photo and video courtesy BMW AG.]