By on February 4, 2020

Today’s Rare Ride is a coachbuilt one-of-one BMW. A rebodied conversion of the very luxurious 3200 sedan, it’s the only convertible BMW with four doors in existence.

What became the 502 (and subsequently 3200) started out in life as the 501. When it entered production in the fourth quarter of 1952, it carried a number of firsts for the brand: It was the company’s first post-WWII model, and the first built in Bavaria. Technically a mid-size car, the 501 and its variants were the most expensive cars BMW made at the time. An important car for the future of the Roundel.

Developed on a new platform, the 501 had a perimeter frame, torsion bars front and rear, and a live axle out back. In a unique engineering choice, the transmission was not attached to the engine, mounted instead toward the rear of the car. A column shifter directed the transmission via a complicated linkage system. A recipe for vague shifts, though front passengers gained more legroom. All 501s were powered by inline-six engines of around two liters of displacement. The only transmission on offer was a four-speed manual.

Though available with two doors as coupe or cabriolet, and with four doors as a sedan, BMW didn’t really want the 501 to look how it did. After its in-house design saw the light of day, BMW called Pininfarina and asked for a second take. However, when the Italian firm turned in its homework, it seemed too close to the new Alfa Romeo 1900. BMW’s designer was surely flattered when his original design was ultimately chosen for production.

The 501’s success lead BMW to develop a new, range-topping V8 version. This more luxurious 502 was ready for production in 1954 and carried an all-new overhead valve V8. With an aluminum alloy block and cast iron cylinder liners, its initial displacement of 2.5 liters generated 100 horsepower. In short order, the V8 was further developed into a 3.2-liter version (140 hp), which saw use in five more versions of the 502. The models carried different names dependent upon market, and were eventually called 3.2 or 3200. One of the fastest sedans in the world, the 502 had a top speed of around 115 miles an hour.

Some time after the V8 debuted, German coachbulder Autenrieth gained an interest in the 3200. Using a sedan chassis, Autenrieth designed a more upright and modern looking body for its convertible four-door. Gone were the sweeping fenders over each tire and the sloped trunk, and in their place a more aerodynamic, cohesive shape. It looked more like a BMW sedan from five years in the future. They only made one.

Done in purple paint over cream leather, the 3200 was displayed at Pebble Beach in 2016. It’s for sale now in Austria, but the price is only available upon request.

[Images: seller]

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15 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Singular 1960 BMW 3200 Cabriolet Sedan...”

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    6 cylinder engine, manual transmission, minimal chrome, that is not how ‘luxury’ was defined in North American vehicles of that era.

    • 0 avatar

      C’mon, Arthur! Did you not read this? They even went to the trouble of a North American-style V8 badge for the trunk lid. :-)

      I’m just not a fan of the proportions of this car, though it looks like it has materials and assembly quality in spades. If it were in my possession (ha!), I’d sell it to someone with more of an appreciation to fund something contemporary but cheaper, and that I would be less afraid to drive. Maybe an unmolested ’61 Impala bubble top.

  • avatar

    Great find, Corey, I had no idea BMW built such a car, beautiful!

  • avatar

    It might have been not luxurious in NA, but it was surely luxurious in Europe at that time. And the V8 502/503 was surely a top player in this market (since the 502 was the fastest sedan then).

  • avatar

    Price? > A ton of cash.

  • avatar

    ” In a unique engineering choice, the transmission was not attached to the engine, mounted instead toward the rear of the car.”

    That’s a unique use of the word ‘unique’.

    1898–1910 De Dion Bouton
    1914–1939 Stutz Bearcat
    1929–1936 Bugatti Type 46
    1934–1944 Škoda Popular
    1950–1958 Lancia Aurelia
    1951–1956 Pegaso Z-102
    1957–1970 Lancia Flaminia
    1959–1963 DAF 600
    1961–1963 Pontiac Tempest
    1964–1968 Ferrari 275

    and many since.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    There was a modern four door BMW convertible. The E36 based Baur tc4

    • 0 avatar

      Good reference. However, I don’t think that Baur car would be considered a “factory” convertible. According to that page, you had to buy the car from BMW and then take it to Baur for the conversion work.

  • avatar

    With its slab sides and gently humped hood, that luxurious coachbuilt 1960 BMW V8 sure bears a strong resemblance, at least from the front 3/4 view, to a 1949 shoebox Ford V8.

  • avatar

    The 100-horsepower 6-cylinder motor may have been an economy engine motor in North America at the time, but in Europe this was pure luxury. It needs to be remembered that at this time most cars in Western Germany had 4- or even less cylinders with an output ranging from 20- to 40-horsepower; and many were also two-strokes.

  • avatar

    BMW almost went bankrupt around 1959. Blunderbusses like this featured car and its lesser siblings were very, very expensive and didn’t sell; they were also well out-of-date by the end of the decade. Their bubble car Isettas and a rear engine minicar made no real profit.

    The Quandt family bought them out in 1960 and funded the design of a car of medium size for the time, the 1500, (bigger than the well-known later 2002) and luckily for them it worked out and sold well.

    Bad geometry trailing swing-arm rear suspension and sudden rear end breakaway were thus upon us and lasted nearly 30 years. It was the cheapest way to go for a double-jointed axle, and lots of other manufacturers did the same thing, but didn’t hang on to the idea for virtually ever. Snow and BMWs were incompatible back in the ’70s and ’80s and into the early ’90s round these parts – they were first class ditch hunters, snow tires and all. The 1965 Corvair rear suspension after GM woke up following Nader was a far more advanced design.

    • 0 avatar

      @ conundrum – But that’s what made them fun! ;-)

      To your point: Although she loved its steering feel and so forth, my mother considers my parents’ ’82 528e to have been the worst snow car my parents ever had because it was more skittish than the solid axle Impala/Caprices that preceded it or the FWD and FWD/AWD American and Japanese cars that succeeded it.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @Conundrum: Excellent summary. We have many who were too young to remember or to be there, who criticize (sometimes fairly, sometimes not) Malaise Era PLC’s and domestic luxury sedans, yet don’t realize how European vehicles were regarded by the majority of North American consumers. And there were some valid reasons for consumers in the 1960’s/70’s to consider BMW’s as being a ‘notch below’ our domestic land yachts.

      I used to dread the first snowfall every winter. Would invariably be stuck behind some BMW or Mercedes that could not make it up a highway exit, overpass, bridge over a highway, or similar rather simple slope.

  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Would be nice if pics of the sides and back of it had been included in the article.

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