BMW introduced the 501 at the first post-war Frankfurt Motor Show in 1951 - the first car to be produced by BMW after World War Two, and the only one on display on their stand. Despite its innocuous debut, the BMW 501 enjoyed tremendous commercial success, the first of a series of offshoots that became known as the “Baroque Angels.” Sitting steadfastly in the luxury category, something of an anomaly for a country that had barely recovered financially from the ravages of war, the 501, and its off-shoots were a significant success, remaining in production from 1952 to 1958. What makes the BMW 501'S success even more remarkable is that the car was developed at the company's plant in Munich-Milbertshofen, the only BMW plant still operational. The Munich-Milbertshofen plant had been almost entirely flattened by Allied bombers and had only returned to production in the late Forties. Behind the design for the 501 was Alfred Böning, BMW’s head of development who had succeeded in putting together a first-class team of engineers, no mean feat in the chaos that prevailed in the immediate post-war years.
Not that Böning didn't have to improvise, revisiting the BMW 332, that never made it into production, to salvage the frame and gearshift and the 326 for the car's body and 1.7-litre straight-six engine, wholly revamped to suit the particular engineering design demands of the 501.As far as the look was concerned, the BMW 501 had nothing pre-war about it, with an aerodynamic line and ample body space providing a comfortable ride for up to six adults.
While the 501 was the first BMW to be produced post-war and was worthy of limited critical acclaim, it remained under the shadow of the 502, which was almost identical in design to the V8 engine powered 502 which sold a lot better.
Irrespective, the 501 carved out a niche in BMW history, remaining in production until 1958, setting a high standard for all subsequent top of the range" Beamers."
The 501's doors were hinged at the front whi;e the rear doors were hinged at the back, in the "suicide" style that was so popular in the United States.
Adding an extra touch of class was the 501 rear quarter windows while the car's front was adorned with a split-grille, one on each side of a trim strip that extended down from the hood ornament.
The only concession made to the austere times was that the 501 was available only in black.
This was possibly a stipulation of the Karosseriel-Baur coach building plant in Stuttgart, who produced the first two thousand bodies.
Power for the original 501's came from a 1971cc overhead valve six-cylinder engine, hooked to a four-speed gearbox, although later 501 variations could be specified with a larger or smaller engine.