Acquired new by John Surtees CBE and offered direct from the family, the property of the seven-times motorcycle World Champion and 1964 Formula 1 World Champion,1957 BMW 507 Roadster
Driving force

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 55, Summer 2018

Page 56

John Surtees was World Champion both on motorcycles and in racing cars, but the vehicle closest to his heart was the rare BMW 507 Count Agusta bought him. Doug Nye explains

The late, great John Surtees CBE was the most competitive man I have ever known – and, having been involved with motor racing for more than 50 years, I've known a few. He was intensely driven, and it was this dedication that made him the only man ever to win World Championships on both two wheels and four: he held seven World Championship titles on motorcycles, as well as winning the 1964 Formula One Drivers' Championship.

His story is extraordinary. Born in 1934, he was the son of a south London motorcycle dealer, who was also a successful grass-track racing competitor. John made his debut as passenger on father Jack's racing sidecar at the age of 14. They won, only to be disqualified when the officials learned John's age.

He entered his first solo race at 15, and at 16 began as an apprentice at Vincent Motorcycles. In 1951, he began to excel in minor level motorcycle racing. By 1955, Norton gave John his first works-team ride and he beat reigning World Champion Geoff Duke – twice.

The Italian industrialist Count Domenico Agusta then invited Surtees to join the MV Agusta works-team. John accepted. He was loved by Italian fans, who nicknamed him figlio del vento ('son of the wind') and Il Grande John.

In 1956, Surtees won the coveted 500cc Motorcycle World Championship for MV – the company's first. He went on to add hat-tricks of World titles in 1958, 1959 and 1960, in both 350cc and 500cc classes. His 1958 season was staggering: he won 23 consecutive races. Surtees was duly invited to the BBC Sportsman of the Year event, where he sat beside Ferrari's new Formula One World Champion Driver, fellow Englishman Mike Hawthorn.

When I interviewed him, John said Mike had told him: "Four wheels stand up on their own better than two. Have a go!" He duly test-drove sports and Formula One Aston Martins and an ex-Moss F1 Vanwall at Goodwood.

For 1960, John was tied to MV Agusta for motorcycle racing, but Count Agusta would only enter the World Championship-qualifying events, so John was forbidden from riding other makes in between. "So I decided to try my hand at racing cars... the first motor race I ever watched from beginning to end I saw from the cockpit!"

He made a startling debut at Goodwood. After a race-long duel for the lead with Jim Clark's Team Lotus, Surtees explained, "I tried to go through a gap that was a bit too narrow, put two wheels on the grass, lost time and finished second...". But after only four races on four wheels, Lotus chief Colin Chapman gave him a Formula One drive. He finished second in the British GP at Silverstone and led the Portuguese GP at Oporto, setting the fastest lap time. John Surtees, Formula One star, had arrived.

In 1962, "Mr Ferrari invited me to visit Maranello, where he offered me a drive. I said 'It's too soon. I'm not ready yet.' His people sucked their teeth and said, 'Don't turn him down! You'll never get asked again!'". But, John continued, "the Old Man always liked racing motorcyclists because, he used to say, 'They have fire in the belly – I like my team to have fire in the belly'." Enzo came back the following year with another invitation. This time John said yes. So Il Grande John returned to an Italian factory team, but the car that he was driving for his first trip to Maranello could have blown the deal. That car was John's BMW 507 V8, which is offered by Bonhams at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in July.

When he acquired the car as new in 1957, John had just won the 1956 500cc World title for MV Agusta. A few months later, at the Hockenheim circuit in Germany, he spotted the new BMW 507. He instantly fell in love with its voluptuous good looks – the classical styling of aristocratic industrial designer Albrecht Graf von Schlitz gennant von Goertz von Wrisberg. "[BMW's engineering director] Von Falkenhausen saw me looking at it, and said 'Try it!'. I came back thinking, 'That's rather nice.'"

Back in Italy, Count Agusta wanted to reward John for his World Championship success. "I thought I really would like one of those new BMWs. 'What's the price?', asked the old Count. I told him it was over £3,000 and he winced. We finally did a deal, went 50:50... and I went back to von Falkenhausen, did a little development work for BMW and got the car."

Surtees would maintain and adore the car until he died – aged 83 – on 10 March last year. He often drove his graceful Grand Tourer over the Brenner and Simplon Passes on his way from England to Italy. Early on, he had contacted BMW: his car did not feel quite as good as the one he had first tried – it was not going uphill as quickly as he would like, and went down the other side too fast! BMW "breathed on" his car's V8 engine and invited him to carry out brake testing in Birmingham with Dunlop, who duly fitted his car with four-wheel disc brakes.

When he signed for Ferrari in late 1962, Surtees arrived at the Maranello factory in this BMW. Enzo declared he could not possibly drive a German car while racing for him: he must have a Ferrari instead. Delivery was agreed and – Surtees chuckled at the memory – "I thought 'This is good', but when I got my first pay cheque, he had deducted the price from my fee!"

Today this one-owner-from-new BMW 507 is not only a beautiful example of the company's rarest and most-refined sports car, it is unique. It is a uniquely connected, single-owner beauty of a machine, now being offered for the first time at public auction, direct from the estate of one of the world's most-revered sportsmen. More than that, it is also the car that could conceivably have denied the Formula One World Champion his chance to drive for Ferrari...

Doug Nye has written more than 70 books about motor racing, including Goodwood Revival: The First Ten Years (2008).

Sale: Festival of Speed
Goodwood
Friday 13 July
Enquiries: Malcolm Barber +44 (0) 20 7468 8238
malcolm.barber@bonhams.com
bonhams.com/motorcars

Related auctions