Hands up who remembers the old Gus Backus hit “Da sprach der alte Häuptling” (“Said The Old Indian Chief”) from the 1960s? In early December 2015, the “Schlagermusik” singer dropped by in person at the BMW Museum’s “Family Affairs” exhibition to revive old memories of two enduring icons: the BMW 507 and Elvis Presley, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Back in 1958 Backus experienced the Bavarian roadster in all its glory – with the King himself at the wheel.
Everything was going rather well for Gus Backus and his band, the Del-Vikings; t heir song “Come Go With Me” was a smash h it in the US charts and had sold over six million records. However, in 1957 the US Air Force stationed the musician to Germany , where he was almost entirely unknown. That would change over time with his emergence as a “Schlager” artist in the 1960s, but until then life for Backus centred around the military base in Wiesbaden.
It was during this period , in autumn 1958 , when out of the blue came a “Phone call for Private Backus!”. On the end of the line was Elvis Presley. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll had discovered he wasn’t the only singer stationed in Germany. “He asked me straight off how good my German was . He knew that I’d been in the country for a year almost by that time ,” recalls Backus, who now lives with his wife in Munich. “I told him that my German was good enough to order two beers. I guess Elvis thought ‘that’ll do’, as then he asked me to come with him and do a bit of interpreting , if required.” Elvis was keen to test out the much-vaunted German autobahn – but not in any old car. The one he wanted for the job in hand was a BMW 507, then the Munich carmaker ’ s flagship model.
“He gave me a hotel address in Bad Nauheim. I got into my car, drove over there and met him in the lobby. Elvis may have already been crowned the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll by then, but he was also just a normal GI like me. From there, we drove to a BMW dealer in Frankfurt in Elvis’s car. I seriously doubted whether any dealer in his right mind would entrust a s ports car of this standing to a couple of random GIs. But Elvis’s fame opened all the necessary doors for us.”
As innocent as the BMW 507 – with its white paintwork – might have looked , with a 150-horsepower V8 under the bonnet, it was something very special for the two young men. “Elvis drove like a maniac! Foot hard on the gas, then hard on the brakes, switching between lanes , slaloming between cars – it was like all hell had broken loose ,” reports Backus.
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll must have had a royal time on that drive , otherwise he wouldn’t have ordered his own BMW 507 before the engine had even cooled . His car was delivered to him that winter.
“I’m living proof that Elvis was not too bad a driver , after all . But I wasn’t quite able to enjoy the experience ; I was just happy that we managed to get the car back without a scratch on it. Th at short time I spent with Elvis was wonderful, though. The next day, I wrote to my mother , saying that I’d driven 100 miles up the autobahn with Elvis Presley. She thought I was kidding.”
While Elvis returned to the States at the end of his military service, Gus Backus remained in Germany and kicked off the second stage of his career. With Schlager hits like “Der Mann im Mond”, “Brauner Bär und Weiße Taube” and “Da sprach der alte Häuptling”, he took the German charts by storm. Then, in 1962, came his biggest moment yet in terms of German popular culture , when he was featured as an 18-part “star cut-out” in German magazine BRAVO.
Gus could not let his visit to the BMW Museum go without getting behind the wheel of a white BMW 507. Was it the same car which survived that blast down the autobahn with Elvis over 50 years previously? With just 254 examples ever built and only a very small number painted white, it’s not so unlikely.
The red BMW 507 which Elvis bought for himself soon after his test drive is now owned by BMW Group Classic. It is currently being restored to the condition in which it was delivered by BMW to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll on 20 December 1958. We can’t wait to see the result – and neither can Gus, we wouldn’t mind betting.