A family car with a difference

Rare masterpiece: Yehuda Schacham brought a BMW 503 Convertible back to life – and later rescued it from a blaze.

Yael Engelhart
Ilan Goren

A stubborn myth frames members of kibbutzim as sturdy and hardworking people who will turn even the most arid land into an oasis. In the case of Yehuda Schacham, the cliché holds – though it wasn’t earth that he rejuvenated, but a jumble of rusty steel, worn-out rubber and faded chrome. The 70-year-old man has given new life into a half-century-old car.

Schacham’s family is large and far-flung: one of his cousins is a car collector from upstate New York. He told Schacham about a run-down 1958 BMW 503 Convertible he’d obtained, one of only 139 ever built. Its previous owner was a Venezuelan motorsports aficionado, and legend had it that the Latin car lover raced it in a rally from Mexico to Panama. The American relative savored the whiff of legend, but felt he wouldn’t be able to revive the convertible. So he sought the help of his Israeli cousin, who had experience in restoration, but with a rougher breed of machines: army jeeps and farmers’ trucks. Schacham guessed it would be a major challenge to breathe life into this battered sleeping beauty, but he went for it anyway.

“To be honest, my passion is more about restoring cars.”

Yehuda Schacham

"I got back to work the next day. I’m not the type who gives up easily."

Yehuda Schacham

He brought the vehicle to the kibbutz, where he welded two containers into a makeshift garage and acquired the original manufacturer’s manual. “Then I took the car apart one bolt after another.” It cost him a lot of money and too many night shifts. “My wife is of Swiss origin,” he explains, “and she started calling the car ‘The German’ and referring to it as ‘She,’” he laughs. After five years, the restoration project was almost complete.

Then one cold night, Schacham left a few papers lying next to a heater in his garage. Next thing he remembers is the blaze. Despite the neighbors’ help in rolling his darling out of the flames and into safety, the fire had completely melted the wings’ plastic parts and the steering wheel. “But I got back to work the next day. I’m not the type who gives up easily,” he chuckles.

Today his 10 grandchildren like to play in the restored beauty. The BMW 503 Convertible is fully operational, though Schacham doesn’t often drive it: “My passion is more about restoring cars,” he says.