Auto of the day May 19th 2012 – Mercedes 500K & 540K (The Spezial bodied cars)
105380 – 500K (ROADSTER) 1935
The Berlin Motor Show Car’
– Offered from the Lyon Family Collection
– 1935 Berlin Motor Show Car
– Rare coachwork on desirable supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes
– Recent inspection by experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany
At the beginning of the Thirties it became apparent that Mercedes-Benz needed a new model at the top of its product offering. The company took that step at the 1933 Berlin Auto Show with the W 22 model, the 380. Its eight-cylinder engine capitalized on Mercedes-Benz’s successful experience with the S series with a driver-controlled supercharger for short bursts of power for acceleration. It shared its visual lineage with the S also, with a massive vee radiator set back at or behind the front axle centerline and huge Bosch headlights. Four-wheel independent suspension and hydraulic brakes gave unprecedented ride, handling and braking, not only on rough roads but also on the quickly expanding network of improved roads, highways and Autobahns then being constructed throughout Germany.
Reflecting the changing social and political dynamics of the times, Mercedes-Benz designed its newest luxury chassis primarily as an owner-driven automobile. Some, with long wheelbase limousine and enclosed sedan (Innenlenker) bodies, would be chauffeur-driven, but that was now the exception, not the norm. A number of refinements were incorporated in the design and developed through the Thirties on later models, to make owner-driver use easier, simpler and smoother. Manuals were explicit and extensive. Owners’ mechanical knowledge was assumed, but it was not expected to be extensive. Women drivers were not uncommon, and Mercedes-Benz recognized its prestige models were going to driven by owners with a wide range of skills.
Mercedes-Benz’s pride in the 380 was apparent at its introduction. The centerpiece of the display was a meticulously finished show chassis revealing its robust construction and intricacy to full effect. Aluminum surfaces, and there were many of them, were fastidiously engine turned. Every surface and detail was highly polished, painted and detailed to perfection. It was a jewel.
As impressive as it was, however, the 380’s output was at best marginal for the task of powering the ample, luxuriously appointed multi-passenger Tourenwagens and Innenlenkers favored by many of Mercedes-Benz’s wealthy clientele and built to the high, and massive, standards of the Sindelfingen coachworks. Mercedes-Benz quickly recognized its error in judgment and began development of its successor in January 1933, even before the 380 was introduced.
The Mercedes-Benz 500 K
This was the Mercedes-Benz 500 K (W 29, 100/160 hp) destined to be one of the greatest performance automobiles of the Thirties. It was introduced in March 1934 at the Berlin Auto Show, just 13 months after the debut of the 380. Both were built in parallel in 1934, but by the end of the year the 500 K stood alone at the top of Mercedes-Benz’s catalog.
The 500 K had a generously-braced chassis frame boxed within the axle centerlines with fully independent suspension with coil springs using dual A-arms at the front and swing axles at the rear, both fitted with hydraulic lever shock absorbers. Concentric coil springs were added to the rear suspension to pick up higher loads, and later in the 500 K series, horizontal camber compensator springs added another level of control to the swing axles.
The engine was enlarged from that of the 380 with increased bore and stroke. It had inline overhead valves operated by pushrods and rocker arms from a camshaft mounted above the crankshaft on the left side of the cylinder block. The Rootes-style positive displacement supercharger mounted at the front of the engine was activated by the driver when the accelerator pedal was pressed fully to the floor, engaging a multi-disc clutch pack on the engine and forcing air through the carburetor into the cylinders. The unit cylinder block and crankcase were cast in steel with a cast iron cylinder head and an 8-10 liter capacity aluminum oil sump. Output was 100 hp in normal operation and 160 hp at 3,400 rpm with the supercharger engaged.
Later 500 K engines adopted a marvelous rotary-type “Jumo” fuel pump built by aircraft engine manufacturer Junkers, an intricate mechanical gem that ensured adequate fuel flow when the blower cut in and fuel requirements soared.
For the 500 K, Mercedes-Benz retained the four-speed gearbox with direct (1:1) third-speed and a pre-selector type overdrive fourth (Schnellgang, loosely translated as “speed gear”) with a 0.6:1 ratio engaged without using the clutch. The top three speeds were synchronized. The standard rear axle ratio of 5.11:1 of the 380 was raised to 4.9:1 or greater for the 500 K.
Even in standard form the 500 K was lavishly equipped with two spare wheels and tires, safety glass, electric windshield wipers, hydraulic brakes with vacuum booster and 370-mm diameter drums, central lubrication, 12-volt electrical system and a centrally mounted fog light.
500 K production continued for three years, through 1936. 342 examples were built. Of them just 29 were bodied with Roadster and Special Roadster coachwork. Creating a sporting shape on the 500 K’s 129½-inch wheelbase with a hood line high enough to clear the 500 K’s long stroke straight engine topped by its valve gear is a daunting task. Only the most accomplished and sensitive designers have succeeded with similar challenges, and their creations, whether on Mercedes-Benz, Duesenberg, Alfa Romeo or Rolls-Royce chassis, are masterpieces of the artful combination of engineering and design in the integration of disparate masses.
Offered in two successive versions, the first series Spezial Roadster is a true roadster, without rollup windows, with a fully disappearing top and a short tapered tail topped by twin spares set off by stalk-mounted taillights. The Spezial Roadsters’ remarkable coachwork begins with the long hood needed to accommodate the length of the straight-eight engine. Further extending the front of the 500 K, the wheels’ centerline is well forward of the radiator and classic Mercedes-Benz grille, giving an expanse of sweeping fender that introduces and accentuates the hood’s length and severity. The cowl is topped by a steeply swept vee windscreen usually accented by one or two small spotlights. The top of the doors is sculptured in a pleasing curve that emulates the fender’s sweep, the “low door” that accents the 500 K Spezial Roadster’s sporting presence and appeal. The door sweep is accented by a bright molding along its edge which continues from the doors down the sweeping tail. The fender margin is accented by a complementary bright accent that continues over the rear wheel arch and down the fender edge to the tail’s margin. It creates a harmonious design that blends the car’s mass into an integrated whole that belies its size when seen without familiar objects to give scale.
Chassis no. 105380
The car offered here was completed February 6, 1935 at Sindelfingen with the beautiful and highly desirable Roadster coachwork and immediately shipped to Berlin where it was the centerpiece of the Mercedes-Benz display from February 14 through 24 at the Berlin Motor Show. At the time, it was finished in an intriguing early form of metallic green. It is pictured on page 182 of Jan Melin’s authoritative book Mercedes-Benz 8, The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars of the 1930s and has been identified by Mr. Melin as this chassis. Following the Motor Show it remained in Berlin until March 22 when it was shipped to the Mercedes-Benz agency in Aachen, Germany. The Kommission paper identifies it as sold a month later, on April 25, 1935, to Hans Friedrich Prym of Stolberg. Prym’s family company had developed the press fastener, i.e. “snap,” for clothing and apparel in 1903, establishing a leading position in that field that continues to the present day.
Its interim history is unknown at this time, but when it turned up in the collection of pioneer collector Russell Strauch in the 1970s, it was still in excellent original condition. By the time of Strauch’s death in 1976 it had been acquired by Don Dickson, and it remained in his collection until sold in 1988 to Richie Clyne for the Imperial Palace Collection which commissioned a cosmetic restoration in 1991 from Mike Fennell Enterprises in Saugus, California. Richie Clyne recalls the Roadster well as it was the IP’s signature car for many years, featured in the collection’s publicity and posters, and remembers that, “It ran like a top. All we did was a cosmetic restoration of a wonderful, original, low miles car.” Specifically, Richie Clyne recalls that no accessories were added to the Roadster during its cosmetic freshening. It is beautifully presented, from the radiator stone-guard to the lovely mother of pearl instrument panel and white steering wheel.
It has been for many years one of the core elements of the Lyon Family Collection, where it represented the very finest of the W 29 500 K series in both performance and, particularly, in the deftly shaped, balanced and superbly constructed coachwork of Sindelfingen in the rare and beautiful Roadster style.
Finished in rich red highlighted by chrome wire wheels, whitewall tires, dual rear spares, a pair of windshield post-mounted spotlights, chrome outside exhaust headpipes and chrome body accent moldings, its dramatically raked vee windshield accents the sweeping fenders with integrated running boards. Both front and rear fenders are slightly skirted, reinforcing the effect of their sweep but also presenting a glimpse of the rugged and purposeful chassis frame and suspension – and even a chance to highlight the chrome exhaust collector pipe under the right front fender.
The interior is upholstered in supple tan leather with a matching tan single layer cloth top. The top ingeniously folds nearly flush with the rear deck under a matching top boot cover, an important distinguishing feature from the bulky double layer tops of the corresponding cabriolet coachwork.
In preparation for the car’s offering in Monterey this August, it was personally inspected in California by two seasoned experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany. In their expert opinion, they concluded that the car has a correct 500 K replacement motor of the same series. The frame number could not be immediately located, but this is of little consequence as a large-scale dismantling of the front end would have to be conducted and would disrupt the integrity of the complete restoration. The transmission, in particular, is of another series but is nevertheless a correct 500 K transmission. The correct, original body number was also located. Nevertheless, it has clearly benefited from a full restoration and continues to present extremely well.
One Mercedes-Benz expert described the 500 K Roadster by saying, “these cars have never been ‘un-valuable’…new generations swoon at the sight of them” – as has every generation since 1933. Mercedes-Benz 500 K Roadsters, particularly the harmoniously designed and executed 1st series offered here, give their owners special satisfaction from their combination of style and performance.
Magnificently designed, fastidiously constructed and assiduously maintained by a succession of owners, most recently by the Lyon family in their wonderful collection with fulltime professional maintenance and constant attention to any need, 500 K Roadster 105380’s effect, whether on the road or in a concours, is arresting. It presents a rare opportunity for other collectors to experience its allure and satisfaction. (Courtesy of RM)
1935 – Berlin Motor Show
1935 – Hans Fridriech Prym
1940’s – 1970’s – Unknown
1970’s – Russell Strauch USA
1976 – Don Dickson
1988 – Richie Clyne
1990’s – Lyon Family Collection
2011 – SOLD RM @ US$3.767 mil.
2012 – SEIZED IN GERMANY WHILE OWNED BY MEIJER
105382 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
(Information courtesy of http://www.jblasi.com/Mercedes1.pdf)
1935 – Manfred von Brauchitsch
1936 – Second owner
C2010 – Offered by Thiesen, asking EURO 3.0 mil. (seems cheap)
105390 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1934
1934 – Commission #18108
1990 – Offered and sold at Sothebys Monaco @ US$2.0 million
113632 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
1935 – Commission #22122
1935 – Loke UK
123700 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
1935 – Commission #213813
1936 – Quartermaine UK
1938 – Farquharsan
1930’s – George Finn
1950 – Arthur Lane
1950’s – Arthur Dawson
1956 – 1988 – Stored
1988 – Disinterred
1988 – Christies auction SOLD @ US$1.6 mil.
1988 – Thulin Group
1991 – Ishikawa Japan
1990’s – Chip Connor Hong Kong
123702 – 500K Roadster 1935
1935 – Commission #209460
1936 – Gore UK
123762 – – 500K Roadster 1935
1935 – Commission #212672
1936 – Conan – Doyle UK
123772 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
Because of the high build quality and durability of the components used in the construction of the 500K and 540K models, these Mercedes are among the most collectable of prewar cars. This car was commissioned by the head of Krupp Industries, Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. Only five 540K Short Wheelbase Roadsters were built and only three are known to survive. (www.conceptcars)
1935 Mercedes Benz 500K Special Roadster Coachwork by Sindelfingen. Chassis no.123772 is the tenth Special Roadster built and is recordedas being delivered to the famed Krupp family. Completely restored in the late 1980s, this car will be seen by the public for the first time in over a decade. CHASSIS: S/N: 123772
2001 – Offered at RM DID NOT SELL @ 2.3 Mil. ??
123775 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
2010 – USA
123778 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
1935 – Zu Salm Salm
1999 – Barrett – Jackson Auction
130888 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1936
Known as chassis number 130888, Campos’s 500K was conceived in 1936. Interestingly during that era, the engine shared the same numbers with the chassis. According to data compiled by Campos and that from Jans Melin, Mercedes-Benz historian in his book Mercedes-Benz – The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars of the 1930s, this is one of 354 W29 500K chassis ever built at the Unterturkheim plant in Stuggart, Germany. Campos’ record shows that this particular model was first purchased by the Mayor of Barcelona on July 7 1936 and remained in Spain until 1980 with registration plate B-66572. The car was then sold to a collector in Australia in 1982 until Campos acquired it in 1997.
A perfectionist and leading motoring connoisseur in South East Asia, Campos embarked on a two-year comprehensive restoration process by renown Mercedes-Benz restorer Rolf Wagner of Reifen-Wagner in Landshut, Germany. Wagner stripped the car down to its chassis before sand blasting and treating this valuable vintage metal with coat of anti-rust. According to Campos, the 61-year-old chassis was still in great shape before the process which re-inforced the manufacturer’s claims of use of enduring materials during that era. Body components of the car were fabricated by Wagner according to factory specifications and bolted on to an exact fit.
The original engine, supercharger, carburettors and gearbox were removed and put through a complete overhaul process. Brand new engine components like the pistons, camshaft, valves and bearings were fitted by precision engineers at the workshop to bring the beast out of the 8-cylinder 4,984cc engine.
The braking system too was fitted with new original specification items. A new copper petrol tank, rear axle and suspension components adorned the spotless undercarriage of the car.
Bringing the car back to Malaysia meant incorporating a brand new radiator assembly onto the car too. However, the most interesting part of the restoration was the interior of the car where the restorer had the original Mother-of-Pearl instrument panel sourced and fitted onto the dashboard to complement the car’s luxurious beige upholstery.
Before all new mechanical parts were fitted, Campos’ 500K was given a full bare metal treatment prior to being painted in bright red.
After this complete and fully documented restoration process (which was around RM1 million), Campos was invited by the organisers of Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance in North America to display his 500K at the 2005 show. The car has since bagged numerous Best in Show awards at major concours meets in Malaysia and Singapore. The car was also on show in Singapore in 2005 for the Mercedes & Me campaign, much to the delight of Jutta Benz, daughter of Karl Benz, who graced the event. He valued this masterpiece at US$5 million in 2005 and Campos is willing to part with it if someone makes him an offer which is hard to resist. (Information courtesy of http://www.cbt.com.my/2012/02/08/campos-benz/)
1936 – Mayor of Barcelona Spain
1980 – Australia
1993 – Campos Malaysia
130895 – 500K Spezial Roadster 1935
1935 – ??
2012 – Mercedes Benz Museum
130898 – 500K Autobahn Kurrier 1935
1935 – Mohammed Reza Shah Iran
1939 – Mohammed Reza Pahlavi
1960’s – Fuad Majzub
(Information courtesy of http://www.paulrussell.com/articles/ExpressDelivery.pdf)
130944 – Spezial Coupe – Offered from the Lyon Family Collection
– Single-family ownership for two decades
– The 1936 Paris Salon car
– Complete with copy of original build sheet; delivered new to Jean-Claude Solvay of Belgium
– Inspected in person by experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany
– One of a limited few 540 Ks with coupe coachwork
The abundant power, stiff, rugged frame and supple fully-independent suspension made Mercedes-Benz’s supercharged 540 K suitable for a vast array of coachwork. Sindelfingen was more than capable of building anything and doing so in the finest materials and to the highest standards of fit, finish, function and luxury in the world.
Yet despite Sindelfingen’s designers’ demonstrated ability to create exceptionally beautiful closed cars, the vast majority of Mercedes-Benz 540 Ks were fitted with open bodies in one of the several styles of Cabriolets. Most of those were four-seat Cabriolet Bs with blind rear quarters. Surprisingly, only a precious few 540 Ks – just 42 in four years’ production – received closed coachwork.
Only about seven of those were coupes, making them exceptionally rare examples of Sindelfingen’s creativity and style. One of the foremost examples is this 1935 Mercedes-Benz 540 K, the car Mercedes-Benz chose for its 1935 display at the important Paris Salon to show the quality and beauty of its premier product.
Daimler-Benz concentrated automobile coachwork production at Sindelfingen, a massive facility that had developed a combination of medium volume production methods for high quality coachwork and a select group of designers and craftsmen who conceived, created and built low volume, nearly custom, bodies for the finest chassis in the Mercedes-Benz line and crafted a few highly specialized bodies for the most demanding clients.
Sindelfingen had been constructed during the First World War to build aircraft. The Treaty of Versailles ending the war prohibited aircraft construction in Germany on the industrial scale for which Sindelfingen had been constructed and equipped, so Hanns Klemm, the factory’s manager, eventually reorganized the factory to build automobile, truck and bus bodies. Sindelfingen continued to employ classic coachwork construction techniques with wood frameworks and sheet metal panels throughout its history, but Mercedes-Benz also added high capacity steel presses of 750- and even 1,000-tons to stamp out large, complex panels, particularly fenders.
Sindelfingen’s aircraft-building history manifested itself in a facility-wide devotion to quality that remained central to its operation throughout the Thirties. Specialized tools, fixtures and machines were designed and built in its own shops. Processes were meticulously planned and documented. A strict quality-control system inspected every body, whether it was for a modest 170 H or an elegant “Großer Mercedes” 770 Pullman-Limousine.
Klemm was succeeded by Josef Bildstein, who later took over Daimler-Benz’s Mannheim factory and turned over management of Sindelfingen to Wilhelm Haspel under whose leadership the factory became a major success for Daimler-Benz. It was a complicated undertaking in which every aspect of coachbuilding was integrated, from selecting and drying the beech and ash used for framing through stamping and forming metal panels to final assembly and painting. And Sindelfingen did every kind of bodywork, from one-off and low-production bodies for the 500 K, 540 K and Großer Mercedes to volume production of Mannheim’s 170H and V, truck cabs, specialized truck bodies, buses and even contract work in volume for BMW and Wanderer. Haspel’s success at coordinating this diverse facility was evident in his later promotion to Daimler-Benz managing director in 1942.
In September 1932 Hermann Ahrens joined Mercedes-Benz from Horch to head the Sonderwagen (special vehicles) section, designing and building limited production coachwork for the top Mercedes-Benz models. Ahrens would design and oversee construction of all limited-production Mercedes-Benz coachwork for nearly 40 years, including the great sports roadsters and coupes on the eight-cylinder supercharged chassis. It is his artistry that created the magnificent sweeping partially-skirted fenders, integrated running boards and deftly-shaped passenger compartments and doors that so effectively complemented the imposing long hoods and exterior exhaust pipes of the supercharged 500 K and 540 K.
Mercedes-Benz produced almost all the coachwork for even the most expensive and luxurious of its automobiles. According to the research of Jan Melin, just 89 of the 928 380, 500 K and 540 K chassis built were supplied to outside coachbuilders. That is just 9.6%, a tiny portion of the total production and largely unprecedented among luxury automobile manufacturers in the Thirties.
The combination of superb engineering, high quality materials, meticulous quality control and inspired design of the supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benzes with the limited-production coachwork of Sindelfingen brought into existence some of the finest and most respected automobiles of all time.
Enthusiast magazines of the time were unremitting in their praise. One described the 500 K with these words: “[T]his is a master car for the very few. The sheer insolence of its great power affords an experience on its own. The design and construction throughout are typically thorough and well-executed.” Of the 540 K another said: “As a piece of engineering, it stands unsurpassed. It is amongst the most luxurious, as well as the fastest, touring cars in the world.”
With so few of the 540 Ks bodied as coupes, the selection of this car to represent Mercedes-Benz at the important Paris Auto Salon in October 1936 was unusual. Yet, upon consideration, it is completely appropriate and even sensible. Indeed, according to the Mercedes-Benz archives’ delivery papers and internal documents, the car is referred to as a “Spezial Coupe.”
Paris was then the center of art, design, literature, style and society in Europe. The aerodynamic revolution in automobile design was then at its inception and was practiced eloquently by French coachbuilders, whose combination of Machine Design principles, Art Deco embellishment and aerodynamic refinement was the center of attention. The 1936 Paris Auto Show brought some of the most imaginative designs, like Marcel Letourneur’s Aerosport coupe on the Delage D8 120 chassis and Jean Bugatti’s Type 57 Atalante, to the public’s eye. This Mercedes-Benz 540 K Coupe was more than competitive with the French salon’s best.
Prior Mercedes-Benz coupes had included one for the Mercedes-Benz “Silver Arrows” team driver Rudi Caracciola, an eminently practical automobile for a driver who needed to criss-cross Europe in all weather conditions to race the W 25 model GP car. In 1934 Wilhelm Haspel had suggested the Autobahn-Kurier, a fastback five-window design with teardrop fenders of which two were built on each of the 500 K and 540 K chassis. Hermann Ahrens’ Sonderwagen facility completed the first Autobahn-Kurier in only ten weeks in order to make its auto show debut, an example of the shop’s ability to create a completely new and dramatically different design on an abbreviated schedule.
The Paris show coupe is another example of the creativity and masterful execution of which Sindelfingen was capable. Its sweeping front fenders merge into small running boards, then curve upwards into teardrop-flared rear fenders. The rear wheels are skirted, with a chrome emblem repeating the look of the front wheel’s centerlock hub. A tasteful chrome beltline molding accents the break of the hood side and extends back across the door to end near the top of the rear fender where its termination parallels the curve of the fender top. The roofline is rounded at the rear but merges nicely with the tapering rear deck, which contains a stacked pair of spare wheels and tires set nearly flush with the deck surface.
An attractive styling feature is the swage line which accents the sides of the fenders. It parallels the fender tops from the front valence the full length of the car, curving up and around the rear wheel skirts then down across the full width of the rear valence. The effect draws attention, visually reducing the fenders’ tall profiles.
Bosch headlights in chrome nacelles nestle between the fenders and the gently raked vee radiator. A single small fog light is directly in front of the radiator, and a pair of long chrome horn trumpets also sit between the fenders above a split chrome bumper which is repeated at the rear.
The interior is invitingly upholstered in tan leather with a plain white instrument panel in the highly finished wood dashboard. The steering wheel is leather covered. A transverse rear seat accommodates one passenger, in addition to the two in the front, or makes room for luggage.
After being displayed in Paris, the 540 K Coupe was first returned to Sindelfingen and then in December delivered to Jean-Claude Solvay of the Belgian chemical company dynasty in Belgium. Subsequently it became part of the collection of American Connie Bouchard in the 1960s, who undertook its restoration before selling it to John Mozart. It then was acquired by the Imperial Palace Collection from whom the Lyon family acquired it in the late 1990s. Since then, it has remained in the Lyon Collection, always treated to professional maintenance and climate-controlled storage.
In preparation for the car’s offering in Monterey this August, this car was inspected in person by two veteran experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany. Their findings were very positive. In their expert opinion, they concluded that although the car had been restored, it retained a great deal of originality in its components. The engine is matching numbers (130944) and retains its original number plate. In fact, they believe the body has never been off the car and the rear axle itself never removed – testament to the car’s originality. The transmission is original to the car, and it was determined that the steering is of the correct series. Minor modern improvements were made, including modern telescopic shocks, but the workmanship was professional and well done in their estimation. Again, the overall impression imparted on these Mercedes experts was very favorable.
Its deep red livery dramatically accents the sweeping lines of Hermann Ahrens’ dramatic coupe coachwork. One of only about seven coupes built on the Mercedes-Benz 540 K chassis, its effect today is, if anything, even more dramatic than it was at the Paris Salon of 1936.
It is the perfect complement to Ahrens’ high door, long tail Spezial Roadster, a vivid example of Mercedes-Benz’s mastery of power, speed, handling, comfort and design at the height of the golden age of classic automobiles. (Information courtesy of RM Auctions)
1936 – Paris Show
1936 – Jean – Claude Solvay Belguim
1960’s – Connie Bouchard USA
?? – John Mozart
?? – Imperial Palace
1990’s – Lyon Collection
2011 – RM Auctions SOLD @ US$3.08 mil.
130947 – 500K Roadster 1935
1935 – Commission #224156
1936 – Divani UK
154061 – 540K Roadster 1936
1936 – Commission #233716
1937 – Janssen UK
154071 – 540K Roadster 1936
1936 – Commision #256876
1937 – Sultan of Johore
154075 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1936
1937 – King of Afghanistan
1960’s – Silver Springs Museum
154079 – 540K Roadster 1936
1936 – Commission #225276
1937 – Ellison UK
154080 – 540K Spezial Roadster by Mayfair 1936
Mercedes-Benz has been called the “engineer’s car company”, and although beauty was never forgotten, the soul of the machines were always much more than skin deep.
No other automobile company has so consistently lead the industry, literally from the very beginning. Credited with the first production automobile, no company has been in production longer. Steadily improving products meant that by the first decade of the twentieth century, chain driven Mercedes race cars were a dominant force around the world. On the street, the massive 90bhp cars had no equal for sheer power, speed, and elegance.
By 1922, a 6-liter engine with the Porsche designed supercharger was married to a shortened wheelbase. The result was considered the fastest touring car of its day, producing an outstanding – for the day – 160 horsepower with supercharger engaged. The S series followed, soon developed into the SS and SSK models. More than any other, it was this series of supercharged six-cylinder cars that established Mercedes-Benz’s reputation internationally. In its fully developed form, the supercharged 7.1 liter engine of the SSK could reach a staggering 300bhp, powering lightweight streamlined coachwork to an unheard of 147mph. The overwhelming performance of the SSK model resulted in many victories for Mercedes-Benz. Perhaps the most important of these were Rudolf Caracciola’s wins at the 1931 Mille Miglia and German Grand Prix.
By the late twenties, the S, SS, and ultimately the SSK chassis were proving to be the engineering masterpieces of the time. Few today remember that it was Dr. Ferdinand Porsche who developed the dominant characteristic of the engines – their superchargers. Responsible for all engineering for Daimler from 1924 until 1929, he laid the foundation upon which the eight cylinder cars would be built.
Following the merger between Daimler and Benz in 1926, and some resulting consolidation over the next two or three years, a brilliant young engineer named Hans Nibel joined the company. He was named joint Chief Engineer, along with Dr. Porsche, before being named Technical Director of Daimler-Benz AG in 1929 after Dr. Porsche’s resignation.
It was under Nibel’s direction that the eight-cylinder cars were designed. Although it is difficult today to guess the motivation at the time, it seems fair to suggest that the SS had been successful not only on the track but in the coachbuilder’s galleries. The factory coachworks at Sindelfingen had already earned a reputation for top quality workmanship – perhaps the best in Europe. Luxurious, well trimmed, and smartly designed, they were well suited to a top caliber chassis.
Clearly, there was more money to be made in catering to the carriage trade, and that probably triggered the desire for a more refined chassis – albeit one that would preserve Mercedes-Benz’s reputation for engineering excellence.
The first result, introduced in 1933, was the 380, a supercharged overhead valve inline eight-cylinder engine. Power output was modest, at 90bhp naturally aspirated or 120bhp with blower engaged, but its refinement and smoothness made the potential clear. With its attractive Sindelfingen coachwork, 157 chassis were built. Performance, while acceptable, was not outstanding, particularly with the heavier coachwork resulting from customer demand for even more luxurious bodies.
Recognizing the need for more power, in 1934 Mercedes-Benz introduced the 500K (“K” for Kompressor, German for supercharger). With power increased to 100bhp or 160bhp with the supercharger engaged, the cars were finally among the fastest grand touring cars of the time. Even though the 380 had been supercharged, the K designation and new external exhaust left no doubt about the car’s very special chassis.
342 cars had been built before the introduction of the 5.4-liter 540K in 1936. Although similar in many respects to the 500K, the new model offered even more power: 115bhp naturally aspirated, or an impressive 180bhp with the blower engaged. A 12″ increase in wheelbase to 128″ improved ride quality, and gave the master coachbuilders at Sindelfingen more room to create even longer and more elegant lines.
According to Jan Melin in his book Supercharged Mercedes-Benz 8, just 419 of the 540K chassis were built before production ended in 1940. A total of eleven standard body styles were created by Sindelfingen for the 540K, each one a masterpiece of the coachbuilder’s art. Less than ten carried custom coachwork by a U.K. coachbuilder, including one very special car built by the
Mayfair Carriage Co. was a small but highly respected specialist firm whose work tended towards small volume production for companies like Alvis and Lagonda. Their designs managed to combine an air of lightness with elegance and a little flash – not unlike the lovely 540K Special Roadster offered here.
Their small premises precluded larger volumes, and as the thirties progressed, the company’s volumes declined, and as the war commenced, they had essentially given up coachbuilding – although they would accept commissions for a pair of HRGs just after the war.
The lovely 540K Special Roadster offered here is considered by many to be the seminal work of the Mayfair Carriage Co. It is at once sleek and pretty, sporting and elegant. With its folding windshield and extensive use of louvers, it is undeniably sporting – while the flowing lines and skirted rear fenders lend an air of elegance to the design. The coachwork is much lighter than the more traditional closed bodies traditionally fitted to these chassis, yielding sparkling performance – particularly when the blower is engaged.
Mercedes-Benz chassis records indicate that this car was shipped on October 7th, 1936 to the factory store in Paris France – an unusual destination for a RHD chassis, particularly one that would later receive an English body. It is an anomaly that may never be explained, but adds to the exotic aura that surrounds the car.
It interesting to note also that Michael Frostick, in his book “The Mighty Mercedes”, lists the car among the other UK chassis – but does not provide any further details (as he does for most of the other cars). Historians have speculated that the car’s origins in Paris may account for this, as it may have been ordered by a British expatriate living in Paris, then later shipped to London for the body to be constructed. According to another source, the original commission was for an Indian Majarajah, which would also explain the RHD chassis. In either case, Frositck would not have had access to the details available for more conventional orders.
Brought to North America by a returning Canadian serviceman, the car’s early history is not known, although by the late 1950s it was still in Canada, in the hands of an enthusiast. During his ownership, the car was one of two damaged in a garage fire that miraculously spared the car irreparable harm, but made a complete restoration necessary. In the early 1960s the car was purchased by publisher Richard C. Mertz, a Detroit area collector, who imported it to America and began the restoration process.
Panel work was undertaken by Alcraft, a Detroit area prototype shop. The balance of the work was handled by the owner and his son, along with Harry Flynn, Harry Kennedy, and John Graham. Bud Cohn of California supplied many of the small parts. In 1984, during the restoration process, Richard Mertz passed away, leaving the car to his son, Stephen Mertz, of Royal Oak, MI.
By 1995 the car was almost complete, but by now some of the work was almost 25 years old, and Stephen elected to offer the car for sale, eventually selling it to casino owner and car collector Ralph Englestad of Las Vegas, Nevada. Englestad, with the assistance of well-known enthusiast Richie Clyne, commissioned a second restoration to upgrade the car to concours condition, changing the car from black over silver to red. Shortly after Englestad’s death in 2002, the Mayfair 540K joined a well known California collection, where it has been displayed in the company of other stellar examples of the marque.
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the quality of the restoration is in the detailing of the interior, instruments, and upholstery. It is difficult to find fault with the fit of any piece, and every switch, lever, and button works silently, smoothly, and perfectly. Although the restoration is now several years old, it is a testimonial to its quality that it remains in excellent condition today.
In the world of collector cars, one seldom finds the opportunity to acquire an automobile as important as a prewar supercharged Mercedes-Benz. It is all the more remarkable that it is a one-off coachbuilt car, and it is undeniably wonderful that it represents one of the most sporting examples of a fabled coachbuilder. (Information courtesy of RM Auctions)
1936 – Delivered to Paris France
1937 – Maharajah ??
1950’s – Canada
1950’s – Caught fire
1960’s – Richard Mertz USA
1970’s – Restored
1995 – Ralph Englestad
2002 – Lyon Family Collection
2007 – RM SOLD @ US$2.53 Mil.
2007 – ??
154085 – 540K Roadster 1936
1936 – Commission #237936
1937 – Gavin UK
154086 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1936
The Mercedes-Benz 540K was the master of the road and everything on it.
Mercedes-Benz commanded a place as the premier supplier of fine motor cars to the political, artistic, and commercial aristocracy. While the company’s emphasis was on luxury and quality, the 540K combined the ultimate expression of those qualities with nearly unparalleled performance. It brought all the skills, experience, talent, and management ability that had made the combined Mercedes-Benz enterprise the premier car builder in Germany. Enjoying the enthusiastic support of the German government, Mercedes-Benz was encouraged to build cars that were the equal of any in the world and were as impressive and imposing in appearance as they were in performance.
The Mercedes-Benz 540K was the culmination of the company’s motor vehicle development before World War II.
The Evolution of the 540K
Mercedes-Benz has been called the ‘engineer’s car company’, and although beauty was never forgotten, the souls of the machines were always much more than skin deep. No other car manufacturer has so consistently led the field, literally from the very beginning of the industry. Credited with the first production motor car, the company has been in production longer than any other. Steadily improving products meant that by the first decade of the 20th century, chain driven Mercedes racing cars were a dominant force around the world. On the street, the massive 90-hp cars had no equal for sheer power, speed, and elegance.
By 1922, a 6-litre engine with the Porsche-designed supercharger was married to a shortened wheelbase. The result was considered the fastest touring car of its day, producing an outstanding – for the day – 160 hp with supercharger engaged. The S series followed, soon developed into the SS and SSK models.
More than any other, it was this series of supercharged six-cylinder cars that established Mercedes-Benz’s reputation internationally. In its fully developed form, the supercharged 7.1-litre engine of the SSK could reach a staggering 300 hp, powering lightweight streamlined coachwork to an unheard of 147 mph. The overwhelming performance of the SSK model resulted in many victories for Mercedes-Benz. Perhaps the most important of these were Rudolf Carraciola’s wins at the 1931 Mille Miglia and German Grand Prix.
By the late twenties, the S, SS, and ultimately the SSK chassis were proving to be the engineering masterpieces of the time. Few today remember that it was Dr Ferdinand Porsche who developed the dominant characteristic of the engines – their superchargers. Responsible for all engineering for Daimler from 1924 until 1929, he laid the foundation upon which the eight-cylinder cars would be built.
Following the merger between Daimler and Benz in 1926, and some resulting consolidation over the next two or three years, a brilliant young engineer named Hans Nibel joined the company. He was named joint Chief Engineer, along with Dr Porsche, before being named Technical Director of Daimler-Benz AG in 1929 after Dr Porsche’s resignation.
It was under Nibel’s direction that the eight-cylinder cars were designed. Although it is difficult today to guess at the motivation at the time, it seems fair to suggest that the SS had been successful not only on the track but in the coachbuilder’s galleries. The factory coachworks at Sindelfingen had already earned a reputation for top-quality workmanship – perhaps the best in Europe. Luxurious, well-trimmed, and smartly designed, they were well suited to a top calibre chassis.
Clearly, there was more money to be made in catering to the carriage trade, and that probably triggered the desire for a more refined chassis – albeit one that would preserve Mercedes-Benz’s reputation for engineering excellence.
The first result, introduced in 1933, was the 380, a supercharged overhead valve inline eight-cylinder engine. Power output was modest, at 90 bhp naturally aspirated or 120 bhp with blower engaged, but its refinement and smoothness made the potential clear. 157 chassis were built with the attractive Sindelfingen coachwork. Performance, while acceptable, was not outstanding, particularly with the heavier coachwork resulting from customer demand for even more luxurious bodies.
Recognizing the need for more power, in 1934 Mercedes-Benz introduced the 500K (‘K’ for ‘Kompressor’– German for ‘supercharger’). With power increased to 100 bhp or 160 bhp with the supercharger engaged, the cars were finally among the fastest grand touring cars of the time. Even though the 380 had been supercharged, the K designation and new external exhaust left no doubt about the car’s very special chassis.
342 cars had been built before the introduction of the 5.4-litre 540K in 1936. Although similar in many respects to the 500K, the new model offered even more power: 115 bhp naturally aspirated, or an impressive 180 bhp with the blower engaged. A 12 inch increase in wheelbase to 128 inches improved ride quality and gave the master coachbuilders at Sindelfingen more room to create even longer and more elegant lines.
According to Jan Melin in his book Supercharged Mercedes-Benz 8, just 419 540K chassis were built before production ended in 1940. A total of 11 catalogued body styles were created for the 540K and carried out by Sindelfingen, each one a masterpiece of the coachbuilder’s art.
Based on a strong and rigid chassis these pioneering cars introduced coil spring four-wheel independent suspension using parallel wishbones at the front and swing axles at the rear. They featured synchromesh on the top three gears of their four-speed gearboxes, 12 volt electrical systems, central lubrication, and vacuum-assisted hydraulic brakes. These exceptional high-speed cars owed little to the S, SS, and SSK machines of the twenties except one glorious attribute: each was fitted with Mercedes-Benz’s driver-controlled supercharger that boosted engine output by about 60 per cent in short full power bursts.
The Special Roadsters
The ultimate Mercedes-Benz 540K was the Special Roadster. Exceptional at the time, the 540K Special Roadster has subsequently firmly established itself at the pinnacle of classic cars. It was priced at 28,000 Reichsmarks (about $12,000 at the prevailing exchange rate; the New York importer, Mitropa Motors, asked $14,000 landed in the US – about 40 per cent more than the most expensive catalogue bodied Cadillac V-16). The 540K Special Roadster is an awe-inspiring blend of size, performance, and style, possessed of a commanding presence that is palpable in any surroundings.
Constructed on a nearly 130 inch wheelbase chassis and stretching fully 171/2 feet overall, the Special Roadster effectively accommodates only two passengers. Yet the Sindelfingen designers have succeeded in blending its elements so skilfully that its proportions are harmonious. One of the Special Roadster’s defining characteristics is the gently sloping Mercedes-Benz radiator that is tucked back behind the front wheels’ centre-line between sweeping front wings. The wings then dominate the long hood before gently and voluptuously curving up to create the rear wings, which in turn flow delicately into the tail. Subtle bright accents complement and outline the form of the body elements, punctuated by functional and styling details that draw the eye and mitigate the effect of the 540K Special Roadster’s size. Two massive exhaust pipes emerge from the bonnet’s right side and disappear into the wing, like the scaled coils of a legendary serpent lurking below the bonnet’s surface prepared to devour lesser cars. These were cars built to impress, but to do so with impeccable taste.
The Special Roadster’s imposing presence is almost matched by its impressive performance. The stiff frame and fully independent suspension supports its 2ton mass effortlessly, soaking up irregularities in byways and at its best showing the 540K’s relaxed 85mph cruising speed on the highway. Mercedes-Benz fitted a camber compensator spring to the 540K to offset the swing axle independent rear suspension’s tendency to sudden camber changes, and the resulting driving experience is balanced and satisfying. This is no sports car, but for two people to cover vast distances on good highways it is nearly unmatched.
It is the sudden burst of power when the supercharger is engaged by fully depressing the throttle pedal that tests both the driver and the 540K chassis. The sudden shriek of the blower’s 7 psi boost pressure unmasks the dragon within the 540K’s engine compartment, adding 65 hp at 3400 rpm. Mercedes-Benz chose to pressurize the carburettor on its supercharged cars, so the howl of gears, the blower itself, and the scream of air being squeezed is unmuffled, creating a siren’s roar that clears the 540K’s path with alacrity. Even fitted with a standard intake silencer, at full song a 540K will never be likened to a wraith or phantom but to the wailing of banshees.
Without a doubt, of the 406 examples built during the 540K’s production life from 1936 to 1939 the most dominant were the Special Roadsters – designed and executed to the highest standards in Mercedes-Benz’s own Karosserie in Sindelfingen. Only 26 540K Special Roadsters were built.
Chassis No. 154086
The exceptional example offered here was delivered through Mercedes-Benz UK in 1937 to Sir John Chubb, of the lock family. One of the most striking variations on the Special Roadster theme, it is the high-door, long-tail version with exposed spare wheels and tyres built into the rear deck. With its top secured below the carefully fitted metal top boot cover, the profile is long and sweeping, an elegant, dynamic, and imposing presentation that instantly set its owner/driver apart from all others on the road. Sir John, however, must have been more than a little annoyed when the gathering clouds of war made owning a fabulous but also ostentatious Mercedes-Benz less than popular in Great Britain. Fortunately it appears that he put his 540K Special Roadster away for the duration of hostilities, thus preserving this magnificent car.
It was acquired in the early fifties by Edward Gaylord and was refurbished for him by Mercedes-Benz. In 1956 it was acquired by the noted American designer and pioneer collector of great cars Brook Stevens, and was displayed in his museum in Wisconsin for some 30 years. At some point, the car was converted from its original UK right-hand drive specification to left drive configuration. The quality of the workmanship suggests that the conversion may have been carried out by the factory, perhaps by Gaylord or Stevens.
It was next acquired by the late Noel Thompson, a highly respected New England collector. Thompson commissioned a stunning nut and bolt professional restoration, which was completed in the mid-1980s; the car was subsequently given an Antique Automobile Club of America National First Place award in 1987.
In the late 1980s, Noel Thompson succumbed to the pressure exerted by another well-known New England collector, Speedway owner Bob Bahre, who displayed the car at Pebble Beach in 1988, where it earned a well-deserved first in class award.
By 1990, the car was in the hands of Jerry Sauls, a well-known east coast collector and dealer. During his ownership, he showed the car at a Classic Car Club of America Grand National meet, where it was awarded its National Senior National First Place badge (no.1270). 154086 became part of the Ecclestone Collection in 1995, with duties paid in the United Kingdom. The original UK registration, DYX 911, has been recovered through the collection’s efforts. (Information courtesy of RM Auctions)
1936 – Commission #237938
1937 – John Chubb UK
1953 – Edward Gaylord
1956 – Brooks Stevens USA
1980’s – Noel Thompson
1988 – Bob Bahre
1990 – Jerry Sauls
1995 – Bernie Ecclestone UK
2007 – RM Auctions London SOLD @ US$8.23 mil.
154140 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1936
Offered from the Collection of Sam & Emily Mann
– 540 K Spezial Roadster in its most desirable form with LHD, covered spare, long tail and high doors
– Award-winning restoration by marque specialists
– Recent inspection by experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany
The Mercedes-Benz 540 K was one of the most prestigious and – in the eyes of many – the most beautiful automobile of the interwar years. Its combination of power, light weight and sheer beauty made it the master of the road, and it was a testimonial to the astonishing capabilities of the German automotive engineers of the day. It was also breathtakingly expensive, guaranteeing exclusivity amongst its owners; just 419 chassis were built, and of those, only 25 carried the superlative long tail Spezial Roadster coachwork that may well have been the high point of the coachbuilder’s art at Mercedes-Benz’s own “Sonderwagenbau” in Sindelfingen.
Mercedes-Benz always commanded a place as the premier supplier of fine motor cars to the political, artistic and commercial elite of the day. The 540 K was no exception, representing a highlight of German motor vehicle development before World War II. The broad array of models in all market segments helped Mercedes-Benz survive the worst days of the Great Depression, with production growing from only 6,000 cars in 1932 to over 15,000 in 1935.
Yet, while Mercedes-Benz maintained its factories and employment with small and medium-sized cars, it catered to the market’s most demanding clientele with a limited offering of the finest motor cars ever built. Based on a strong and rigid chassis, these pioneering automobiles introduced coil spring four-wheel independent suspension using parallel wishbones at the front and swing axles at the rear. These massive and high speed automobiles were designed from a clean sheet of paper, sharing little with the marque’s predecessors, except for one visceral attribute: each was fitted with Mercedes-Benz’s driver-controlled supercharger that boosted engine output by about 60% in short, full power bursts.
The series began with the Mercedes-Benz 380, introduced at the Berlin Motor Show in 1933 and produced only for two years, 1933-34, before being phased out in favor of the much more powerful 500 K in 1934. The 500 K, in turn, was succeeded during 1936 by one of the ultimate motor cars of the thirties, the Mercedes-Benz 540 K. Offering more power than its predecessor, the 540 K was capable of all-day, high speed touring while carrying elaborate and extremely comfortable coachwork. Such capabilities were not inexpensive, and as a result, the 380, 500 K and 540 K accounted for an average of less than one percent of production.
The ultimate Mercedes-Benz 540 K was the Spezial Roadster. Exceptional at the time, the 540 K Spezial Roadster has subsequently firmly established itself at the pinnacle of classic cars. Priced at 28,000 Reichsmark (about US$12,000 in Germany at the prevailing exchange rate). The New York importer asked $14,000 landed in the US – about 40% more than the most expensive catalog-bodied Cadillac V-16.
Remarkably, the Spezial Roadster effectively accommodates only two passengers. Yet, the Sindelfingen designers have succeeded in designing a car that looks much smaller and lighter than it is. The gently sloping, and instantly recognizable, Mercedes-Benz radiator is tucked back at the front wheels’ centerline behind sweeping front fenders. The fenders then dominate the long hood before gently curving up to create the rear fenders, which in turn flow delicately down, wrapping into the tail. Subtle bright accents complement and outline the form of the body elements, punctuated by functional and styling details that draw the eye and mitigate the effect of the 540 K Spezial Roadster’s size. Two massive exhaust pipes emerge from the hood’s right side and disappear into the fender, suggesting the power that lurks inside.
Of the 25 540 K Spezial Roadsters, only a limited few were created in the long tail style with a cover over the single spare tire recessed into the rear deck, one of which is the car offered here.
Chassis no. 154140
This spectacular Spezial Roadster was ordered new by the factory branch in Buenos Aires for S. Mastro & Cia Aguirre of Buenos Aires, Argentina, owners of a prestigious clothing store, on January 5th, 1937. This fact is confirmed by a copy of the original build sheet. Prior to its delivery to Argentina on June 29th, however, the car was first sent to Zurich and then Vienna by rail. According to Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany, it is likely that these cars were on display in Switzerland and Austria’s Mercedes-Benz agencies or perhaps even the cities’ respective car shows. Regardless of its intended purpose, this was the finest in Mercedes engineering and coachwork and worthy of being transported for display around Europe.
According to noted expert Rolf Wagner, a subsequent owner in Argentina was Jose M. Ahumada. The car remained in Argentina for many years, into the 1960s, until it was discovered by Bob Morgan of New York and exported to the United States, where it was owned by well known collectors and dealers, including Rolls-Royce collector Millard Newman, M.H. “Tiny” Gould and Dr. Don Vesley.
During his ownership, Vesley began a restoration before selling the car to Kerry Manolas of Australia in 1980. The car remained in Australia for several years until it went to Germany and was acquired by Axel Schuette, who commissioned the start of a proper, complete restoration and engaged marque specialist Rolf Wagner to conduct a rebuild of the car’s original motor, 154140.
Sam and Emily Mann
Sam and Emily Mann had always wanted a 540 K Spezial Roadster. As owners of some of the finest coachbuilt American and European prewar cars and, at last count, four-time Best of Show-winners at both the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, it was only fitting that a supercharged, eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz be added to their collection.
As such, Mr. and Mrs. Mann sent noted American restorer Paul Russell over to Germany to inspect this car. His positive report, which confirmed the car’s originality, convinced them to buy the car.
Following acquisition in 1998, a collaborative effort in the United States completed the car’s restoration. This work was done by two of the finest restoration shops in the United States – Stone Barn Restorations in New Jersey and Mann’s own in-house team, which was responsible for all his Best of Show awards to that point. Stone Barn ensured the running and driving chassis was completed to a show-quality standard, while the Mann team painted the body, assembled the chrome trim, completed the luxurious interior and finished final assembly.
The result was nothing short of spectacular. It has been maintained ever since in the Mann’s private, climate-controlled collection and serviced by his on-site team while being driven sparingly. The car presents beautifully, from the flowing fenders to the lovely interior and stunning dashboard. Just last year, the car was honored with the Best of Show award and “Best Mercedes” at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance – a testament to the quality of restoration and preservation, which was first honored by First in Class and “Best Mercedes” at Pebble Beach in 2004, following completion. Most recently, it was featured at the gala opening of Mercedes-Benz’s newest, 330,000-square foot corporate dealership in Manhattan, where it was photographed with celebrities and Mercedes executives alike.
In preparation for this car’s offering at Monterey, two veteran experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany in Stuttgart personally visited the car at the Mann Collection. Following this inspection, they were able to conclude that in their expert opinion, the car’s engine is original to the chassis, as both are correctly stamped 154140, as is visible in the adjoining photographs. The transmission number indicates that it is not original to this car but is of the correct type.
Few of the Spezial Roadsters were built in this most desirable configuration: the high door, long tail, covered rear spare cars with factory left-hand drive. It is believed only three are known to exist, and its absolute rarity must be considered in league with the Bugatti T57SC Atlantic – an extraordinarily desirable motor car in its own right. Such cars rarely, if ever, come to market, much less publicly. As such, 154140’s offering at auction is sure to garner tremendous interest from the world’s most discerning Mercedes-Benz collectors, who recognize this as an automobile of unparalleled elegance and uniqueness.
Its meticulous restoration will give its new owner the complete experience of driving a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K with the most desirable and attractive coachwork ever created for this chassis – perhaps for any chassis in history. Its condition is impeccable, its style grand, its presence magnificent and its provenance pristine. Quite simply, this is automotive artwork at its finest. (Information courtesy of RM Auctions)
1937 – S. Mastro & Cia Aguirre Argentina
?? – Jose Ahumada
1960’s – Bob Morgan USA
?? – Millard Newman
?? – Tiny Gould
?? – Don Vesley
1980 – Kerry Manolas Australia
1990’s – Axel Schuette Germany
1998 – Stan & Emily Mann USA
2011 – RM Auctions SOLD @ US$9.68 mil.
2011 – ??
154151 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1937
Engine No. 15451 1937 Berlin Motor Show Car One of only six 540K Special Roadsters built! The odometer shows only 11,000 miles – total mileage over the last 64 years! This magnificent vehicle was owned by Jack Warner of Warner Brothers Picture industry. Warner was a fascinating man mogul and powerhouse whose name is synonymous with “Hollywood”. One can gaze at the lines on this car and only begin to imagine the conversations that occurred in this Special Roadster between Warner and his friends, Humphrey Bogart, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, Errol Flynn, Bette Davis, Kirk Douglas, Edward G. Robinson, Ronald Regan and William Randolph Hearst. If only this car could talk what tales is could tell. This Special Roadster is remarkable in that it has had only three owners from new. It has been superbly restored by Paul Russell and Company of Essex, Massachusetts to the most demanding Concours d’Elegance standards.
1937 – Jack Warner USA
1949 – Sam Scherr
1964 – Dr. Bitgood
1995 – ??
2002 – RM Auctions SOLD @ US$3.5 mil.
2002 – ??
169334 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1937 “Blue Goose”
In 1936, Mercedes-Benz launched the 540K special, designated 540Ks. Based on the shorter 2,980 mm (117 in) wheelbase chassis, its body was carefully crafted. Its price tag of 28,000 Reichsmarks, some RM6,000 above the price of standard models, meant only 32 were ever built.
In 1937, Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring ordered a 540Ks, in his favourite colour of blue with his family crest on both doors. It included armour plated sides and bulletproof glass. Nicknamed the Blue Goose, Goering was often photographed in the car.
On May 4, 1945, the US Army, C Company, 326th Engineers, 101st Airborne Division ‘Screaming Eagles’ entered Berchtesgaden, and on finding the car took possession. Major General Maxwell Taylor used the car as his command vehicle in West Germany until it was commissioned by the US Treasury. Shipped to Washington, D.C., it successfully toured the United States in a victory bond tour In 1956 the car was auctioned off by the US Army at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland, sold to Jacques Tunick of Greenwich, Connecticut, with a high bid of $2167.
In 1958, he sold it to the private collection of veterinarian Dr George Bitgood, Jr, who had it repainted into black and the chrome re plated. Kept private, Bitgood only displayed it once at the 1973 county fair in Durham, Connecticut. After Dr Bitgood’s death, Blue Goose was shown by his family at the 101st Airborne Reunion at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in June, 2002. She was then sold to Carnlough International Limited of Guernsey, on the agreement that she be restored to her “as found” at Berchtesgaden condition
1937 – Hermann Goering
1945 – Major General Maxwell Taylor
1956 – Jacques Tunick USA
1958 – Dr. George Bitgood
2002 – Carnlough International, UK
169371 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1937
1970’s – UK
169384 – 540K Spezial Roadster 1937
1938 – Den Haag Netherlands
1940’s – 1970’s Bitgood USA
2004 – Axel Schuette Germany
189383 – 540K Roadster
193? – Commission #269537
189424 – 540K Spezial Roadster
?? USA ??
408336 – 540K Autobahn – Kurrier 1938
1938 – Commission #288557
1938 – Professor Ignacio Barraquer Spain
2007 – John McCaw
2008 – Arturo Keller
408370 – 540K Spezial Roadster
408383 – From the Lyon Family Collection
– Very desirable five-speed transmission
– Recent inspection by veteran experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany
– Delivered new to Horn brothers in Berlin
– Matching-numbers, example of Mercedes-Benz’s most desirable eight-cylinder model
– Elegant and stunning one-off “Spezial” coachwork
Mercedes-Benz’s success with the 500 K, aided by the continuing defaults of its sporting luxury competitors as the Great Depression worked its way through society, politics, royalty and finance, encouraged the introduction in 1936 of the 540 K. Regarded by many, and respected by all, as the high point of the Classic Era’s great chassis, engine and coachwork combinations, the Mercedes-Benz 540 K reflected the restless pursuit of perfection by Mercedes-Benz engineers, technicians and craftsmen and by the coachbuilders of Sindelfingen.
While the concept changed little, the execution became steadily more refined. By the time this magnificent Spezial Roadster was built in 1939, there were few remaining competitors to Mercedes-Benz for the mantle of premier luxury-performance automobile manufacturer.
Its Grand Prix cars were consistently challenged only by Auto Union, while Rolls-Royce, Delage, Talbot-Lago, Delahaye, Bugatti and Cadillac all offered cars perfectly suitable for cruising the French grandes routes and the boulevards of the Riviera and Santa Monica. Bugatti and Alfa Romeo both offered comparable automobiles in concept, technical intrigue and daring design. But ultimately, none matched the quality and distinctive design, let alone the impressive performance, of the Mercedes-Benz 540 K with its supercharger engaged while its privileged passengers were cosseted in rich, luxurious surroundings.
Each 540 K commanded the best of Mercedes-Benz’s resources, and each was individually constructed to the finest German standards, using only the most enduring materials and the finest craftsmen drawn from Daimler-Benz’s thousands of employees. Remarkably, at a time when most luxury automobiles were supplied as rolling chassis to coachbuilders of their new owners’ choice, Mercedes-Benz created almost all the body designs for its premier models in-house and built them in the extensive facilities at the Sindelfingen Werk. Under the guidance of Wilhelm Haspel (who would go on to be Chairman of the Daimler-Benz management board from 1942-1952) and designer Hermann Ahrens, Sindelfingen became both a highly efficient facility for production bodywork and the source of some of the most elegant, sporting and finely crafted limited production coachwork ever created.
The ultimate Mercedes-Benz 540 K was the Spezial Roadster. Exceptional at the time, the 540 K Spezial Roadster has subsequently firmly established itself at the pinnacle of classic cars. Priced at 28,000 Reichsmarks, about $12,000 in Germany at the prevailing exchange rate, the New York importer Mitropa Motors asked $14,000 landed in the US – about 40 % more than the most expensive catalog-bodied Cadillac V-16. The 540 K Spezial Roadster is an awe-inspiring blend of size, performance and style, possessed of a commanding presence that is palpable in any surrounding.
Constructed on a nearly 130-inch wheelbase chassis and stretching fully 17½ feet overall, the Spezial Roadster effectively accommodates only two passengers. Yet, Hermann Ahrens and the Sindelfingen designers succeeded in so skillfully blending its elements that its proportions are harmonious. One of the Spezial Roadster’s defining characteristics is the gently sloping Mercedes-Benz radiator that is tucked back behind the front wheels’ centerline between sweeping front fenders. Subtle bright accents complement and outline the form of the body elements, punctuated by functional and stylish details that draw the eye and mitigate the effect of the car’s size. Two massive exhaust pipes emerge from the hood’s right side and disappear into the fender.
The Spezial Roadster’s imposing presence is matched by its impressive performance. The stiff frame and fully independent suspension support its two-ton mass effortlessly, soaking up irregularities in byways and at its best showing the 540 K’s relaxed 85 mph cruising speed on the Autobahn. Mercedes-Benz fitted a camber compensator spring to the 540 K to offset the swing axle independent rear suspension’s tendency to sudden camber changes, and the resulting driving experience is balanced and satisfying. This is no sports car, but for two people to cover vast distances of good highways in comfort, it is nearly unmatched.
Of the 419 examples built during the 540 K’s production life from 1936-1939, the most dominant were the Spezial Roadsters designed and executed to the highest standards in Mercedes-Benz’s own karosserie in Sindelfingen. Only 25 540 K Spezial Roadsters were built.
Chassis no. 408383
This example, chassis number 408383, has both unusual attributes and a fascinating history. It was completed in early August 1939. As a late 540 K it had the five-speed transmission with overdrive fifth speed which Mercedes-Benz introduced in 1939. Its first owners were the Horn brothers, proprietors of an exclusive boutique in Berlin. As World War II escalated it went into hibernation, having covered minimal mileage.
Its design is unique among even the highly specialized and individual 540 K Spezial Roadsters. It is believed that Rolf Horn, one of the brothers, had a major influence on its conception and design, a role entirely consistent with Sindelfingen Sonderwagen’s function as custom coachworks to the elite and privileged.
The Horn brothers’ 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadster retains the traditional chassis layout with the raked vee-shaped radiator set back between the front fenders, long hood and cut-down doors. Beyond that, however, it presents a much different visage. The front and rear fenders are a near teardrop shape and fully skirted. The sweeping running boards characteristic of earlier spezial roadsters have been eliminated in favor of small frame covers.
The low doors have rollup windows and rise abruptly past the rear hinged doors to a hard boot cover over the folded top, giving the rear deck a smooth, aerodynamic surface and taper. The windshield is one piece but sharply raked in line with the cowl with large wind wings on each side. It opens from the bottom for ventilation and has blue-tinted glass sun-visors. A slim chrome beltline accent traces the hood break then sweeps downward, paralleling the door tops before tapering to a fine termination at the rear fenders.
Liveried in black with black leather upholstery and top, the chassis is unadorned by chrome and essentially hidden below the body and fenders. Even the 540 K’s outside exhaust head-pipes subtly drop into the right front teardrop fender almost out of sight and only emerge as two small tailpipes under the rear bumper. Black hub and rim wire wheels with bright spokes and Mercedes-Benz’s signature wheel balancing weights accent wide whitewall tires.
Accessories are few: just a combination spotlight and rear-view mirror for the driver, a Telefunken radio with German city bands marked on its dial with its antenna subtly placed behind the driver’s door and a pair of trafficator turn indicators on the cowl.
The profile of this 1939 540 K foreshadows Hermann Ahrens’ design for the postwar Mercedes-Benz 300, a rare transition piece connecting classic Thirties Mercedes-Benz Sindelfingen design and generations of Mercedes-Benzes to come.
The car’s immediate postwar history is not known with certainly, but in 1967 it was discovered in the Soviet Union by Alf Johansson. Mr. Johansson’s acquisition of the car is detailed in the book European Classic Cars: The Survivors Series by Henry Rasmussen. The book details his two-year quest to see the car in the suburbs of Moscow, as it had reportedly been stored at a Soviet general’s summer house. Although the general had since passed away, Alf made contact with his son, from whom the car was eventually acquired after two months’ persistence. Equally challenging was the car’s exportation to Sweden from Soviet-era Russia, even though Alf now owned the car. He persisted with help from various contacts and even his colleagues at Moscow Radio. Ultimately, in a daring show of bravado, he simply drove it over the border as a tourist and onto Finland, thereby preserving a very valuable piece of Mercedes-Benz history.
A few years later it was restored and then sold to Thomas W. Barrett III in 1977. Today it is offered from the Lyon Family Collection, wherein it has been treated to regular maintenance by professionals.
In preparation for its offering at auction in Monterey, 408383 was inspected personally in California by two veteran experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany. Their impressions were very positive, as they concluded in their expert opinion that this car is a matching-numbers example. Finished in its correct original color of black, the engine is original to the chassis and retains the original number plate. The transmission is of the correct series, as is the steering box, and all correct stampings were found throughout, including on the bodywork. The body number was found on numerous parts, further corroborating the car’s originality. All in all, the car is composed of very original components, the way it left the factory.
1939 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadster s/n 408383 is a superbly maintained example of the most rare and desirable of all Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadsters. Its design, with teardrop fenders, no running boards, hidden spares and gracefully tapered rear deck, is a choice transition between classic Mercedes-Benz 540 K design by Hermann Ahrens and the Sindelfingen coachworks and the more modern, elegant and streamlined concepts of the Fifties. It has the rare five-speed overdrive transmission. It abounds in exceptional details and is beautifully presented in its all-black livery that highlights the body’s unique configuration.
“Unique” is an overworked and sometimes inappropriately applied adjective, but it is very appropriate when applied to this singular, beautiful Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadster.
1939 – Horn Brothers Germany
1940’s – 1967 – Unknown
1967 – Discovered in Russia
1967 – Alf Johansson Sweden
1977 – Thomas Barrett III USA
?? – Lyon Collection
2011 – RM SOLD @ US$4.62 mil.