8-09 September 2013

Mercedes Collection

Lot 136

1938 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet B

To be auctioned on Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sold for £820,000

  • Chassis no. 169367

115/180 bhp, 5,401 cc overhead-valve inline eight-cylinder engine with a driver-activated and gear-driven Roots-type supercharger with twin updraft pressurised carburettors, four-speed manual transmission, independent wishbone coil front suspension, independent swing arm rear suspension, and four-wheel servo-assisted hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 3,290 mm

In 1934, Mercedes-Benz introduced the 500 K, with the “K” standing for kompressor, or supercharger. In all, 342 cars had been built before the introduction of the penultimate 5.4-litre 540 K in 1936. Although similar in many respects to the 500 K, the new model offered even more power, with 115 brake horsepower when naturally aspirated or an impressive 180 brake horsepower with the blower engaged. Notably, a 12-inch increase in wheelbase, with the end result being 128 inches, improved ride quality and gave the master coachbuilders at Sindelfingen more room to create even longer and more graceful lines. The hood was lengthened and combined with a vee-shaped radiator and external exhaust pipes, endowing the car with an undeniable presence. Long sweeping wings increased the visual length of the car, whilst chrome accents highlighted the lines and added a sparkling elegance.

But it is with the spirited depression of the accelerator pedal that the 540 K exposes its true heart. The sudden shriek of the kompressor’s 7-psi boost pressure unmasks the dragon within the engine compartment, adding 65 horsepower at 3,400 rpm. Mercedes-Benz chose to pressurise the carburettor on its supercharged cars, so the howl of gears, the blower itself, and the scream of air being squeezed is un-muffled, creating a siren’s roar that clears the 540 K’s path with authority.

According to Jan Melin’s Mercedes-Benz, The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars of the 1930s, a mere four-hundred and nineteen 540 K chassis were built before production ended in 1940. A total of 11 catalogued body styles were created for the 540 K by Sindelfingen, with each one being a masterpiece of the coachbuilder’s art.

The handsome example here is a version of the Cabriolet B by Sindelfingen. According to the accompanying copy of the original kommission sheet, chassis 169367 was ordered new by the Kores Company, A.G., on 2 February 1938. Due to unknown reasons, this order was cancelled on 3 March. On 4 March, the car was either ordered or reassigned to a construction company located on Joachimstall Street in Berlin. Since the car was shown as being ordered by the company, it can be easily assumed that the order was placed by an owner or similarly important individual associated with the organisation.

Today, this elegant 540 K is finished in a lovely combination of black with grey body sides. The top is black cloth, and the chromed wire wheels, including side-mounted spares, are shod with blackwall tyres and are further ornamented by the black detailing on the Mercedes-Benz hubcaps. Contrasting with the Teutonic exterior is the lovely, inviting green leather interior, which is further softened by the burled dash with mother of pearl inlay and the burled wood trim. It is exquisite and unworn, and it features other details that further separate this car as a luxury conveyance, including the grey-smoked Plexiglas sun visor and the charcoal grey headliner. Close inspection of the gauges reveals a bit of patina, and the mileage showing is 906, which is presumably correct since restoration. The rear of the body is fitted with an integral trunk, which includes a fine set of bespoke fitted luggage and also contains a black cloth top boot.

Opening the engine bay reveals the tidily presented and massive supercharged, 5.4-litre eight. Interestingly, the data plate is clearly original, whilst inspection of the machined pad on the side of the engine block appears to have only the internal engine prefix number and is without the six digit serial number, which indicates that the engine was possibly replaced at some point in its life. The underside of the body is extremely clean, and the chassis number of 169367 can be seen on the driver’s side frame rail, with the number 12/39 seen stamped on the passenger side rail. Along with a copy of the kommission papers, an instruction manual for the model is included in the file.

The Mercedes-Benz 540 K will always be legendary in the minds of collectors around the world. With its exquisite presentation and breath-taking performance, this car is ready to hit the road or the show field, with the Bosch headlamps lighting the way.

Alain Squindo

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Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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