8-9 September 2013

Mercedes Collection

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Lot 136

1938 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet B

  • Chassis no. 169367

Sold for £820,000

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

Detroit, Michigan

Alain Squindo joined RM Sotheby's in 2007, after graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in Histo... read more

Alex Classick

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United Kingdom

Alex Classick joined RM Europe in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Nottingham University with a degree in Business Mana... read more

Alexander Weaver

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Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby's in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born ... read more

Annette Abaci

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With post-secondary degrees in Economic Science and Mechanical Engineering, Annette Abaci initially worked part-time at Mercedes-Benz ... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a senior car specialist, after more than a decade in the collector car hobby... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Barney Ruprecht graduated from Boston University in 2013 with a degree in Hospitality Administration. In ... read more

Dan Warrener

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Ontario, Canada

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David Swig

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a car specialist in May 2015. He is a lifelong automobile enthusiast and g... read more

Don Rose

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Don Rose joined RM Auctions in 2006, after many years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputatio... read more

Donnie Gould

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Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Ian Kelleher

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Jack Boxstrom

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Jack Boxstrom joined RM Sotheby's in late-1996 to assist with the recently acquired, and subsequently record-breaking, auction in ... read more

Jonathan Sierakowski

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Jonathan Sierakowski developed a passion for classic cars while working at a restoration shop as a teenag... read more

Max Girardo

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Max Girardo started his career in the vintage automobile industry in 1998, joining Brooks Auctioneers (now Bonhams) as a car specialis... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby's, Mike Fairbairn has a longstanding interest in the classic car industry. Gra... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his ho... read more

Peter Wallman

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United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007, following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, read more

Rob Myers

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As chairman and founder of the RM Group of Companies, Rob Myers’s entire career has been devoted to the classic car industry. Ro... read more

Shelby Myers

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California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a car specialist. A... read more