Auctions and Brokerage
Coachwork by Sindelfingen
Souheur & Chappuis Mercedes-Benz, Brussels, Belgium (ordered in October 1936)First Owner, England (acquired from the above in January 1937)Specialty Cars Store Inc., Warrendale, Pennsylvania (acquired circa 1974)Margaret B. Cowan, Colorado Springs, Colorado (acquired from the above in January 1975)Barry Newman (acquired from above in 1980)Imperial Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada (acquired circa 1982)Private Collector, Japan (acquired from the above circa 1982)Cave Creek Classics, Cave Creek, Arizona (acquired from above in 2004)Current Owner
Legends of the Autobahn, California, August 2015
The late 1930s was a period of Mercedes-Benz dominance in Grand Prix motor racing. The 540 K basked in the reflected glory of this success, its robust supercharged performance reinforced by styling as distinctively elegant today as it was three-quarters of a century ago. The 540 K was Wagner in steel, equally the vehicle of choice for a young blade on the Autobahn and for heads of state.
Launched at the Paris Salon in October 1936, the 540 K was a genuine 100 mph road car, a rare achievement until well after WWII. The 540 K built upon the success of the earlier S-Type and 500 K models. It was powered by a 5.4-liter supercharged straight-eight engine, a configuration inspired by the Grand Prix Silver Arrows. The Roots supercharger engaged manually, or by means of flooring the throttle: the process simultaneously engages the compressor and closes the alternative atmospheric intake to the carburetor, boosting power from 115 bhp to 180 bhp. The 540 K’s four-speed gearbox had a direct top gear, unlike the overdrive ratio used on the earlier 500 K, and its independent suspension drew praise in contemporary road tests. The roadability of the big Mercedes-Benz was underscored by the use of servo-assisted hydraulic brakes.
Most Mercedes from this period were assembled in Stuttgart, at the Sindelfingen works. The standard of craftsmanship was as high as at any external coachbuilder. Many different chassis and body styles were offered, including four different cabriolet designs. The Cabriolet C was designed with elegance in mind, the two large doors complementing the sweep of the fender, but unlike Special Roadsters, the Cabriolet C offered accommodation for five, according to contemporary factory literature. Just 419 540 Ks were produced, 97 in 1936. Of the 32 Cabriolet Cs built, experts estimate six to eight were finished with a more aesthetically appealing “steep rear,” or sloped back, as seen on the car on offer today.
This car, chassis 154062, was delivered new under production order no. 233717 on October 26, 1936, to Souheur & Chappuis, the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Brussels. A British customer, perhaps inspired by land speed record holder Sir Malcolm Campbell’s extensive use of Mercedes-Benz, purchased it and took delivery of the right-hand-drive Cabriolet C on January 2, 1937. Although 154062 survived WWII, its history is unknown until January 1975, when it was registered to Margaret B. Cowan, in Colorado. By the mid-1980s it had become part of the Imperial Palace Collection in Las Vegas. It received a Classic Car Club of America First Place award and was then purchased by a discerning collector in Japan. The 540 K Cabriolet returned across the Pacific in the early 2000s, and has since resided in private collections.
Illustrating how long Mercedes-Benz have been taking care to preserve the usability of great cars from its past, during the 1970s a power-steering system was supplied by the factory and retrofitted. It is not used in normal driving, but reduces the steering effort dramatically when parking or moving the car in tight quarters. The car is also supplied with an original German-language owner’s manual, and the consignor reports it to be in fine driving condition.
In this 540 K, an imposing yet elegant presence is backed by strong driving dynamics, a factory-documented matching-numbers engine, and original Sindelfingen coachwork. Moreover, the extreme rarity of the “steep rear” Cabriolet C makes this a very special opportunity to acquire a centerpiece design from a legendary marque.