8-9 September 2013

Mercedes Collection

Previous Next

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.

Alexander Weaver

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

+1 954 566 2209
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

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

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

Shelby Myers

+1 310 559 4575
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

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more