by Teddy Field
One of the best known marque’s in the car world is Mercedes Benz. However, they’re known for making brilliant cars en-mass, which is why most people don’t usually associate them with unique, coach-built cars. But in the 1930’s, Mercedes was the place to be for such beauties, and the RM auction this week in Monterey offers some of the choicest examples, along with many other
As a big profitable automobile maker, Mercedes attracted a lot of talent
in the 1930’s (like it does today), and one of those talented people
was Friedrich Geiger. The man responsible for designing the 540K, the
300SL Gullwing, and many other important Mercedes Benz cars.
The 540K was meant to be the ultimate automobile. So they employed a
4-wheel independent suspension (unheard of at the time), vacuum-assisted
hydraulic brakes, synchromesh on the top 3-gears of either a 4 or
5-speed transmission. And oh yeah, a supercharged 5.4 liter straight-8.
This mechanical masterpiece produced either 110-hp or 180-hp, depending
on the position of your right foot. And it could propel the 540K past
100 mph (depending on the weight of the body), which might not sound
fast by today’s standards, but remember that people were just 30 years
removed from the horse & buggy when this car was built. So piloting a
car this grand, that fast, must’ve been a real thrill.
In its day, the 540K was a customizable supercar…like the Bugatti Veyron.
But instead of shipping your 540K chassis to a coach builder, you could
have Mercedes create a custom body for you. And of course (being
Mercedes Benz), they wound up creating some of the most elegant and
desirable cars of the period.
Four of these automotive masterpieces are about to cross the auction
block this weekend at the RM Auctions Monterey sale in Monterey
California. Mr. Rockefeller and Mr. Rothschild should take note,
because one of these cars is expected to set a new auction record.
The belle of the ball is expected to be the 1937 Mercedes Benz 540K
Spezial Roadster. Chassis number 154403 is one of three 540K’s outfitted
with the coveted “high door, covered spare, long-tail” body. And it’s
expected to set a new record for a Mercedes at auction (think $5 Million
Other masterpieces from the 540K Collection include a 1936 Mercedes 540K
Spezial Coupe, which is expected to fetch $4-5 Million. Known as the
Paris Salon Car, this elegant coupe was built for a Belgian chemical
company magnate, then it was displayed at the 1936 Paris Motor Show.
This Sindelfingen bodied show car has only had 4 owners, and it even
comes with a copy of the original build sheet.
In the one-off department, there’s a 1939 Mercedes 540K Spezial
Roadster, which was commissioned by the Horn Brothers (prominent
retailers in Berlin…before the war). It features the rare 5-speed
transmission, with overdrive, and a pretty unique story. During WWII,
the car was hidden from the Nazi’s & the Allies, then it was
rediscovered at a Soviet General’s summer home in the 1960’s. Expect an
auction price between $3.5-4.5 Million.
Another rare beauty is this 1936 Mercedes 540K Sport Cabriolet A, which
was one of the first cars to receive the larger 5.4 liter engine. The
auction estimate for this 4-place roadster is so high, you’ll have to
pass a credit check before I can tell you.
Besides these rare 540K’s, the Monterey Sale will also include the
“Berlin Show Car”…a 1935 Mercedes 500K Roadster which was displayed at
the 1935 Berlin Motor Show (auction estimate: $4-5 Million), a 1924
Mercedes 28/95 Sport Phaeton, and a pair of 300SL Gullwings (1955 &
So, if your wife’s got the mansion decked out in French Revival, but
your garage is still decorated in AutoMax…call Zurich, move some money
around, then private-jet your way to the Monterey Sale. You’ll surely
find something she’ll hate.