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Chassis No.
154078
Engine No.
154078
  • Most sought-after coachwork after the Special Roadster, with low windscreen and rear-mounted spare wheels
  • Original and matching chassis, engine and body attested by detailed Mercedes-Benz Classic report
  • Ready to enjoy, with Swiss, English and German paperwork
 
Low windscreen, rear-mounted spare variant

1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A

Coachwork by Sindelfingen

“Nowhere else but in a fighter plane could one sit behind so much engine” Author Michael Frostick prefaces the chapter on ‘Sporting Giants’ in his 1971 book The Mighty Mercedes

The supercharged straight-eight 540K was the ultimate pre-War Mercedes-Benz sports car, ultra-expensive automobiles that few have ever matched for power and sheer presence.

In total, 406 540Ks of all types were built from 1936 to 1939.

The Mercedes-Benz 540K

Few thought the mighty 5.0-litre 500K Mercedes could be bettered, but in October 1936 a new Mercedes-Benz was shown to the public at the Paris Motor Show.

The latest car’s four-speed gearbox featured a direct, rather than overdriven top gear to make full use of the power and flexibility of the new, now 5.4-litre engine. With Roots-type supercharger engaged, the 540K's blown straight-eight gave it a top speed approaching 110mph (177km/h), with similar standards of braking thanks to a servo-assisted system. By simply depressing the accelerator the full length of its travel, the driver could call on 180bhp accompanied by a banshee wail. Unsupercharged, the engine still produced 115bhp. This system had been race-proven on the preceding series of Porsche-designed S-Type cars. In effect, the 540K was the last supercharged production Mercedes until modern times.

“One's foot goes hard down, and an almost demonical howl comes in. The rev counter and speedometer needles leap round their dials: there is perhaps no other car noise in the world so distinctive as that produced by the Mercedes supercharger,” proclaimed British magazine The Autocar – one of the few genuine 100mph road cars available in the 1930s – in May 1938. Rival Motor’s test car returned 102mph over the timed quarter mile with the supercharger engaged and 85mph with it disengaged.

Like other manufacturers of the time, the Stuttgart company offered cars as bare chassis for coachbuilders to clothe, but its own designs executed by Mercedes-Benz Karosserie Werk Sindelfingen are the most elegant and sought-after.

This Motor Car

Surprising as it might seem today, the British market of the immediate pre-War period was a healthy one for Mercedes. Frostick’s book The Mighty Mercedes lists owners of the ‘super Mercedes’ of the day. Casting an eye over the list of super-wealthy British residents reveals a catalogue of some of the most influential people in society in general and motor racing in particular of the day: Adrian Conan Doyle (SSK); Earl Howe (SS); Baron von Krieger (SS and 540K); Miss Dorothy Paget (500K); Sir Max Aitken (500K); Marquis de Portago (500K); Niarchos (500K); Count von Reventlow (500K); Sultan of Johore (540K x 2); Nawab of Bahawalpur (540K); Embiricos (540K).

Joining this illustrious club was one Mr Paine. His 540K, chassis no. 154078, was ordered on 4 August 1936 by British Mercedes-Benz in London on behalf of Page Motors Ltd in Epsom, Surrey. The finished car was delivered by Sindelfingen on 7 December 1936 to be shipped by rail to London where it arrived on 12 December 1936.

The British Mercedes-Benz agent listed four body styles by Sindelfingen available for the 540K. The Special Roadster was a two-seater with dickey seat under a metal lid. The Cabriolet A was the second most sporting design, with either a third seat sideways behind the two fronts or just luggage space, while the four-seater Cabriolet B and C carried that theme further, becoming ever-roomier inside. Of the three cabriolets, only the A carried its spare wheel in an indentation in the sloping rear deck. Later versions of the Cabriolet A saw the spare moved to the front wings and the windscreen raised, modifications which were good for practicality but not aesthetics. The early 540K Cabriolet A like this car is therefore the version to have.

According to marque and model expert Jan Melin, the numbers built on 540K chassis per factory Sindelfingen coachwork style are as follows:

·        Cabriolet A, 83 cars

·        Cabriolet B, 190 cars

·        Cabriolet C, 32 cars

Mr Paine’s car was a Cabriolet A with low windscreen and rear-mounted spare, finished in ‘0209’ light green paint set off by a pale-yellow top and seats upholstered in pigskin. As a UK car, and in common with most other European luxury cars pre-War, it was right-hand drive. A German expert states that 30 Cabriolet As were built in this style, of which 12 are accounted for today.

Little is known of Mr Paine’s background, his home town or even his first name, but records held by the transport archive of the Kithead Trust shows that the car passed from an owner in Warwickshire to a second owner in London in December 1937. The registration ‘EPK 402’, though, was from Surrey, the location of supplying agent Page Motors, indicating this could well be its original mark. The Kithead Trust also states the car was probably last licensed in the UK sometime around 1960 and that it was possibly exported in 1964, likely to France. At some stage the registration appears to have changed- possibly a clerical error- to ‘EPX 202’.

A photo of this car from the 1950s in what looks like Pont Street, in the smart London borough of Belgravia, is pictured in Volume 2 of Jan Melin’s book Mercedes-Benz 8.

The next owner was Jean-Paul La Fuge who lived on chic Avenue Rapp in Paris, a client or financier of classic car dealership Garage de l’Athanee. From 1992 to 2009, the car was in the ownership of well-known collector Eduard Bollmeyer of Bünde, Germany. In 2009 he sold it to Eric van Lammeren of Munich, from whom it passed in 2015 to a young Swiss enthusiast.

In 2015 the car was the subject of detailed mechanical repairs and sympathetic restoration costing over €50,000. In addition, approximately €40,000 was spent at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center.

Mercedes-Benz Classic carried out a Manufacturer’s Expert Assessment of chassis 154078 in 2016. The conclusion of this very thorough and complete investigation into the details of the car was that while the car displays a different livery compared to when it was new, it is correct and mostly numbers matching. Specifically:

·        Chassis plate is correct

·        Chassis stampings and composition correct throughout

·        Engine with correct components and numbers

·        Body numbers all correct

·        Rear axle and steering rack are correct

·        The gearbox with internal serial number 10/29/1284 and gearbox number 45786 is from a 540K from the W29 Series 10 29 12 so has apparently been replaced

The body is also the original body first mounted on the chassis. The thorough technical team even analysed the composition of the steel of the chassis members, leading to the conclusion that it is the correct metal used by Mercedes-Benz as chassis steel for supercharged cars in the 1930s.

The car was sold at auction in April 2019 and is still in excellent order, usable for tours or events. Driving the car for filming in late 2020, the Kidston team found it performed faultlessly, a credit to German engineering of the period. Flooring the accelerator to engage the ‘Kompressor’ brought smiles and awe in equal measure for a generation who had never before experienced a pre-War supercharged Mercedes.

With its rakish Cabriolet A lines, fitted luggage, rear-mounted spares and never-ending bonnet enclosing the most powerful production pre-War Mercedes engine and an extraordinary level of originality and authenticity, this 540K is a fine example of the model often considered the ultimate 1930s German sports car.

 

 
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