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Chassis No.
169387
Engine No.
169387
  • Believed shown at the 1937 Berlin Motor Show, one of only 32 540K Cabriolet Cs built
  • Gifted by Germany to King Farouk of Egypt
  • Remarkably complete and matching numbers
  • The subject of a five-year German restoration and recent comprehensive service
 
Ex-King Farouk of Egypt

1936 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet C

Coachwork by Sindelfingen

“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.” British magazine The Autocar tries a 540K – one of the few genuine 100mph road cars available in the 1930s – in May 1938

Few cars of the time have the power and sheer presence of the supercharged Mercedes-Benz built in the immediate pre-War period.

Of these, the 540K was the ultimate pre-War Mercedes road car. Fast, luxurious, extraordinarily expensive and available in a variety of coach-built body styles, the successor to the 500K proved to be a far better car, the definition of German engineering and extravagant style of the period.

The Mercedes-Benz 540K

Like its immediate predecessor, the 540K was powered by a supercharged straight-eight. This time it was enlarged to 5.4 litres to develop 115bhp unsupercharged or 180bhp with the Roots-type supercharger engaged, a process simply expedited by pressing the accelerator flat to the floor… This system had been proven on the preceding series of Porsche-designed S-Type cars. In effect, the 540K was the last supercharged production Mercedes until modern times.

The new car was launched at the Paris Motor Show in October 1936. Its four-speed gearbox featured a direct, rather than overdriven top gear to make full use of the power and flexibility of the new engine. With supercharger engaged, the 540K’s blown straight-eight gave it a top speed approaching 110mph (177km/h), with servo-assisted braking that matched the car’s potential. In the UK, Mercedes-Benz retained racing driver Goffredo ‘Freddy’ Zehender as technical adviser and demonstration driver, since the supercharged Mercedes was one of the few genuine 100mph road cars available in the 1930s.

Britain’s Motor magazine tested the 540K, judging it to have less heavy steering and handling than its predecessor, the 500K, plus an even more comfortable ride, employing the same all-round independent suspension layout with parallel links and coil springs at the front and swing axles at the rear. The test car returned 102mph over the timed quarter-mile with the supercharger engaged, 85mph with it disengaged.

In May 1938, Motor’s rival magazine Autocar had a run in a 540K at Brooklands. It achieved the highest maximum speed of any road-test car up to that date: carrying three passengers, it reached 104.65 mph (168.5km/h).

Mercedes, already supplying hi-tech engineering to the German state and, with Auto-Union, taking all before them in Grand Prix racing, developed the 540K yet further in 1938. A revised car appeared with oval-section chassis tubes instead of channel frame members. The engine now had sodium cooled valves, a result of the company’s highly successful racing and aero-engine programme.

Like other manufacturers of the time, the Stuttgart company offered cars as bare chassis for coachbuilders in the UK, USA and continental Europe, but its own designs executed by Mercedes-Benz Karosserie Werk Sindelfingen are some of the most elegant. In total, 406 540Ks were built from 1936 to 1939.

This Motor Car

Mercedes-Benz 540K chassis 169387 is a car from the first year of production and was shown at the Berlin Internationale Automobil und Motorradausstellung  (Motor Show) in February 1937. It was the model’s debut on home soil, an event opened by the Führer himself. With war less than three years away, the event was a masterclass in Nazi propaganda and featured demonstrations by Silver Arrows Grand Prix cars on the streets of Berlin specially closed to all other traffic.

On the Mercedes stand, joining its latest luxury sports cars was Rudi Caracciola’s record-

breaking streamliner. Apart from the 25 Spezial Roadsters, the armour-plated P cars and other one-offs, Mercedes offered 540K clients the choice of three standard bodies, all meticulously constructed by Mercedes’ in-house coachbuilder at Sindelfingen.

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

·         Cabriolet A, 83 cars

·         Cabriolet B, 190 cars

·         Cabriolet C, 32 cars

This new Mercedes 540K bore Cabriolet C two-door coachwork (the rarest), which offered two-door, four-seater accommodation coupled to breathtaking performance. It is not known in which colour the car was displayed in Berlin, but during that year it was repainted dark red on the express orders of the German government. The 540K also received a unique dashboard, radio, contrasting beige leather interior and matching hood. The reason? It was to be a gift from Nazi Germany to His Majesty Farouk I, by the grace of God, King of Egypt and the Sudan, on the occasion of his wedding to his first wife Safinaz Zulficar in January 1938.  And why red? Farouk was fond of the colour; his many cars were always that shade, so the police knew not to pull him over – no one else was allowed a red car during his rule.

Egypt’s riches, long-standing connections with the British Empire, strategic importance and proximity to the oilfields of the Middle East would explain the extravagant present: the 540K was a powerful car showcasing German technological excellence, one worth many 1,000s of Reichsmarks.

Like many of Farouk’s belongings, his supercharged red Mercedes remained in Egypt. Incredibly, it was found stored in remarkably complete condition – still red – in Cairo in 1988. Egyptian collector Nerses Papaziou bought it at auction and shipped it to his home in France, where it was kept in a barn awaiting restoration. In 1996, after inspection by a specialist team of restorers, it was sold to Germany.

The five-year restoration by renowned Esdar Classics that followed returned the car to its former state of magnificence, with the object of retaining as many original features as possible. It is said to retain over 90% of its original metalwork. The car is referenced and illustrated in Jan Melin’s definitive book on the supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes.

Our client purchased the car at auction in Monaco in May 2006 and since then it has been part of a world-class collection kept in climate-controlled storage in the UK.

A good example of the very best that money could buy in the late 1930s, 540K ‘169387’ represents an opportunity to enjoy the banshee shriek of Mercedes’ legendary supercharger. It is a car with an extraordinary back story, and compared with similar Bentleys, Bugattis and Alfa Romeos, is offered with better provenance and at a more accessible price. 

 
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