- Chassis No.
Alone among the great classic car manufacturers Mercedes-Benz relied upon its own factory for its most famous, beautiful and harmonious coachwork. Rolls-Royce, Isotta Fraschini, Hispano-Suiza and the other greats of Europe turned to Gurney Nutting, Castagna, Kellner and their counterparts, designers, builders, trimmers and outfitters whose clients were the cars’ owners and whose involvement in the process of acquiring a new luxury automobile commenced even before the chassis order was placed. Even the manufacturers’ stands at the great salons were graced with coachwork from favored contractors.
The situation in America, where luxury automobiles were more of a production item, was a little different, but not much. Duesenberg’s LaGrande coachwork was in fact turned out by independent coachbuilders and warehoused against anticipated orders, then finished to clients’ specifications. Cadillac’s Fleetwood was part of the General Motors empire. Raymond Dietrich worked for Packard’s supplier Murray Corp. of America while LeBaron became part of Briggs, both largely anonymous suppliers of volume production bodies, to create cataloged semi-custom designs for their luxury marque clients.
The history of the Sindelfingen works began before World War I when it was established by Daimler to assemble aircraft engines and airframes. After the war the factory made furniture, but soon began to build bodies for Daimler and other manufacturers. At the time Sindelfingen’s focus was on series production, including setting up an assembly line in 1927. That changed in 1932.
In that year a Special Car Department was created under the guidance of Hermann Ahrens specifically to build low production, luxurious, custom-designed coachwork. Its work would become synonymous with the name Sindelfingen, and the visual signature of the big Mercedes-Benz supercharged eights that revolutionized the concept of luxury automobiles in the mid- and late-Thirties.
Whether cabriolet, roadster, phaeton, sedan or coupé Sindelfingen under Ahrens’ guidance developed an aggressive, sweeping profile with long skirted front wings that flowed into the running boards. As the decade of the Thirties advanced the sharp transition from running board to rear wing became smoother, a character line accented the union between the wing skirt and the wing itself and the rear wings lengthened to complement the tapered rear deck. The presentation of Sindelfingen coachwork was every bit as imposing as the epic Mercedes-Benz chassis which it clothed.
For many Mercedes-Benz clients one of the advantages of Sindelfingen’s experience with the supercharged eights and the desires of the trendsetting owners who bought them was the ability order similar Sindelfingen-built and trimmed coachwork for Mercedes-Benz’s six-cylinder chassis like this 320A. Frequently low production custom designs were designed and developed for the big eights, then refined and put into low volume production for Mercedes-Benz’s mid-sized chassis.
The 320A shared many characteristics with the large and expensive eights including independent front suspension, swing axle independent rear suspension, four wheel hydraulic drum brakes and a four-speed gearbox but on a 2,880mm wheelbase, more compact than the big 540K’s 3,290mm with similar coachwork.
In open cars there were four generally available coachwork configurations of which the two-door, two side window, occasional rear seat Cabriolet ‘A’ is the most sporting, attractive and luxurious. Fitted with rollup windows and a tight, lined soft top, the Cabriolet ‘A’ combines good looks, practicality in all kinds of weather and luxury. Fitted to the 320A chassis with 3,208cc, side valve, seven-main bearing, six-cylinder engine, it combines sensuous, purposeful appearance with reliability and 130 km/h performance.
This example, which formed part of the collection of the late Mercedes-Benz connoisseur Rolf Meyer in Germany before acquisition by the present Italian owner in 2004, boasts a steeply raked, opening vee windscreen, chrome wire wheels, whitewall tyres, an enclosed spare wheel inset nearly flush into the rear deck, Bosch headlights and a pair of spotlights with attached mirrors. It has been restored in red with parchment leather upholstery and matching beige hood and carpets. Richly finished dark walnut veneer paneling accents the dashboard and the door cappings, highlighting its presentation as one of the most luxurious, attractive, dramatic automobiles of the Thirties. Its raked vee windscreen and gracefully joined intersection between the running boards and rear wings mark this as one of the final and most refined products of Mercedes-Benz in the inter-war years and of the Sindelfingen coachworks in particular.
It has undergone a comprehensive mechanical check-up at the factory in Germany at an estimated cost of Eu.50,000. Shown at the 2008 Villa d’Este Concours d’Elegance, it will be a welcome participant in other events and tours where its stunning appearance will win it entry to the same exclusive enclosures as fantastically expensive Mercedes-Benz supercharged eights with comparable coachwork.