Lot 136

Arizona 2024

1938 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster in the style of Sindelfingen

Offered from The Open-Touring Collection


$1,545,000 USD | Sold

United States | Phoenix, Arizona



Chassis No.
Engine No.
US Title
  • Offered from The Open-Touring Collection
  • The famed, potent supercharged 540 K, in the most desirable Special Roadster style
  • Exceptionally restored with superb coachwork by master craftsman Cass Nawrocki
  • Beautiful colors and presentation throughout
  • Best of Show at the 2013 Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance in Oregon; Most Glamorous Car at the 2014 Niello Concours at Serrano in El Dorado Hills, California

During the late 1930s, with the possible exception of the American Duesenberg, no automobile compared with the Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster when it came to sheer beauty combined with outstanding performance.

Engineered by Hans Nibel, the 540 K boasted a pushrod overhead-valve inline eight-cylinder engine, displacing 5,401 cubic centimeters and equipped with a double-vane Roots-type supercharger which, when engaged at full throttle, boosted horsepower to 180, enabling most any style to reach 100 mph. On this chassis, the most beautiful body was the Special Roadster, drawn like the other factory styles by the talented pen of Hermann Ahrens and featuring exceptional proportions created by a radiator located 185 millimeters further back on the chassis. Several versions were made, the most desirable of which were the so-called long-tail, high-door models, which featured almost a continuous curve from the V-shaped windshield back through the doors to a flowing tail that carried a low-set spare wheel and tire.

It is the cars in this configuration that are the most sought-after of all 540 Ks, figuring into some of the world’s most important and exclusive collections.

The example offered here was, according to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, originally a Cabriolet B, delivered on 30 September 1938 to a buyer in Bochum, Germany. A second order book entry indicates that it returned to the factory and was resold in August 1946 in Wiesbaden.

Many years later the car was acquired by a former owner from a collector and broker in Los Angeles, who had reportedly acquired it from the estate of Middletown, Connecticut, veterinarian Dr. George Bitgood. Fondly revered in his locale as “the vet of last resort,” Dr. Bitgood also enjoyed international renown as an ahead-of-his-time collector of pre-war supercharged Mercedes-Benz automobiles. Among his fleet were the fabled “Jack Warner” 540 K Special Roadster and the “Blue Goose,” the Special Roadster originally built for Hermann Göring. Some of these cars were occasionally shown, while others remained hidden away on the Bitgood property until after his passing in 1998.

As purchased, this 540 K was in considerable disrepair, especially its original Cabriolet B body, which had to be rebuilt. As the Cabriolet B shared the chassis, drivetrain, lights, wire wheels, and instrumentation of the Special Roadster, it was decided to rebody the 540 K in this manner.

Selected for the work was Cass Nawrocki of Moose Lake, Minnesota, a well-known and highly respected metalworker and coachbuilder, who formerly worked for the late Mercedes-Benz collector Tom Kreid and wrote the definitive book on custom bodywork, Any Impossibility in Shaping Metal. Nawrocki had fully rebodied an original 540 K Special Roadster during its restoration, and he had the patterns and jigs to create another body, as well as that car’s rusted original fenders, doors, and body panels, to use as references. For the new project he built a wooden structure of kiln-dried eastern ash, then painstakingly created new exterior panels and affixed them to the wood frame, a process that took two years and is referenced in his book.

The new body was taken to well-known Portland, Oregon, Mercedes-Benz restorer Jim Friswold, who had completed a superb Cabriolet A that had scored 100 points at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. No expense was spared in the further finishing of the Special Roadster, which took another three years to complete. On its first time out, the car, finished in a rich, seductive hue of wine red, was awarded Best of Show at the 2013 Forest Grove Concours d’Elegance in Oregon, followed by Most Glamorous Car at the 2014 Niello Concours at Serrano in El Dorado Hills, California. It was widely acclaimed in each of its concours appearances.

Following its acquisition by the prior owner in 2015, the car underwent additional mechanical sorting, as described in a document on file, including rebuilding the carburetor, replacement of the clutch plate lining, and adjustments to the gearbox and steering. A cleverly designed power steering pump was fitted, which makes the car much easier to negotiate through modern traffic and a real pleasure to drive.

Well-preserved in the ownership of the present collection, the car remains in outstanding condition, with brightwork that is of the highest quality, a luscious tan leather interior, and immaculate paint and bodywork, all encapsulated by a brown canvas top fitted as-original.

An exciting example of the 540 K in beautifully finished form, this is an exceptional piece of the restorer’s art, as well as an outstanding work of coachbuilding. It would be wonderful to show, indeed, but is even more tempting to take to the road, where the performance of its supercharged engine can truly be savored and the new owner can experience the glory of travel in one of the great Full Classics. It is an experience without equal.