The Automobile as Art: The Anatomy of the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A

Offered at RM Sotheby’s Essen sale, 11-12 April 2019

Andrew Miterko

Arguably one of the most striking designs of the pre-war period, each of the 540 K Cabriolet A roadsters were individually hand built by master coachbuilders at Mercedes-Benz’s own Karrosserie Sindelfingen. Available in four cabriolet styles designated ‘A’ through ‘D’, very few of which were bodied to the highly desirable Cabriolet A configuration- only 32 built and 18 believed to exist today. Each 540 K featured exquisite coachwork and paintwork, highly polished metal, the finest hardwoods and leather paired with a powerful Grand Prix inspired supercharged eight-cylinder engine. Click ahead to explore details of arguably one of the most arresting German supercars of the pre-war era.

Lot 134: 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A by Sindelfingen

Estimate €2.000.000 - €2.400.000

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Striking Body Design

Cabriolet A roadsters were built on a shorter chassis which moved the radiator, engine, and cockpit back 185mm (7.3 inches) from the front axle. The exterior features long, flowing front fenders which abruptly turn upward into the rear fenders, a prominent hood leading to a low, raked windscreen, and a long sloping rear deck.

Powerful Grand Prix Inspired Engine

Developed under Mercedes chief engineer, ex-racing driver Max Sailer, the 540 K was fitted with a 5.4 litre inline-8 cylinder engine with a gear driven, Roots style supercharger. When engaged, the compressor boosted the 115 hp engine to 180 hp capable of powering the cabriolet to a top speed approaching 110mph- making it one of the new true 100 mph capable cars of the 1930s.

Performance Boosting Roots Supercharger

Mercedes-Benz famous Roots-style supercharger system was activated by pressing the accelerator pedal to the end of its travel, where the compressor would engage while simultaneously closing off the atmospheric intake to the carburettor.

Four-Speed Gearbox

The 540 K utilized a four-speed gearbox with a direct top gear with a 1:1 ratio, rather than the overdrive ratio featured in the previous 500 K, allowing the most efficient power transfer from the engine and a resulting top speed of 110 mph.

Exquisite Interior

Each of the special order cabriolets were individually built to the customer’s needs and wishes. Being an export to England, this model was configured as a right-hand drive and finished in brown leather with handcrafted hardwood dashboard and trim, with the gauge cluster surrounded by a mother-of-pearl trim panel. A matching leather luggage set is mounted behind the driver and passenger seats.

Integrated Trunk and Recessed Spare Tire

Each of the 540 K Cabriolet were a bespoke creation, each varying slightly dependent of the customer’s individual wants and needs. The Cabriolet A has an exterior mounted spare wheel which sits in an indentation in the integrated rear trunk.

Integrated Trunk and Recessed Spare Tire

Each of the 540 K Cabriolet were a bespoke creation, each varying slightly dependent of the customer’s individual wants and needs. The Cabriolet A has an exterior mounted spare wheel which sits in an indentation in the integrated rear trunk.

Highly Polished Metal Brightwork

Highlighting the exquisite coachwork is the use of highly polished metal trim throughout the exterior, interior and engine bay.

Independent Suspension for Improved Road Manners

The 540 K Cabriolet incorporated the same all-around independent suspension layout as its predecessor, the 500 K, retaining the parallel links and coil springs at the front axle and swing axles at the rear but was noted to have lighter steering and handling, along with a more comfortable ride. Horizontal assist springs were added and linked the axle halves together to prevent rear-wheel tuck-under during cornering at speed. Servo-assisted power brakes increased braking performance for added safety and control.


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