Offered from Masterworks of Design
$1,875,000 USD | Sold
| Monterey, California
- Desirable early 540 K Cabriolet A with set-back radiator
- Among the most sought-after cabriolet styles on this important chassis
- Well-preserved older restoration in charming condition
- Equipped with original engine and coachwork
- Interesting history, including features in important books
As production of the 500 K came to an end during 1936, it was succeeded by the latest and greatest Mercedes-Benz model, the 540 K—which, as the name suggested, sported an enlarged 5.4-liter engine. With this new supercharged engine, the eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz was swifter than ever, offering 180 brake horsepower with the blower engaged and the signature accompanying shrill banshee wail. It continued to be offered in various attractive body styles produced by the factory coachbuilding shops at Sindelfingen. Over the run of 540 K production, the sporting two-door cabriolet offerings would each be produced in three distinct series, each with their own special features matching evolving European styling trends.
The two-passenger Cabriolet A in its first-series form borrowed essentially the same body as the 500 K, with a set-back radiator shell as on the famed Special Roadsters, very attractive low windshield, and long, flowing front fenders, initially open and then with very subtle skirting. With dual rear-mounted spares it was an exceptionally attractive automobile, which managed to retain some of the competition nature of the great S-types of the previous decade, while also being large and surpassingly comfortable. According to Jan Melin’s research, only 33 examples of this attractive early-style Cabriolet A were built, but it is extremely rare as one of perhaps only five surviving examples that are interim-production cars, with the early coachwork mated to the more powerful 540 K platform.
The 540 K Cabriolet A offered here was a UK-delivery model, built with right-hand-drive and delivered in August 1936 to Rose & Company, Ltd., of London, England. Its original owner is recorded in the British-delivery chassis records for pre-war cars published in Michael Frostick’s The Mighty Mercedes as a Mr. Cockburn, for whom the car was registered as EMH 303, a registration that is still fitted today.
The car made its way Stateside in the early post-war years of the 1950s, and as early as 1954 was in the ownership of John B. Davidson of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in whose ownership it was painted gold with black features and had an unusual and distinctive “sweep panel” design through the hood. Mr. Davidson subsequently offered the car for sale in 1959. It next appeared in the late 1970s in the ownership of one Earl Blakely, who sold the car in 1978 to Dr. Terry Bennett of New Hampshire. Dr. Bennett kept the 540 K in his collection for a decade before selling it to the Swedish property tycoon Hans Thulin, who was at the time building one of the most impressive collections of European sporting automobiles ever assembled. Its brief time in the Nordic countries resulted in an appearance in noted Mercedes-Benz historian Jan Melin’s book, Mercedes-Benz 8-Cylindrar 1930-Talets Kompressorvagnar i Norden.
In 1991, as the Thulin collection was being dispersed, this 540 K returned to the States, and soon thereafter was refinished to its present appearance and joined the present collection, where it has now remained for three decades.
Today, this significant 540 K wears an attractive older restoration in a distinctive livery of black with red wire wheels, shod in blackwall tires, and red leather upholstery—a color scheme that has aged particularly well. Finishes remain highly presentable throughout, with the top still very fresh and the interior exhibiting only the minor creasing typical with age and gentle use. Some of the instruments appear to have their original finishes, and in fact, the restoration of this car appears to have been relatively light-handed for its era; the car retains the original stampings on the engine and frame rail, and in fact even still possesses wooden floorboards stamped with the original body number. There are some signs of age and use under the hood but overall, all is quite presentable and with an appealing level of patina.
This car would be a superb addition to any distinguished collection of supercharged Mercedes-Benz models, or indeed a fine choice for further mechanical sorting and driving enjoyment, for which the 540 K is particularly well-suited. It boasts truly fine styling, rich provenance, and well-chosen hues, and is certain to attract much positive attention wherever it ventures.