Americans are very fond of car auctions, and as a result a huge number of such high-profile events take place multiple times a year across the nation. If you’ve been following what’s going on in this world like we do here at autoevolution, you might have noticed a trend or two.
The first is that Americans are suckers for American-made cars. They are so much so in love with everything Americana that they spare no expense when they see something they like cross the block. But there’s one catch here: generally speaking, American-made cars sell for six-figure sums at best, and very rarely go above one million dollars.
Cars valued in the millions, no matter where they come from, are what the heavy hitters of the collectors’ world are after. And later this month, during the Mecum auction in Monterey, there’s no shortage of collectibles so rare and special that they’re sure to make an impact on loaded bank accounts.
Earlier this week we brought you news of a matching-numbers 1963 Mercedes-Benz 300SL in almost perfect condition that’s probably going to get $2.5 million with ease. Today however we look at something a lot more valuable: the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster.
The 540K is a very rare machine, given that it was made for just four years, between 1936 and 1940, when everyone in this world got busy fighting a war. The car was styled like many machines of its era, with a massive body pulled over the chassis, large fenders draped over the wheels, and the kind of class and style only kings, queens, and Nazi Reichsmarschalls could enjoy at the time.
The rarity of the car (just 419 of them were ever made) and the age it comes from makes it incredibly appealing to a certain group of collectors. That’s why it came as no surprise to learn the 540K we are here to admire is gunning for as much as $4.5 million at the California auction.
The huge amount of money that’ll land the car a new owner is justified not only by the above-mentioned facts, but also by the fact there’s no other 540K like this in existence.
You see, back in the 1930s Mercedes made these cars as a blend between an in-house built chassis and a body to be placed over it by whoever desired it. Most of Merc’s customers went of course for German-made bodies, but there were some who preferred to have other shops handle this part of the build.
A small number of 540K chassis (up to a total of 70 together with the 500K variant) were delivered to customers with no bodies. The one we have here, coming with a 128-inch wheelbase, is part of that small lot, and it left the Mercedes-Benz plant in Sindelfingen to reach a customer in the UK.
The original buyer of the car had its body made at the hands of London-based Mayfair Carriage Works, and as far as we know there is no other car like this anywhere in the world.
When fighting in Europe broke out the 540K stayed over in the UK, and it remained there until the end of the war, when it was purchased by a Canadian. It didn’t stay in Canada for long, as an American father and son duo stumbled upon it and had it shipped to Michigan.
It took the Americans about two decades to bring the car to its pre-war condition (we’re not told anything about the state it was in when it left Britain). When ready it was shown at Meadow Brook Hall Concours d’Elegance (unclear what year), and was then featured in the Mercedes-Benz -The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars book by Jan Melin.
In 1995 the 540K entered the Imperial Palace Auto Collection and shortly after the General William Lyon Collection. It made an appearance in 2011 at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance as part of the “Celebrating 125 Years of Mercedes-Benz” event.
Still in right-hand drive configuration as it originally was, the 540K is equipped with a 5,401cc inline-eight engine rocking two carburetors. Back in its day this powerplant was rated at just 115 horsepower, controlled by means of a four-speed transmission, but thanks to a supercharger it could push that to as much as 180 hp. The top speed the car was capable of reaching was 110 mph (177 kph).
As far as its present condition goes, the car still offers most of the thrills and comforts it put on the table back when it was brand new. The seats are covered in leather, there are white-faced gauges in the dashboard, and a steering wheel the kind of which we so rarely see these days placed ahead of that.
The 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster is presently part of a collection called Don Williams Estate, of which a total of 11 cars are offered at Monterey. The German machine is however considered a main attraction for the auction, and we will of course keep an eye on it to see how much it eventually manages to go for.