The automotive factories of today utilize computers and robots in order to produce different combinations of cars in short order. The buyer is able to choose different options, colors, and accessories that can all be changed at a moment’s notice on the assembly line. Some may consider this customization, but having a specially ordered car in the 1930s was a much different scenario.
In 1936, Mercedes Benz introduced its new 540K model at the Paris Motor Show. Subsequent years would see this car be called on as the most striking Mercedes model ever built. When it came out, this car was not simply sitting on dealers lots to be test driven and sold to the first person with enough money. It was specially ordered and built once the customer had made payment. Recently, one of the rarest models came to auction at RM’s Villa d’Este event.
The Cabriolet A model was built for the 14th Maharajah of Indore whom was an avid car collector. More recently, the car was fully restored and has won its fare share of concours events across the country. The rare and beautiful 540K Cabriolet was auctioned for the price of $2,013,000 to one lucky bidder that will undoubtedly be satisfied with his purchase.
Hit the jump for more details on the 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Cabriolet A
The platform for the 500 and 540K models was created to accommodate a variety of different body styles. A major improvement for the 540K was the use of oval tubes for the frame instead of the typical girder pieces used in the 500. This made the car lighter and also stronger. Three different chassis lengths were distinguished with letters; A was for the short wheelbase variants, B for the four-seat cabriolets, and C for touring cars and sedans.
In general, the 540K was distinguished from the earlier 500 models by a longer hood, extended wheelbase, v-shaped radiator, and better brakes. The improvements to the chassis were made through the extensive racing knowledge gathered with the SSK cars. One of the most highly photographed parts of these cars is the exposed exhaust pipes that snake out towards the rear of the vehicle.
With this car being the ultimate Mercedes Benz of the day it certainly featured luxury amenities. The major difference between the cars is that Mercedes -Benz was not responsible for putting the bodies on them. Instead the buyer was able to choose his or her own coachbuilder to complete the job. Only 12 of the Cabriolet A models are known to have survived until the present day, several of which have come up for auction in recent years.
Chassis 130946 – This car was bought from a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Paris and bodied in the Sindelfingen factory. The original owner was Mr. Tessier who often had the car pictured in front of his nightclub in Paris. After undergoing a restoration in 1993, the car was put up for auction by the original owner in 2007 and sold for $1,600,000.
Chassis 154084 – This 1937 model remains as one of the most finely restored vehicles in existence. The Sindelfingen bodywork features the long rear coachwork with spares out back, large Bosch headlamps, and the deeply set radiator. The interior features a mother of pearl dashboard and black leather seats. In 2010, Gooding & Company offered this car for auction and fetched $2,145,000.
Chassis 154080 – One of the most rare of all Cabriolet A models is the Mayfair Roadster. This carriage company took the powerful lines of the 540K and made it even more elegant and powerful looking. Down the side of the hood and even on the rear fenders, louvers give off a sense of purpose without detracting from the flowing lines. The rear wheel is also covered completely lending to the increased aerodynamic proficiency of this model. This car was changed from its original color of Black into the stunning Red seen in the picture. Nonetheless, a second restoration brought this Cabriolet to concours quality and it was sold in Monterey for $2,530,000.
The engineer responsible for these cars was Hans Nibel and came from the older Type 380. The straight-eight pushrod OHV engine displaced 3,823 cc in its original form. It made 90hp, but that was not enough to make the large vehicle perform at the level Mercedes wanted. Eventually Nibel developed a 5-liter version of the engine with a supercharger. This “K” or Kompressor model made 160hp which was much more competitive versus the competition. The latter models used a further enhanced version displacing 5,401ccs and used the same Roots type supercharger. The Maharajah’s 540K had this engine and it made 180hp which was perfect for his love of fast automobiles.
These automobiles could weigh nearly two-tons and thus needed an advanced chassis and suspension setup. Engineers developed an all-independent suspension with double wishbones and coil springs up front. The rear end used coil-sprung swing axles to handle the weight. In order to bring the large and powerful Mercedes to a stop, the factory used vacuum-assisted hydraulic drum brakes at all four wheels.
The Maharajah’ 540K Cabriolet A
This particular Maharajah was known for his love of automobiles and by the end of his reign the collection was regarded as the best in India. 1936 saw him purchase three custom automobiles ranging from a 4.5-liter Lagonda to a Bentley Coupe, and a supercharged Duesenberg . This type of avid collector was exactly the type of client Mercedes Benz had in mind when developing the 540K. In 1937, they received an order from H.H. Yeshwant Rao Holkar II for a Cabriolet A model.
This car had been designed by Herman Ahrens as a two-passenger drophead coupe. According to factory records only 83 were ever built and 12 survive to the present day. It was built on the short wheelbase of 117.3 inches and besides being beautiful standing still, could also reach 100mph.
Eventually the title of the car was transferred into his daughter, Usha Devi’s name. The car changed hands several times throughout the years after being found in a Mumbai motor shop. It was acquired by a collector in the United States who commissioned RM Auto Restoration to do a complete rebuild. This skilled team was able to save many of the original components including the wood interior sections. After being finished in its current deep midnight blue, the odometer was reset to zero and the car was ready for its first show. The 2002 Pebble Beach Concours was graced with the presence of chassis 154081 and it received 3rd place overall. It seems that the flawless sedan was more appreciated the following year when it completed a rare triple crown victory by winning the Meadow Brook Hall event, David Holls Memorial Designers Choice Award, and the Founders Trophy for Best in Show.
- Multiple Award Winner
- Desirable “A” Model
- Most Powerful Engine
- High Price
- Rare Auction Opportunity