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    $38m GTO: All the Drama, Surprises and Head-Scratchers from Monterey's $464m Week

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1935 mercedes benz 500k special roadster


In 1933 the first of a new generation of Mercedes-Benz cars were issued from the Untertürkheim factory, incorporating advanced features for the time. The Mercedes-Benz 380 offered a fully independent suspension chassis with coil springs, unprecedented for the time. Front suspension was by dual A-arms, at the rear swing axles were used, giving ride and handling that were unprecedented for the time, even on racing cars.
The 380 was powered by a straight eight engine displacing 3820 cc. These impressive specifications, however, proved less than a match for the elaborate, and often heavy, coachwork Mercedes owners preferred, thereby diminishing the 380’s performance. So diminished, in fact, that only 154 were built before production ended barely a year after the model’s introduction.
The disappointment of the 380 was followed by the success of one of Mercedes-Benz’s great models, the W29 160-horsepower 500K which reintroduced the “K” (Kompressor) designation made famous by the SSK and SSKL. Almost as many 500Ks were built in the changeover year of 1934 (105) as in the 380’s two-year run. The 500K was an unabashedly luxurious automobile, as attested by its standard equipment. This included two spare wheels and tires, safety glass, electric windshield wipers, tool kit, lighted number plates, hydraulic brakes, central lubrication, a 12-volt electrical system and a four-speed gearbox with synchromesh on the top three gears.
Mercedes-Benz built a full line of eight bodies in its own coachworks at Sindelfingen, producing some of the most imposing and luxurious creations of an era of great coachbuilders. Sindelfingen bodies were equipped with luggage, internal lighting, map pockets, chromium-plated bumpers, electric directional signals and door locks as standard equipment. Sedans got roll-up window blinds. Open cars had fitted top boots. All glazing was safety glass. Befitting the bespoke creations they were, Sindelfingen’s clients could order additional equipment and features for their new 500Ks and there is no shortage of unique attributes in these automobiles.
The feature that distinguishes all supercharged Mercedes-Benz automobiles, beyond their quality and majesty, is the song of their supercharger, a high-pitched wail of finely meshed gears forcing immense quantities of air and fuel into volumes where it normally would not fit, drowning out all other sound in a tornado’s shriek of power and purpose.
Creating a sporting shape on the 500K’s 129-inch wheelbase, with a hood line high enough to clear the car’s long-stroke engine topped by its overhead camshaft and valve gear, is a daunting task. Only the most accomplished and sensitive designers have succeeded and their creations, whether on Mercedes-Benz, Duesenberg, Alfa Romeo or Rolls-Royce chassis, are masterpieces in the artful integration of disparate masses. Most owe their success to the skill and temperament of masterful individuals. It is a tribute to the management skills of Mercedes-Benz that the communal product of Sindelfingen’s designers and craftsmen joins these individual accomplishments, making the 500K Special Roadster one of the triumphs of automotive designs and remaining to this day one of the most beautiful cars ever created.
Offered in two successive versions, the first series Special Roadster, like the one pictured here, was a true sport roadster without side windows and had a disappearing top, a tapered tail topped by twin spares and stalk-mounted taillamps. The later, second series cars were heavier, not as sporting and traded the first series’ low doors for roll-up windows, a longer tail, flush taillamps and an inset flush-mounted spare.


{analysis}{auto}692{/auto} This first series Special Roadster sold at RM’s Amelia Island auction on March 10, 2001 for $2,970,000, including buyer’s premium.
As we reported in the May 2001 issue of SCM, this car was “Sexy, slinky, the Jean Harlow of 1930s motor cars.” Actually, there are few Mercedes-Benzes of the period that would earn this compliment: many of them have more the appearance of Wagnerian heroines than film stars.
But if 500K Special Roadsters are as attractive as Jean Harlow, they’re also as elusive as Greta Garbo. Prior to auction, this car had resided in a Japanese collection. It won the Gwen Graham Trophy for the Most Elegant Car at Pebble Beach in 1986 and since then has been maintained in concours-winning condition. Only one other example has gone across the auction block in recent memory: in 1989 Christie’s sold an unrestored 500K that had resided in a shed behind a butcher’s shop in the north of England. In fact, “unrestored” is a complimentary description. The British tabloids called it a “rodent-ravaged roadster” and for once they weren’t spewing hyperbole. Despite its shabby condition, this car topped a million pounds before selling, which at the time represented about $1,600,000.
This would make the RM car a relative bargain, given its superb condition and the obvious quality of its restoration. And I know it probably seems strange to see a car that cost more than most people earn in a lifetime called a “bargain” but, for a road-ready and show-ready example of what their catalog rightly called “one of the most beautiful cars ever created,” we’ll stick to that assertion. This car has it all and always will, just like a Rembrandt painting or a Degas sculpture.—Dave Brownell
(Historic data and photo courtesy of auction company.){/analysis}

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