1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sport Cabriolet

Restoring a 540K is not for the faint of heart. The chrome bill alone on these cars can run close to $50,000

Mercedes-Benz introduced the 500K in 1934. The “K” designation stood for Kompressor, German for supercharger. With power increasing from 100 hp to 160 hp when the supercharger engaged, the cars were among the fastest grand touring cars of the time.

Although similar in many respects, the new-for-1936 540K model offered even more power: 115 hp naturally aspirated or an impressive 180 hp with the blower engaged. A 12-inch increase in wheelbase to 128 inches improved ride quality and gave coachbuilders more room to create even longer and more elegant lines. The hood was extended, while the raked, V-shaped radiator and external exhaust pipes gave the car an undeniable visual presence. Long sweeping fenders, gently skirted, added to the visual length of the car, while chrome accents highlighted the lines and added a sparkling elegance. Just 419 540K chassis were built before production ended in 1940.

Most coach-built bodies for Mercedes-Benz’s top chassis were constructed in the firm’s own coachworks at Sindelfingen. However, particular clients preferred the work of Germany’s major independent coachbuilder, Erdmann & Rossi, established in 1897 on Berlin’s Luisenstrasse. It moved to larger quarters near the Oranienburg Gate two years later, to concentrate on automobile bodies.

The spectacular Sport Cabriolet offered here was originally ordered by the Berglass brothers, a family of Berlin bankers. It was their second Sport Cabriolet by Erdmann & Rossi; the first was fitted to a 500K chassis. This car was delivered on December 10, 1936, and the design sheet pointed out a number of special features unique to this car, such as the specially lengthened hood with cooling doors, a unique hinged V-windshield, and twin-mounted rear spares.

This one-off 540K did not stay in Germany for long, and by 1938 it was shipped to the U.K. where it was road registered as LMG 594 just before the war. The car’s subsequent history remains relatively unknown until the mid-1970s, when it was purchased by the Goodman family of the San Francisco Bay area. The Mercedes-Benz remained in their care until it was sold in unrestored condition at an estate sale in 1993. Its subsequent owner immediately undertook a complete restoration of the car.

Following this extensive restoration, the 540K Sport Cabriolet received several awards including: first place at the 1997 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, second place at Pebble Beach in 1997, and both a First in Class and the Most Significant Mercedes award at the 1998 Meadow Brook Hall Concours d’Elegance. This spectacular and authentic 540K Mercedes-Benz represents the pinnacle of the coachbuilding art and design from the classic era.