After lingering undisturbed in a garage for more than four decades, a unique 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K just sold for $995,000 (including commission) at RM Sotheby’s 2020 Arizona Auction. Although it started life as a 540 K Cabriolet A, in 1951 it was expertly converted to a coupe by German coachbuilder Hebmüller. After it made its way to the U.S., this gorgeous triumph of pre-war engineering and design eventually landed in Nebraska—where, after several local parades and such, it lost a car show to a restored John Deere in 1980. Stung, its owner parked the 540 K in a garage, shut the door, and left it for 40 years.
Don McLellan, president of RM Auto Restoration, said: “We didn’t have to mess with anything major in the engine bay. It’s a really complete car.”
What’s special about this particular example is that it is in remarkably original condition, and that it’s been out of public view for so long. The clear provenance and Hebmüller’s conversion from cloth- to hardtop make this 540 K particularly desirable—and that’s on top of the model’s incredible mechanical engineering. It’s an intricate, elegant beast of a machine. The 5.4-liter straight-eight engine makes about 100 horsepower naturally aspirated, and when the supercharger (K standing for kompressor) wakes up, another 65–80 on top of that. The 540 K more than earned its status as one of the great grand touring cars of the pre-war era; its bonafides are well-established.
RM’s pre-sale estimate was $1.0M–$1.5M. The final price of just under a million bucks, within very close range of the low estimate, still falls well below the all-time record for a 540 K—$11,770,000 for a 1936 Special Roadster that Gooding & Company handled at its 2012 Pebble Beach auction. Last August, Gooding & Company sold a barn-find ’41 Cabriolet A for just shy of $1.3M, which is a more analogous reference point.
No doubt, this sale represents a fine new chapter of this beautiful survivor’s story. The new owner could go in a variety of directions with a restoration or refurbishment, but for our part, we’d love to see this 540 K refreshed rather than fully reimagined.
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