These 5 straight-eight prewar dream machines are open to the elements

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RM Sotheby's/Ryan Merrill

Inline-eight automotive engines are a technology of the past. Today, they’re seen as too difficult to package thanks to their length, but they had a good run. For decades, the smooth power delivery of eight cylinders in a row was a status symbol, appearing in luxury marques and eventually trickling down into more mainstream brands. Poring over the upcoming auctions from RM Sotheby’s, Bonhams, and Mecum, as we prepare for the upcoming Amelia Island Concours and Mecum Indy festivities, it’s easy to see where and how the straight-eight shined. No doubt the I-8’s rich sound is best appreciated from behind the wheel, without a roof overhead. Here are five examples that pair the smooth luxury engine layout with gorgeous droptop lines.

1929 Duesenberg Model J ‘Disappearing Top’ Torpedo by Murphy

Duesenberg’s DOHC eight-cylinder cars were among the most powerful, striking, and expensive cars available in America during the late ’30s. This gorgeous boat-tailed convertible is a prime example of their opulence. The long, low body is unpainted; instead, the brushed aluminum body highlights the perfectly shaped panels that were the focus of a 2015 restoration that aided this car’s Best in Class finish at the 2020 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

1935 Mercedes-Benz 500 K

Bidders will have two chances to nab one of these sleek German classics. RM Sotheby’s has a 1934 500 K three-position roadster by Windovers scheduled for its 2021 Amelia Island sale that was originally owned by RAF fighter ace William Henry Rhodes-Moorhouse. Prior to WWII, Rhodes Moorhouse was a performance car aficionado, so the supercharged 5.0-liter inline-eight Mercedes and its unique independent suspension called to him. Of the 342 Mercedes 500 K models built, only 41 were sold as bare chassis meant for custom bodywork. British coachbuilders made just 10 of them and only two were handled by Windovers. Restored and repainted, this elegant beauty still maintains its original engine.

1934 Mercedes-Benz 500/540 K

Seeking even more power, Mercedes increased the displacement of its supercharged 5.0-liter inline-eight engine to 5.4 liters, thus the 540 K was born. Bonhams is offering an early 1934 500 K that was factory-outfitted in Sindelfingen with the updated 540 K engine in 1936. The wonderfully restored car has been well documented and, interestingly, still maintains its original engine number, as Mercedes re-stamped the newer engine to match.

1934 Bugatti Type 57

Originally owned by movie star Hella Hartwich, this one-of-one Type 57 cabriolet features elegant bodywork by Carrosserie Franay. It’s powered by Bugatti’s 3257-cc DOHC inline-eight that produces 130 hp—quite a power-dense mill for its time. This unique drop-top has been restored twice, the latest undertaking being a three-year Concours-quality build that was completed in 2015.

1941 Packard Darrin One-Eighty Convertible Victoria

Howard “Dutch” Darrin was an accomplished American designer who worked in France before moving to California where he offered his talents to the Hollywood stars as well as Packard. The idea of a Packard Darrin was initially shot down by company brass, but Darrin built a concept anyway. He showed it off at the Packard Proving Grounds at an annual dealer meeting, where the interest spurred Packard to put the car into production. Fewer than 100 were built from 1940–1942 before WWII ended the ambitious affair. This olive green drop-top was the recipient of a cosmetic restoration in 2020 and is powered by Packard’s flathead eight.

These are just a few of the many straight-eight-powered cars you’ll find at this month’s auctions from RM Sotheby’s, Bonhams, and Mecum. There are also Chrysler and Studebaker straight-eights to choose from, and of course, what is a V-16 but two inline-eight engines that share a crankshaft? Cadillac’s most prestigious cars of the 1930s used a mammoth 452-cubic-inch displacement to produce 165 hp from its V-16 at an unlabored 3400 rpm. There are several of those to choose from as well—all showcasing that between Indy and Amelia there are some serious automotive legends up for grabs this month.

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