Converted from Cabriolet A to Coupé
The Mercedes-Benz 540 K isn’t really a subject that needs much discussion among car connoisseurs and fans. This pre-war sports car is well known for its rarity and the powerful inline eight-cylinder engine with supercharging. With the supercharger switched on, 180 hp are available. Next to that, the beautiful bodywork variants, of which the factory alone already offered eleven different variations from Coupé to Cabriolet A and Cabriolet B as well as the Roadster and Spezial-Roadster, still provide great pleasure among onlookers today. In addition, special bodies from external coachbuilders were also available. Due to the high base price and the approaching World War 2, a total of only 419 chassis with and without bodies left the production halls in Sindelfingen/Germany. Of these, 32 were fitted with the Cabriolet A body style of the second series with two seats and redesigned, rounder front fenders compared with Series 1, including the chassis known internally as the ‘Fahrgestell mit zurückversetztem Motor’ (chassis with set-back engine), which set the characteristic radiator grille and entire drive unit 185 millimeters further back compared with the standard vehicle. Mercedes-Benz accomodated two full-size spare wheels in the rounded rear.
One of these chassis was given the chassis number 154143 amd left production in 1937 as a Cabriolet A. On July 12, 1937 Brabender GmbH in Duisburg, a company for laboratory instruments, took over this car as the first owner. Exactly when the company sold the 540 K is not known. What is clear, however, is that around 1951, the Henkel family from Düsseldorf, founders of the chemical company of the same name, brought the car to the coachbuilder Joseph Hebmüller und Söhne in Wuppertal to have the previous convertible top replaced by a Coupé roof. For this purpose, Hebmüller also removed the original windscreen frame and replaced it with a flatter one in a V-shape with a two-part window, of which both parts could be opened separately. Next to the new Coupé roof, the car also received new side windows, extended sills with chrome strips and integrated lighting, as well as rectangular tail lights. Due to the dark paintwork and the overall appearance, the result was very reminiscent of the Spezial-Coupé offered by the factory. Interestingly, a Coupé conversion based on a Mercedes-Benz 170 S was created at the same time for a director of the Henkel Group.
Shortly afterwards, the Henkel family sold the Mercedes-Benz 540 K to Henry A. Rudkin jr., whose mother founded the Pepperidge Farm bakery in the USA, where the car was immediately repainted in two colors, cream white and grey. They also cut a hole in the roof to fit a Golde sunroof. In 1956, the car was sold to Dr. William Hoffman in New York and later to John P. Quirk in Nebraska, who also owned a 540 K Spezial-Coupé at the same time. In 1968 he had both cars auctioned in Denver, Colorado. There the parents of the current owner from Nebraska purchased the unique 540 K, who often presented the car in matching clothes from the 1930s at local meetings and events. The Mercedes-Benz last appeared in 1980 in a parade with an attached beauty contest. However, a restored John Deere tractor was awarded the ‘Best of Show’ prize. Afterwards the 540 K was put into storage in a specially built garage, from which the car wasn’t taken out until recently.
In this way, the traces of the car were unintentionally covered up to such an extent that collectors from all over the world wondered whether the Hebmüller Coupé still existed. Recently RM Auto Restoration ensured that the technic was restored to working order. Now the car is to be auctioned by RM Sotheby’s at their Arizona auction. The new owner will also receive comprehensive documentation on the car, including various classic pictures. RM Sotheby’s hasn’t yet provided any information on the expected hammer price.
Images: RM Sotheby’s, Darin Schnabel