Yes, it’s the 1941 Mercedes Benz 540K Cabriolet delivered new to the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs in downtown Berlin. And yes, you’re right again. This was the government headed by Time’s 1938 Man Of The Year, Adolf Hitler.
The Mercedes Benz 540K Sports Roadster.
Mercedes and the Hitler team were joined at the hip, which doesn’t get a big mention at company-promoted events like launches at Pebble Beach. In fact, when Adolf was chancellor he pulled the Merc racing team out of financial trouble with a big lick of sponsorship reichsmarks. Of course, the company has airbrushed out the swastikas on the pics you see now.
Every Merc 540K took 6000 hours to build. Under the Motorhaube was a huge 5.4 litre engine with a turbo that the driver could dial up to get 60 per cent more power. Imagine it’s 1941. You’re sitting up front of the big red monster in the white leather seat behind the giant four-spoke wood and chrome wheel with the speedo saying the car is good for 220km/h. You’re heading down Berlin’s most fashionable street, Unter den Linden, you light your cigar from the electric lighter, put your left foot down, twist the turbo lever and what comes from the inner workings of the car is a noise Dicky Wagner could only dream about when he pumped out The Ride of the Valkyries.
As Bonhams wrote when they were selling this car at Quail Lodge this time last year ($1.2 million): “It made a fearsome noise from the tortured, compressed air and fuel mixture and shriek of the supercharger rotors and their drive gears. The sound and the press of acceleration that accompanied it was overwhelming, a rush of Wagnerian sensation that personified sturm und drang and left no doubt among passengers and those nearby that this was the king of automobiles.” Just don’t mention the war.
OK, don’t get to Pebble Beach too early on Sunday, August 26, because Dawn Patrol viewers are not allowed on to the field until 5:30am. The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, “where the famed 18th fairway of Pebble Beach Golf Links is the stage and the rolling Pacific Ocean serves as backdrop” is featuring motor cars of the Raj (which probably doesn’t include the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Merc 540K, although a 1937 model did win here a few years ago, but then again you couldn’t buy it now for less than $13m or the 2012 V8 manual SS Commodore ute).
But let’s get back to the Merc connection. Bonhams have a beautiful British/American (well the coachwork was built in Mayfair and it was owned by US General William Lyon and the Las Vegas Imperial Palace Collection) 1937 540K coming up next month in Carmel. Expect to pay $6m. Bill Lyon, now 93, was an air force commander in the second big one, being awarded more medals than Teslas have panel gaps. He collects planes and cars and is living the dream at home, which includes a 2,500 sq m car museum in an Art Deco–style showroom and a museum for his aeroplane collection.
Not such good news for the other former owner the Imperial Palace Collection. The Imperial Palace casino and hotel changed names to Linq and the collection became Auto Collections which purported to be a museum but was an active classic car sales yard. Anyway, it closed in December.
The original owner of the collection was independent casino operator and property developer Ralph Engelstad. Ralphie loved cars as much as he loved Adolf Hitler. After throwing two birthday parties for Adolf, in 1989 he paid $1.5m in fines and promised not to hold any more Nazi parties.
He owned Adolph’s Merc and had a secret room full of Nazi memorabilia. Ralphie told the Nevada Gaming Commission he wasn’t a Nazi sympathiser. Look at the pic of the red beast and remember what Ralphie would say: “You know you’re a little turned on right now. Oh, get a vroom.”