The parent company of Mercedes-Benz, Daimler-Benz, was Germany's leading producer of luxury cars and heavy trucks prior to World War II. They enjoyed much success in Grand Prix and sports car competition thanks, in part, to Mercede's advanced technology including supercharging, fully independent suspension, light-alloy metallurgy, and overhead camshafts.
Mercedes-Benz began producing a line of large and fast grand touring cars beginning in 1932. The 540K model was offered from 1936 to 1938 and was the design work of Hermann Ahrens and built to order by Karrosserie Sindelfingen (a Mercedes-Benz in-house coach building subsidiary). The Special Roadster, with its towering grille and sweeping scallop-edged fenders, featured an arrogantly long hood with a low windscreen and a very tight cabin. There was an elegant, flowing, tapered tail and a price tag that was equally extreme as the car.
There were around 400 examples of the 540K produced and only twenty-six were Special Roadsters. These are considered the pinnacle of German pre-war automotive design. They were virtually hand-built with an exceptionally high construction quality. Inside, there was a mother-of-pearl instrument panel, rich leather seating, and twin spotlights that flanked a swept-back windshield. The enclosed versions of the 540Ks could cruise at 100 mph on Germany's high-speed Autobahns. The lighter Special Roadster could top 115 mph. Despite its fully independent suspension, the 540K is a smooth-riding grand tourer and not a sports car.
This example was restored by Chris Charlton in Oxford, Maine. In 2004, it won its class at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. The car is powered by a 330 cubic-inch, 16-valve supercharged overhead valve V-8 engine. It produces 180 horsepower and is mated to a 4-speed manual with pre-select for third and fourth gears.