Produced from 1936 to 1939, the 540K is distinguished by a 5.4-liter supercharged inline-8 producing 180 hp and enabling a 110-mph top speed—impressive stuff for the time. Power is sent to the rear wheels through a 4-speed manual transmission. The chassis also boasts four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel servo-assisted hydraulic drum brakes, making it fairly sophisticated for the period.
In the 1930s luxury cars were often delivered as bare chassis and then fitted with coachbuilt bodywork, but the auction listing notes that most 540K customers found the bodies offered by Mercedes suited them just fine. Of the 760 540K (and smaller-displacement 500K) vehicles built, just 70 left the factory in Sindelfingen, Germany, as bare chassis, the auction listing notes.
Stretching over this red roadster’s 128-inch wheelbase is coachwork from London firm Mayfair Carriage Works Ltd. Equipped with righthand drive, this 540K was also delivered new to a customer in London, before being sent to a new owner in Canada.
After going through a second Canadian owner, the car was restored by the father and son team of Richard and Stephen Mertz of Detroit over the course of two decades. The car was then refurbished in the mid-1990s, and repainted into its current red color.
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The 540K was the pinnacle of prewar Mercedes luxury cars, and that’s reflected in the pre-auction estimates of $3.5 million to $4.5 million. If that seems excessive, keep in mind that a 540K fastback coupe won Best of Show at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance just two years ago.