There are a lot of fantastical moments, so close to perfection, that we only „live” in our dreams. Most of the time we are stuck with the thought and the sorrow of not making them come true. But, if you did a mad imagination drill and we thought: what in the world could a dream dream of? I believe that there is already an answer in the history of Mercedes-Benz.
There are only few moment when I treasure the grand silence. Back then, in that morning, there was one of those moments. Actually, there is anything but silence in the bustle of the Mercedes-Benz showroom from the Țiriac Auto network, but all my senses were focused on the bohemian creature. It is red, unjustifyingly ponderous for the 21st century and of a universal artistry.
Rewinding the merciless time, a certain Friedrich Geiger sets few lines on paper, with his nib; he sets them by some divine inspiration, as if the entire universe wanted to see such a thing in the street. In 1936, the glorious creation comes to life: Mercedes-Benz 540 K. Silence set in when it showed up in the scene, just like in my 2015 morning. A gem back then, a gem right now… a perfect example that proves beauty is temporary just for the human kind.
We started to rediscover it in our times, beyond the heartless screen of the computer and beyond the too cold paper of the classic books. Romania had the fortune of hosting a Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A unit in a collection belonging to the great former sportsman Ion Ţiriac. When we arrived next to her (I allow myself to call it a „she”, as she is a lady!) I had my black out moment. I gazed at it, apparently blindfolded, but deep, as if I was cutting through the years and I was going back right at the moment the true craftsmen were making her come to life in the Mercedes-Benz workshop.
You feel like she’s got a heart and I am not going overboard! You feel her more warm-hearted and more emotional than any modern automobile, no matter the technological level it immerses. It is a particular feeling, for which we need to thank to those who own such collections, private owners or institutions, and who do not proudly closet them away from the eyes of the world.
There are almost 4,5 m of noble iron, but not because there is some precious metal, but because time conveyed her a priceless value. Of course, some of you may say that there is a price for everything at the luxury objects auctions. Yes, but not the human emotion! There were 83 of them, just that! Just 83 iron clamps were set with German sharpness for having the honor of becoming a 540 K Cabriolet A. The lady before me was born in 1937, with a 169363 for a serial number. Her sisters have brightened the pompous garages of characters such as Jack Warner (the founder of the Warner Brothers company) or the Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands.
The damsel has been acquired in 2000, at an auction, of course. First, the chassis had been ordered in 1937 by a Dutch and it was manufactured at the Sindelfingen plant. Throughout the years, she wandered, actually quite so much, that she came into the hands of a family passionate about cars, all the way to Shrewsburry, Massachusetts. She was treasured as much as she deserved, and to support this claim, there are the five years of investments into her elaborate restoration, an operation after which the beautiful 540 K Cabriolet A regained her 1937 perfume charm and was converted into a pampered of the auto elegance competitions. For their looks in 2015, the moment I am speechlessly gazing at her and you are enjoying these alluring photos, a huge credit goes to Armando Picinino, the one who was directly responsible for the chassis restoration.
She subsequently reached Michel Roquet’s collection, made a refreshing visit to the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center (the workshop for classics of the German company) and also passed through the Heselden Collection. The dashboard displays 49,485 km. That and nothing more than that! It seems hard to believe, especially if you were lucky enough to sleep with her key at your bedside, you would have surely taken more advantage of her. Of her 8 in-line cylinders (5.5 l), of her only 115 HP, enough though to take you for a promenade ride and not convert you into an enemy of speed. As a paranthesis, there is also a supercharging system (Roots), that, by pushing the pedal to the metal, used to provide some extra momentary power, up to 180 HP.
The model was ceaselessly manufactured up to 1940, as the final two chassis were produced right during the war. As a matter of fact, rarely have some units and replacing chassis have been built in between, up until 1944. World War II is to blame for ceasing the development of a successor for the Mercedes-Benz 540 K, that should have been tagged as the 540 K (the displacement of the 8 in-line would have been raised up to 5.8 liters). But a single unit has been manufactured, so it can be considered a prototype.
Therefore, there is no shadow of doubt that it is an all special automobile. With a famous father – the Mercedes-Benz 500 K, with a grandfather as such – the Mercedes-Benz SSK, the 540 K was born to shine. I am going back to my first thought, that this is how the dream of a dream must look like! Bearing gallant wings, in which thousands of hammers echoed before reaching this flowing shape, with the spare wheel blatantly and yet so naturally built-in on the sides, like giant headlights, with narrow wheels, with more genuine chrome than you can find in all the contemporary Mercedes-Benz models manufactured in a whole year.
She was no skittish; she had 2,250 kg and the 2,980 mmm ample wheelbase (even like that, it was a short chassis version) used to host both the force factory and the noble cockpit. But it was not about how fast she was, but about the experience of every single ride. About the story of each single road ridden in the 2+1 armchairs (in the case of the Cabriolet A version, there are two conventional seats and there is a third smaller one, crossly placed in the back), about the thin steering wheel, crafted as if by a jeweller, who reined in so many tales in more aritocrat times than ours. About the fine wood passionately tooled, about luxury – true luxury!
The automobile had been concieved to reach the maximum speed of 170 km/h, and after he driver gamely blends among the four speeds of the gearbox (there were also 5-speed versions), a 29 l/100 km fuel consumption was reached. But who cared, who minded those figures when life onboard expanded at Hollwood-like pace? And you feel it, it is in the air as soon as you get onboard, in the plain hand touch over the dashboard so beautifully polished, in the dalliance of each and every control button. With the roof tilted or not, few minutes of contemplation are enough to perceive the charm of a Belle Epoque generation.
The more you stand by her, the less you understand how evolution and human kind progress stand. It’s only right, some engineering solutions are more than out-of-date, but her shape and essence are immortal. The 540 K model was provided with a more edgy version, baptized as the ”Spezial”. The Mercedes-Benz 540 Ks was built upon the short chassis version and had a price of approximately 28,000 Reichsmarks, back in the ’30s. The exclusivity comes with a price and the ”Spezial” was by 6,000 RM more expensive than the usual version. 32 S models were manufactured and Herman Goring was among the most notorious owners, the one who drove a blue armoured model, which gained the Blue Goose nickname.
After you ascertain that the hours flew by faster than you felt them flying and the audience time for the 540 K is long gone, you become mused. This is that very moment when you realize that maybe you might have just been born way too late or that you might have fitted better in the past. And then you dearly gaze at the crumb of history and walk away and the street hostilely takes you in, with ultra-sophisticated yet cold automobiles, with artificial intelligence, yet less and less passion. And then I turned my head backwards. And if you, reader fallen for the beauty, wish to feel some nobility scent, a scent of a Mercedes-Benz done by the book, schedule a visit at the Țiriac Collection in Otopeni (near Bucharest, Romania). You will feed your soul in some very distinct manner.
PHOTO: DRAGOŞ SAVU