The winner of Florida’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance 2019 has been announced! The cosseted title of Best in Show was awarded to the final-production 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahnkurier.
Only six examples of the Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahnkurier – so named after the new highways across and around Berlin – were crafted for Europe’s social elite before the outbreak of WWII.
Of the six vehicles built, four were installed with a 5-liter powerplant while the remaining two were blessed with Mercedes’ 5.4-liter eight-cylinder engine. The Amelia Island Concours winner remains the sole survivor from these two examples.
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The vehicle's styling was first unveiled in February 1934 during the Berlin Motor Show, with its long hood, sweeping curves and dominant elegance causing no-end of media sensation. Mated to one of the greatest pre-war chassis ever made, if you had the money, the 540k’s allure was hard to ignore. Furthermore, unlike rival manufacturers of the time, Mercedes supplied a full car; rather than a rolling chassis for the coachbuilder to construct.
Performance figures appear somewhat respectable even by contemporary standards, with 180bhp available at 3400rpm, a top speed of 115mph and 0-60mph time of 15 seconds. The price was no less impressive when new, retailing for 24,000 Reichsmarks. That’s roughly $185,000 with modern inflation.
Just to add to the vehicle’s provenance, when Jean Bugatti was introduced to the 540K Autobahnkurier, he was reportedly smitten enough to travel home and pen the now-worshipped Atlantic.
This specific example started out as a 500K chassis installed with a covered front bumper and wire-wheels. Registered as chassis number 408336, the Mercedes was owned by Spanish Professor Ignacio Barraquer. He fell in love with the Benz upon clocking its twin during that year’s Paris Motor Show.
As soon as he accepted delivery on November 1, 1938, Barraquer undertook a road trip with his wife through Spain, North Africa, Libya and into Egypt. They reached Alexandria before having the Benz shipped back to Barcelona. After the war, the couple continued touring Europe, driving through Austria and Switzerland during 1951.
The 540K is subject to various urban legends. Some claim that Barraquer received the Benz as a personal gift from Adolf Hitler, while other sources attest to a situation where the Professor was given the car as a token of gratitude from a German Government minister following successful eye surgery.
Another legend claims the Mercedes was a gift from an Arabian Prince who sought help from the Professor for cataracts, however Barraquer’s son brushed such tales aside. He was reportedly explained that his father bought the car after years of hard work.
Although Professor Barraquer passed in 1965, with his wife following suit in 1987, the family kept the Benz until 2004. Bought by an American, the AutbobahnKurier resurfaced during the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance after extensive restoration work undertaken by the Paul Russell Company.
Since then, the 540K has won various Concours titles, including the Villa d’Este Concorso in 2008, Louis Vuitton Classic Concours Award of 2011 and Best in Show during the Concours d’Elegance of America. The 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance is now the unique Mercedes’ latest trophy.
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