1939 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Autobahnkurier
Above Images ©Mercedes-Benz
Some production cars have become iconic, but it takes higher level of distinction to have a single car create equal impact. Such is the case with this Autobahnkurier that was named after the new highways in and around Berlin. Supposedly, when Jean Bugatti first laid eyes on this streamlined fastback he went back home and designed the famed Atlantic.
There’s good reason why the Autobahnkurier caused a sensation. It’s long hood, sweeping lines and refined elegance were little matched. And when combined with one of the best pre-war chassis, it was also hard to ignore. To maintain brand recognition Mercedes-Benz insisted that this fastback retain the standard front radiator. It also featured the first Mercedes-Benz curved rear-quarter windows.
Mercedes-Benz released the prototype in February of 1934 at the Berlin Motor Show. This specific car started out as a 500K chassis with a covered front bumper and covered wire-wheels. Known as chassis number 130898, it was gifted to Mohammed Reza Shah of Iran by the German government and spent most of it’s life in Iran.
The car was eventually owned by Julian Mazjub who said “although listed as a 500K, the car had a 5.4 liter engine”.¹ When found by an Mercedes-Benz Truck importer in the 1960s, the car was totally original with only 10,000 km on the odometer. At this time it’s two-tone green paint was noted as was its enclosed bumper.¹
A second car was built and based off the original Berlin prototype. It was listed as order number 288557 and completed in 1938 for professor Ingacio Barraquer. He was in Germany on vacation from his regular residence in Spain. Barraquer used this car often and went on many long journeys including a famous drive through North Africa. He traveled from Libya, Cairo then finished in Alexandria before the car was shipped back. Along the way he had to fix a shredded tire, worn dampers and a head gasket.
In the 1950s, Barraquer found the car too difficult to maintain and replaced it with a more modern 300S. It was then given to his son-in-law and stayed in the family for decades. For some time it was loaned to Antic Car Club in Catalina who had it displayed in Barcelona.
Eventually, it was sold by the Barraquer family in 2004 and restored by Paul Russell & Co. before making a debut at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. It won the award for the most elegant coupe and was a runner up for Best in Show. This was followed up in 2008 by winning the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este.
Mercedes-Benz has reported that there might be a third car but this is unconfirmed as of June 2008.
Sources & Further Reading
1. Walsh, Mick. 'Express Delivery'. Classic & Sports Car, May 2008.
Story by Richard Owen