Back to the future. The restoration of the one-off Mercedes-Benz 540 K Streamliner

This isn’t the first time I have seen this kind of story before, but to be honest, stories like this one always brought tears to my eyes. Like everything else on the planet, even a car deserves a new life. Here’s one story.

The 540 K was Mercedes-Benz’s sporty top model in the 1930s. Customised body shell creations, individually manufactured, had always represented the exclusive norm for Mercedes-Benz, and the ”special vehicle production” unit at the Sindelfingen plant made the realisation of such singular ideas possible.

The styling experts at Mercedes-Benz created a whole series of aerodynamically shaped body shells for the 540 K during 1937 and 1938. The Streamliner produced in 1938 was not only a masterpiece of design, but also demonstrated the most thorough application of the knowledge gained in the tests in the wind tunnel. It achieves the exquisite figure of Cd = 0.36. The results are cruising speeds of 165 to 170 km/h and with supercharger a top speed of 185 km/h.

The extraordinary 540 K was built by the special vehicle production unit in the first half of 1938. In June it was delivered by the Daimler-Benz dealership in Frankfurt am Main to the Deutsche Dunlop Gummi Comp. AG (German Dunlop Rubber Company) in Hanau. The company put this high-performance vehicle to specific use for real-life tyre testing, which was all the more necessary for powerful, heavy and fast cars.

The 540 K survived the period from 1939 to 1945 undamaged. After the end of the war, during which it had been stored in the garages at the Dunlop works, the car was used by a soldier from the US Army, it is thought in the Stuttgart area.

The restoration of the 540 K Streamliner represents one of the most complex projects undertaken by Mercedes-Benz Classic. The project began, quite literally, to take shape at the point when the Mercedes-Benz Classic Archives made the original line drawing from their collection available.

Some important components of the original vehicle were preserved among the company’s own collection, for example the complete frame and the rear axle. But, the most important component of this unique vehicle is the streamlined aluminium body. And that is what makes this 540 K probably the most unusual 540 K in the world.

The remaining parts – the frame, the rear axle with its longer gear ratio and the mountings for the wings – were repaired and preserved. They bear to this day the marks of time and so tell the story of the vehicle in their own way: signs of wear and tear, for example, show that the vehicle was not treated by Dunlop with any particular respect during tyre testing. Drill holes show how the underbody panelling was attached to the frame. And then there are the traces of paint: once upon a time, the vehicle was silver. The traces that remain provided the basis for mixing paintwork to match.

Just as it was in the 1930s, the vehicle was assembled in the classic way: a steel frame holding all the technical elements is surmounted by an ash-wood subframe that supports the body shell. This was built largely by hand, albeit with some help from machines. Some 4800 hours of work were involved just in rebuilding the body. A design drawing was prepared for every single detail. The ”Sindelfinger Karosserie” badge on the left-hand side of the vehicle is once again a seal of quality for an individually produced vehicle of the highest quality.

Very little historical information or photographic material relating to the interior is available. What little there is was used, but in this case the reconstruction required considerable expertise. One thing is clear: the dashboard is curved in order to fit within the contours of the occupant compartment – and, just as then, it has once again been made produced in walnut. The same contours are followed by the two curved windscreens, reproduced in glass. The historical evidence tells that the vehicle originally featured grey leather appointments with a grey fabric roof liner. The two seats in the front correspond to the original, including the way the piping runs across the appropriately ruffled leather. Technical drawings show that folding seats were mounted in the rear and the new ones have been created.

After 76 years, the Streamliner now looks just as he deserved. A star is back!

Photos: Daimler AG

Please read our privacy policy


One thought on “Back to the future. The restoration of the one-off Mercedes-Benz 540 K Streamliner”

Comments are closed.