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1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier

The extremely rare Mercedes-Benz Autobahn-Kurier was purpose built to suit the newly constructed Autobahn roadway. It is believed that four of this body type were built on the 500K chassis. The Autobahn-Kurier shown here is the second of two known to be built in-house at Sindelfingen on the supercharged 540K chassis.

Factory commission papers show that Professor Ignacio Barraquer took ownership of this 540K in 1938, apparently after having seen its twin at that year’s Paris Motor Show. An avid auto enthusiast, he and his wife immediately took their Autobahn-Kurier on an extended driving tour from Spain through North Africa, crossing Libya into Egypt. From Alexandria, they had the car shipped back to Barcelona. After the war they continued to enjoy touring in the 540K, including a drive through Austria and Switzerland in 1951. The car was well-loved by the Barraquer family, who retained ownership until 2003 when it was purchased by an American collector, who then commissioned us to perform a complete restoration.

This car was a challenging and yet routine restoration for us. While judged to be original, after disassembly we discovered that the body had been re-painted black and the interior re-upholstered, not at all surprising considering Professor Barraquer’s heavy usage. The complete engine and drivetrain were all there, with the exception of some updated or replaced items consistent with road-side repairs. We were most intrigued by how the original builders used components at-hand to create this car. The coach wood work appeared to be from a 540 Cabriolet A, which was then modified as needed for the Autobahn-Kurier frame. The rear quarter windows are opened with the same appliance used to open the windshield on the Cabriolet A.

Presented at the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, this stunning 540K received a First in Class, the Mercedes-Benz Trophy, the Most Elegant Closed Car Award, and was a Best of Show finalist. Five years on, the Autobahn-Kurier won Best of Show at the Concours d’Elegance of America, followed by the prestigious “Best of the Best” Louis Vuitton Classic Concours Award for 2011.

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Featured Articles & Publications

1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier

Mick Walsh, “Express Delivery”, photography by Michael Furman
Classic & Sports Car, May 2008

Mick Walsh, “From the Cockpit: Autobahn King”
Classic & Sports Car, October 2006

Bernd Loosen, “Adventure in the Desert”, photography by Barraquer Family
The Star, March/April 2004

“ The Berlin Motor Show opened in February 1934 with President von Hindenburg on his deathbed and Hitler preparing to take the final step to absolute power. With dramatic Reichs-Autobahns coursing relentlessly across Germany and the heavy tax on new cars abolished, a fresh era had dawned for the motor industry. No car at that March exhibition encapsulated the optimistic mood in manufacturing more than a magnificent black coupé on the Mercedes-Benz stand. Streamlining was all the rage and the special 500K, with its pontoon wings, long aggressive bonnet and lithe, fastback cabin, was the talk of the show. ”

Mick Walsh, “Express Delivery”, Classic & Sportscar

The Mercedes-Benz factories sustained massive damage from Allied bombing during World War II. Utility vehicles were the first post-war product, and helped the company toward recovery. But something more spectacular needed to be done to attract the world’s interest. In 1951, it was decided to re-enter the racing circuit. In order to do so with the least financial strain, a sports car was developed using the existing 300 engine. Because of the relatively heavy weight of that engine and drivetrain, an unusually light body needed to be constructed. And so, the tubular steel framed, aluminum bodied 300SL (Sport Light) was born. Approximately fifteen of these race cars were made, winning many events and earning the world sports car championship.

In 1952, the 300SL caught the interest of racing fans in the United States. New Yorker Max Hoffman was one such enthusiast, who used his car dealership to bring many of the European makes into this country. One might even say that he is responsible for the creation of the 300SL, as his order for 1,000 cars convinced the Mercedes-Benz officials to go ahead with the production of a street car based upon the 300SL racing sports car. The prototype 300SL was shown at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City in February 1954.

The first production car with a fuel-injected gasoline engine, the 300SL was one of the most reliable sports cars of the ’50s and ’60s. The proven 300 engine was tilted to the left to accommodate a lower hood line. The body style was designated Sport Leicht (Light) due to its aluminum doors, hood, decklid, rocker panels and belly pans, though the main body shell was constructed from steel. Unusual for the period, 300SLs came equipped with dependable heat, defrosters, and wiper motors.

Ultimately, three different versions of the 300SL were offered. The 300SL Coupe was produced from August 1954 to May 1957, during which time twenty-nine all-aluminum bodied cars were made as well. Production of the Roadster version was between February 1957 and February 1963. Whichever style is your preference, they are now highly valued for their pure driving pleasure in the Mille Miglia, Colorado Grand, and other vintage events.

Factory photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Archives.

Pininfarina or Pinin Farina? In 1930, Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina founded Carrozzeria Pinin Farina. This company designed and built car bodies for a number of manufacturers, including Alfa Romeo, Hispano Suiza, Lancia, Fiat, and, most notably, Ferrari. Battista is quoted as saying “The interrelation between the body of a beautiful woman and that of a Farina-designed car is that both have simplicity and harmony of line, so that when they are old one can still see how beautiful they were when they were young.”

In conjunction with Battista’s retirement in 1961, the President of the Italian Republic authorized the family name to be changed to Pininfarina “in consideration of his achievements in social and industrial activities”. As a result, the correct usage of the family name as Pininfarina or Pinin Farina depends upon the year it was used.

The Mercedes-Benz factories sustained massive damage from Allied bombing during World War II. Utility vehicles were the first post-war product, and helped the company toward recovery. But something more spectacular needed to be done to attract the world’s interest. In 1951, it was decided to re-enter the racing circuit. In order to do so with the least financial strain, a sports car was developed using the existing 300 engine. Because of the relatively heavy weight of that engine and drivetrain, an unusually light body needed to be constructed. And so, the tubular steel framed, aluminum bodied 300SL (Sport Light) was born. Approximately fifteen of these race cars were made, winning many events and earning the world sports car championship.

In 1952, the 300SL caught the interest of racing fans in the United States. New Yorker Max Hoffman was one such enthusiast, who used his car dealership to bring many of the European makes into this country. One might even say that he is responsible for the creation of the 300SL, as his order for 1,000 cars convinced the Mercedes-Benz officials to go ahead with the production of a street car based upon the 300SL racing sports car. The prototype 300SL was shown at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City in February 1954.

The first production car with a fuel-injected gasoline engine, the 300SL was one of the most reliable sports cars of the ’50s and ’60s. The proven 300 engine was tilted to the left to accommodate a lower hood line. The body style was designated Sport Leicht (Light) due to its aluminum doors, hood, decklid, rocker panels and belly pans, though the main body shell was constructed from steel. Unusual for the period, 300SLs came equipped with dependable heat, defrosters, and wiper motors.

Ultimately, three different versions of the 300SL were offered. The 300SL Coupe was produced from August 1954 to May 1957, during which time twenty-nine all-aluminum bodied cars were made as well. Production of the Roadster version was between February 1957 and February 1963. Whichever style is your preference, they are now highly valued for their pure driving pleasure in the Mille Miglia, Colorado Grand, and other vintage events.

Factory photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Archives.

In March of 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni founded Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. A “gentleman” race driver and coachbuilder for 1930s Isotta-Fraschini and Alfa Romeo, Felice was well respected for creating beautiful, aerodynamic designs. He developed the patented “superlight” Superleggera construction method, a marvel of metal tube frames welded to a solid chassis, then skinned with aluminum body panels.

When Felice died suddenly in 1948 it was up to his son Carlo Felice, known as “Cici”, to save the business. Cici did so in no uncertain terms, when he presented his 1/10-scale model of the distinctive Barchetta to prospective client Enzo Ferrari. Enzo accepted the “little boat” design as presented. The superleggera concept became so closely associated with Touring that it was incorporated into the name of the company, becoming Touring Superleggera Milano in the 1950s.

Pictured: Cici Anderloni proudly displays the original Barchetta model to Paul Russell. Lake Como, 1998.

Scraping is done with a long, wood-handled chisel. First, the surface is cleaned, made level, and marked in pencil with a grid pattern. The chisel is held with both hands, with further pressure applied by the shoulder pushing against the wooden handle. As the blade of the chisel digs into the aluminum surface, the chisel is pushed and ‘flicked’ with a rotating motion. Once this is repeatedly accomplished in one direction, the part is turned 90 degrees and the entire process repeated again. Finally, the part is hand-sanded with a very fine-grade paper to remove the aluminum shards and burrs.

For many years, conventional wisdom had it that there were 3 Atlantics built. Fortunately enthusiasts like L.G. Matthews and historians like Pierre-Yves Laugier continue to study all things Bugatti, and new information and analysis becomes known and shared. The revival of the Bugatti Marque in the ownership of the Volkswagen Group has facilitated a reorganization of the company historic archives, in the hands of the esteemed Julius Kruta.

It is now acknowledged that there was a prototype (pictured here) named the Aerolithe built on a modified T57 chassis and later disassembled to form the basis for the first production car, now on the S chassis number 57374. This first car was labeled the Aero, and resides at the Mullin Automotive Museum.

Chassis 57473 was the second car produced and the first to be called the Atlantic. There were two more Atlantics made, one of which has not been seen since it disappeared in Belgium in the 1940s. The last of the Atlantics produced is chassis number 57591.

Professor Ignacio Barraquer who owned the Autobahn-Kurier for more than 60 years, was not just any eye doctor, but possibly the most famous ophthalmologist who ever lived. He developed procedures and surgical instruments that are standard to this day, mostly associated with cataract surgery, and many named after him. His father was Professor of Ophthalmology at the School of Medicine in Barcelona, Spain, a position Ignacio was appointed to following his father’s retirement. Ignacio’s son, José, developed the keratomileusis, or LASIK operation, today a common surgical procedure.

Born into an Italian banking family, Count Carlo Felice Trossi was an amateur inventor and a noted motor sportsman of the 1930s. Known as ‘Didi’ to his friends, he enjoyed racing boats and airplanes in addition to his pursuits in the field of engineering. As an early financial backer of Enzo Ferrari, he become President of Scuderia Ferrari in 1932 while continuing to be a primary driver for the team.

Reproduced here is a picture dated 1932, and supplied by his family, of his SSK in front of Castello di Gaglianico. The records of the Automobile Club of Italy show that Count Trossi sold and bought back this singular car several times from 1931 until his death in 1949.

In March of 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni founded Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. A “gentleman” race driver and coachbuilder for 1930s Isotta-Fraschini and Alfa Romeo, Felice was well respected for creating beautiful, aerodynamic designs. He developed the patented “superlight” Superleggera construction method, a marvel of metal tube frames welded to a solid chassis, then skinned with aluminum body panels.

When Felice died suddenly in 1948 it was up to his son Carlo Felice, known as “Cici”, to save the business. Cici did so in no uncertain terms, when he presented his 1/10-scale model of the distinctive Barchetta to prospective client Enzo Ferrari. Enzo accepted the “little boat” design as presented. The superleggera concept became so closely associated with Touring that it was incorporated into the name of the company, becoming Touring Superleggera Milano in the 1950s.

Pictured: Cici Anderloni proudly displays the original Barchetta model to Paul Russell. Lake Como, 1998.

For many years, conventional wisdom had it that there were 3 Atlantics built. Fortunately enthusiasts like L.G. Matthews and historians like Pierre-Yves Laugier continue to study all things Bugatti, and new information and analysis becomes known and shared. The revival of the Bugatti Marque in the ownership of the Volkswagen Group has facilitated a reorganization of the company historic archives, in the hands of the esteemed Julius Kruta.

It is now acknowledged that there was a prototype (pictured here) named the Aerolithe built on a modified T57 chassis and later disassembled to form the basis for the first production car, now on the S chassis number 57374. This first car was labeled the Aero, and resides at the Mullin Automotive Museum.

Chassis 57473 was the second car produced and the first to be called the Atlantic. There were two more Atlantics made, one of which has not been seen since it disappeared in Belgium in the 1940s. The last of the Atlantics produced is chassis number 57591.

In March of 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni founded Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. A “gentleman” race driver and coachbuilder for 1930s Isotta-Fraschini and Alfa Romeo, Felice was well respected for creating beautiful, aerodynamic designs. He developed the patented “superlight” Superleggera construction method, a marvel of metal tube frames welded to a solid chassis, then skinned with aluminum body panels.

When Felice died suddenly in 1948 it was up to his son Carlo Felice, known as “Cici”, to save the business. Cici did so in no uncertain terms, when he presented his 1/10-scale model of the distinctive Barchetta to prospective client Enzo Ferrari. Enzo accepted the “little boat” design as presented. The superleggera concept became so closely associated with Touring that it was incorporated into the name of the company, becoming Touring Superleggera Milano in the 1950s.

Pictured: Cici Anderloni proudly displays the original Barchetta model to Paul Russell. Lake Como, 1998.

Born into an Italian banking family, Count Carlo Felice Trossi was an amateur inventor and a noted motor sportsman of the 1930s. Known as ‘Didi’ to his friends, he enjoyed racing boats and airplanes in addition to his pursuits in the field of engineering. As an early financial backer of Enzo Ferrari, he become President of Scuderia Ferrari in 1932 while continuing to be a primary driver for the team.

Reproduced here is a picture dated 1932, and supplied by his family, of his SSK in front of Castello di Gaglianico. The records of the Automobile Club of Italy show that Count Trossi sold and bought back this singular car several times from 1931 until his death in 1949.