Mercedes-Benz 500 K Three-Position Drophead Coupe
Neither Carl Benz nor Gottlieb Daimler could have possibly imagined the companies they founded would eventually merge in 1926, and that the combined enterprise would build some of the most storied cars on earth. In fact, the merger provided an abundance of talented engineers who designed and built a line of cars that included the Ferdinand Porsche-designed Type S, also known as the 26/120/180, the first “classic era” Mercedes-Benz, powered by a 6,800 cc six that developed 120 brake horsepower, and 180 when supercharged.
Production of the S was soon bolstered by the SS, known as the 27/140/200 with its 7,065 cc engine, good for 200 horsepower with the blower engaged, and 185 kilometres per hour. For the ultimate sportsman, the SSK, with a short 116-inch (2,946mm) wheelbase, was available with three supercharged power levels. The SS and SSK variants had great success, winning the 1928 and 1931 German Grand Prix, as well as the 1929 Tourist Trophy, the 1930 Irish Grand Prix, and the 1931 Mille Miglia. When Type S production ended in 1932, just 297 examples of all kinds had been built, against total Mercedes-Benz production of 49,000 units.
A new generation of fast sporting models arrived in 1933, the work of engineer Hans Nibel, who championed shaft drive and created the “Blitzen Benz” speed record car of 1910. Nibel devised the 380, a straight eight, overhead-valve engine of 3,823 cc, as well as an all-independent suspension with double wishbones and coil springs in front, and coil-sprung swing axles at the rear. However, the 380 was rather underpowered, making 90 brake horsepower normally aspirated, or 120 with a double-vane Roots-type supercharger. Nibel then came up with a larger 5.0-litre engine giving 100/160 brake horsepower, creating the supercharged Type 500K of 1934, with an extended 129.5-inch (3,290 mm) wheelbase, clothed in a range of open and closed bodies. Production of 500Ks totaled just 354 examples over three years, followed by 419 540Ks with an slightly larger 5,401 cc engine.
Nibel’s magic brought results. England’s Autocar tested a 500K and clocked a then-remarkable zero to 60 time of 16.5 seconds and a top speed of 160 kilometres per hour, with the blower letting out “its almost demoniacal howl”. Motor enthused “…here is a massive ‘unbreakable’ car capable of traveling indefinitely at high speed.” Another reporter cited the “sheer insolence of its power.”
The classic Mercedes-Benz is usually considered one of the cabriolets or roadsters from Daimler-Benz’s own coachworks at Sindelfingen. However, a number of custom coachbuilders were also commissioned to mount bespoke coachwork on Mercedes-Benz chassis, among them Erdmann & Rossi, Gläser, Reutter, Saoutchik, Castagna, Freestone & Webb and even Pasadena, California’s Walter M. Murphy Co.
This car was auctioned off by RM Auctions in August 2009 at the Portola Hotel & Spa and Monterey Conference Center, Monterey, California.
100/180 bhp, 4,984 cc overhead-valve supercharged inline eight-cylinder engine, four-speed manual gearbox, double-wishbone independent front suspension with coil springs, swing-axle rear suspension with coil springs, four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes with vacuum assist. Wheelbase: 129.5"
Source: RM Auctions
Photo Credit: Copyright Darin Schnabel