A Mercedes-Benz 1937 540 K Special Roadster and a 1955 300 SLR are among 18 of the world’s rarest and most brilliantly conceived cars from the 1930s to the mid-1960s on display at “The Allure of the Automobile” exhibition at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from March 21-June 20, 2010.
Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster
The Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster is recognized for its presence, panache, and power on the road. The twenty-six 540 K Special Roadsters, among the total of 419 540 K’s produced from 1936-1939, were designed to be the most dominant on the road and built to the highest standards at Mercedes-Benz in-house coachworks Mercedes-Benz Karosserie in Sindelfingen.
Advanced for its era, the 540 K’s front suspension consists of independent, unequal-length wishbones and coil springs; the rear end features an independent, coil-sprung swing axle. The transmission includes a semi-automatic four-speed (functioning automatically on the top two gears). The 5.4 liter engine producing 180 hp includes a crankshaft driven Roots-type supercharger adding 65 hp when the throttle is fully depressed. The lighter Special Roadster was built to reach a top speed 105 mph despite a considerable 5,500 lb. curb weight and seventeen-foot length. The 540 K was engineered by Gustav Rohr, who also worked on Mercedes-Benz’s Grand Prix racecars.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR
The Mercedes-Benz 300SLR resembles the iconic 300SL in terms of its looks, but underneath its racing sports car bodywork, it boasts state of the art FormulaOne engineering known from the legendary W 196 R Grand Prix race car from the 1950s.
Developed by Rudolf Uhlenhaut, Chief Engineer and Technical Director of the Daimler-
Benz Motorsport Department, the 300 SLR racing sports car features a three liter, eight cylinder engine canted at a 53 degree angle to make a particularly low engine hood possible. The 300SLR lightweight space frame, similar in concept to that of the 300SL, carried an aerodynamically optimized bodywork made of a light magnesium alloy.
While the configuration of the 300 SLR’s racing sports car engine – two engine blocks, each with four cylinders, a shared crankcase and centrally arranged output shaft – was reminiscent of the Grand Prix race car’s engine, the new engine had been cast out of aluminum alloy for the first time. The engine also featured desmodromic valve actuation and fuel injection, which was still very much a novelty at the time.
The front suspension of the racing sports car consisted of double wishbones connected to horizontally mounted torsion bar springs and telescopic shock absorbers. The negative-camber rear wheels were mounted to a single-joint swing axle. Inboard drum brakes were used to decelerate. The racing sports car had a top speed of well over 300km/h, engine output up to 310 hp and a weight of roughly 830kilograms.
“The Allure of the Automobile” exhibition is a result of the creative efforts of Ron Labaco, curator of decorative arts and design at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and Ken Gross, guest curator of the exhibition, as well as the former director of the Peterson Automotive Museum in California and judge at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance for the past twenty years. The exhibition traces the evolution of the motorcar, examining the contrasts between European and American design, and significant changes in automotive styling and engineering before and after World War II. The featured automobiles including Bugatti and Duesenberg have won awards at prestigious events such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, broken records on racetracks, and some were previously owned by such noted car enthusiasts as Hollywood legends Clark Gable and Steve McQueen. For more information about the exhibition, visit www.high.org/autos.