1938 Mercedes 540 K Streamliner: Restored, And Still Modern

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A comprehensively streamlined design – what we would call aerodynamic today – was novel and marginal in 1930s cars; back then, cars usually had windswept fenders surrounding an overturned canoe of a body.

So the smoothed-out cars from that period tend to stand out, and this one sure does: it’s a one-off concept car that Mercedes lovingly restored and then brought to the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elégance. Let’s take a closer look at this forward-thinking pre-war car.

The 540 K Streamliner was based on the production-model 540 K, itself a stunning (and currently quite valuable) car.


It was built on the same chassis…


…so the proportions are similar, but the Streamliner is at once simpler and more dramatic.


The Streamliner is more than a pretty concept; Mercedes had racing plans for its smooth coupe. The aluminum body had been wind-tunneled, and it still scores an admirable drag coefficient of 0.36. And a supercharger had been added to the inline eight-cylinder engine, boosting power from 115 horsepower to 185 for a 115-mph top speed.


Mercedes had planned to enter the Streamliner – or “streamlined saloon”, which we’d now call a Grand Touring car, or Gran Turismo – in 1938’s long-distance race from Berlin to Rome. The race was postponed for 1939, and then it was cancelled, with attentions turned from car racing to war. Dunlop’s German arm continued running the Streamliner in high-speed testing, and then the car was rolled into cold storage.

Now this special 540 K is back for 2014, fully restored by Mercedes using methods it says would have been used back in the 1930s. ..


…and so it is now as it was in 1938, with the same supple aluminum contours.


Compare it to last year’s Gran Turismo concept…


…which puts a new spin on its predecessor’s proportions.


Nice to see Mercedes dusting off such a neat car from its history. Tell us in the comments – what do you think of the 540 K Streamliner’s lines?




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