CHB stands corrected – the Mercedes 540K in yesterday’s article is a 1936 Special Coupé by Sindelfingen and not an Autobahn Kurier… Of the original Autobahn Kuriers only 6 were built, 4 on a 500K chassis and 2 on a 540K chassis. The car in the Arturo Keller collection, chassis 408336, ex prof. Barraquer, is believed to be the only remaining of those 6, although …? (read on). That doesn’t make yesterday’s article less fascinating and in this part 2 we continue this amazing story, still calling ‘our’ car an Autobahn Kurier for the sake of the great story!
My uncle and father definitely fell for the charms of the Autobahn Kurier, without knowing that it was one! They were impressed like they had never been before by any other car. They both began to convince their father to buy the car. Saying that my grandfather was interested, is an understatement! He simply was shaken by this apparition. He asked if the cars could be started… The Colonel told them that they hadn’t run for at least 10 years and offered to return later that afternoon with all the materials and tools to make them run. No sooner said than done, two hours later the whole tribe came back with new batteries, or rather as close as possible to new ones, all the tools, brushes to clean the spark plugs and so on.
My grandpa was a kind of magician when it came to make a car start and run. In his youth he had been working for Scuderia Escher, the race team of a rich banker which campaigned Bugattis in a number of Alp hillclimbs. He was very much used to taking care of fine mechanics, thanks to his experience with maintaining Bugattis.
They entered the garage and went directly to the Autobahn Kurier. My grandfather began to inspect the engine bay and since it had been perfectly preserved, he decided, after having cleaned the spark plugs and ignition, to check how clean the oil filters still were. Then he proceeded with trying to start the engine on its own old battery.
Hurrah! The 8-inline Kompressor engine started at the first turn, providing the strongest sound ever produced, coming directly from hell. Accompanied by a terrific cloud of black and oily smoke! Within ten seconds the entire garage was filled by one big black cloud and they couldn‘t see or breathe anymore. Soon grandpa turned off the engine and the air in the garages cleared while everybody leaped outside to survive and to clean their faces. The car hadn’t run for years and it showed off. Everything the Colonel had said was true.
Then came the hardest and most sensitive issue: how much was the man asking for the cars, since he seemed willing to sell them all. All for 25.000 Swiss Francs – this was 1953! This was the price for a good house or a nice flat in a big city! In today’s terms this would be something like 300,000 EUR. Just for two cars, which were nothing more than used Mercedes in those days. My grandfather couldn’t believe it. He explained that it was way too expensive, even for such marvels. The Colonel answered that he was not in need of money and he invited my grandpa to make an offer.
When back home, my grandpa called all his fellow car enthusiasts, in an attempt to buy the cars together. In these early postwar days money was really scarce and collecting cars was not the first priority. After several prospecting weeks my grandfather found a friend interested in the Cabrio and they went together to make their offer. But it was too late, the garage was already empty, both cars had been sold to the German owner of a restoration workshop who was collecting cars, especially German ones.
All that was left was that my dad saw from time to time the owner of the restoration workshop going out for a drive in his marvellous cars. Five years later this Bavarian vintage car afficionado returned to Germany, bringing the cars with him of course, leaving only the souvenir of these wonderful colossal teutonic elephants.
Sadly smart phones were non existant in 1953 and neither my grandfather nor my father had thought about taking any photos of the cars. Taking photos of everything wasn’t common practice in those gloomy days so soon after hostilities were over. My grandfather and father have had very special cars, like a Lancia Astura, an Alfa Romeo 6C, a RR Silver Ghost and so on… I barely have any photos of these jewels, sadly. Those were great times for enthusiasts of prewar cars. I have to listen carefully to my uncle’s and father’s descriptions to figure out how all these cars looked.
This story has a special end to it: as a child I read in one of my then favorite magazines, the French revue called ‘Automobiles Classiques’, in an article that Mercedes-Benz did indeed send a special Autobahn Kurier to the Montreux Concours d’Elégance in 1938, and that this car may have been sold there…
Montreux? I had to read this article again and again… I couldn’t believe my eyes! Incredible, this is where the story began. This 1938 Autobahn Kurier must have been stored in the Colonel’s mansion in that city in 1953! All these clues lead me to think that it was indeed a 540K Autobahn Kurier that was hidden there. Sometimes the vintage car passion can really make you dream… Isn’t it?
Now that I know that an Autobahn Kurier was sleeping in Montreux, what happened to her after this is still a great mystery to me. I know only a few examples of such cars, and each doesn’t match the Montreux one. There is one Autobahn Kurier preserved in Teheran at the National Cars Museum, which has been bought new by Shah Reza Pahlevi. Another one is now in the Arturo Keller collection (the Spanish car), the famous and great Kompressor-car collector. As far as I know, the story of his car could not match the story of the mysterious Autobahn Kurier near to the lake…
The photo below shows the Autobahn Kurier with Mr. Barraquer.
Written by Simon Haldy