Although they looked fast as all get out, the 540Ks were heavy at nearly three tons and had a fairly low redline of 3500 rpm. The top end recorded by Motor magazine in England in a prewar test was 106 mph. Mileage was a miserable 10 mpg.

Before World War II, it was fashionable in Hollywood to have a snazzy foreign car, and German marques were especially renowned for their top engineering. Once the war began, Mercedes drivers ran the risk of having their patriotism questioned.

But this car , chassis No. 154151 (with matching engine number), was purchased new at the 1937 Berlin auto show by Jack Warner of Warner Bros. movie fame. Mercedes had made this car the centerpiece of the show. Warner kept the car for 10 years, often blasting up to San Simeon, where he palled around the Hearst castle with William Randolph himself.

Four years after the war, the 540K was acquired by Sam Scher, who goes down in history as an extremely astute buyer of future classics. He passed it on to George Bitgood, a veterinarian, who kept it untouched in his Connecticut garage for an astounding 44 years. It went to car collectors Bud and Thelma Lyon in 1993, who took it to a top Mercedes-Benz restorer, Paul Russell & Company of Massachusetts, for a full restoration. Fortunately, there was only one spot of rust in the steel body, and the beech and ash frame was intact. The only repro parts needed in the whole restoration were white rubber body sills and trim strips unique to the Special Roadsters.

The car had a successful show career, taking a first in class at the ’95 Pebble Beach concours and best of show at the Amelia Island concours in ’97.

The car is also enhanced by its having escaped the taint of the Third Reich, a subject many prewar 500-series owners are skilled at avoiding. Another of the late Bitgood’s cars, a ’36 540K “Blue Goose” Special Roadster (the name comes from its light-blue paint) that was owned by Hitler’s air marshal, Hermann Goering, has still to see the limelight at a concours after being hidden even longer than the Jack Warner car.

There’s another nice thing about this black bolide, and that’s the mileage. Although the car is 65 years old, its new owner will find not much more than 11,000 miles on the odometer. Hell, this one’s barely broke in.

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