After many years of building six- and eight-cylinder supercharged automobiles, Mercedes-Benz introduced its ultimate chassis in 1936.
Dubbed 540K, it replaced the already world respected 500K that debuted just two years earlier.
Featuring a 5.4-liter overhead cam straight eight, the kompressor-boosted engine was coupled to a four-speed gearbox and mounted in a sturdy chassis that rode on four-wheel independent suspension.
The supercharger was intended for only short bursts of extra power; it kicked in only when the accelerator was depressed fully, boosting power from roughly 125 to 195 horsepower.
Top speed was listed as 170 kph.
Total 540K production was 406, with 95 chassis built in 1938.
Unlike many luxury motorcars of the period, most 540Ks were custom bodied in-house at Sindelfingen, the factory's plant.
Of the total number, just 29 were shipped as bare chassis to outside coachbuilders, with Germany's Erdmann & Rossi receiving 12.
This leaves just 17 chassis to be cloaked in bodies built by other concerns.
Pricing for a bare chassis was listed at 15,500 German Marks, or roughly $6,355.
Delivered to Sweden in September 30, 1937, chassis #169389 was the only bare-chassis 540K sent to that country.
Ordered by the building contractor and two-time Olympic swimming medal-winner Max Gumpel of Stockholm, it was sent to the coachbuilding firm of Norrmalm in Stockholm.
The chassis was completed by February 1938 and first registered on March 4th of that year.
The finished cabriolet featured twin batteries, a huge 60-gallon fuel tank, and a weight of over 6300 pounds.
Other custom features included Marchal lights, a siren, and a special split front bench seat, allegedly designed so neither of Gumpel's lady friends would be relegated to the back!
Gumpel's signature radiator mascot, the Roman goddess of the hunt Diana replaced the typical Mercedes three-pointed star.
Norrmalm started in 1919 as Jacobson & Co., and in 1925 changed the name to the current guise.
Bodies by Norrmalm were ruggedly built, incredibly sturdy, and, - in typical Swedish design- form was dictated by function, not fashion.
Preferring steel over aluminum, they were known for exclusive and exotic cabriolets of very high quality.
Johan Oscar Olhanger was the Chief Designer for the firm, and was influenced by the great designers of Germany, Italy, and France.
His cabriolets were designed to stand up to the harsh roads and long winters of Sweden while keeping the occupants comfortable.
Norrmalm's interior work was famous throughout Europe, thanks to the brothers Gunnar and Knut Espelund.
Gunnar's work was so valued that he was given company stock back in 1927.
Norrmalm's operations ceased in 1948 when a fire destroyed the factory.
Only 3 Norrmalm-built cars are known to exist, a Volvo, a Packard, and Max Gumpel's 540K.
Max Gumpel was a flamboyant figure of a man, traveling in the high echelon of Swedish society and government in the 20s and 30s, and his license plate number bears this statement.
A54 (A for Stockholm, the country's capital) is very, very high status, fitting in with numbers reserved for the royal family.
This plate number earned Gumpel the equivalent of diplomatic immunity.
Unlike other Swedish automobiles where the plates stay with the vehicle, Gumpel was allowed to keep his plate and transfer it to his other purchased vehicles.
He also was a close personal friend and early admirer of Greta Garbo, and when she visited Stockholm she would often stay with him.
It goes to say that it is quite possible that she enjoyed a ride in this car at some point.
The car was put up during the war when little fuel was available.
Mr. Gumpel was able to use his pull with the government to obtain a special "Non-Conscription" Order thereby allowing him to keep his car and not be confiscated by the military during World War II.
Gumpel purchased a Lincoln Continental after the war, but kept the Mercedes until July 29th, 1955.
It was sold at that point to Michael Savosnick for the sum of 5,000 Kroner.
In 1962, Max Gumpel was played by the actor Ulf Palme in the William Holden film "The Counterfeit Traitor" for his friendship to spy Eric Erickson.
After throwing a huge party on August 3rd, 1965, Gumpel allegedly went upstairs after his guests left and died by a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Savosnick sold the car to Carl Kristopherson in 1964, who later that year sold it to Howard Sluyter of Dallas, Texas.
Mr. Sluyter owned the car until the early 1980s, selling it to John Ridings Lee of Dallas.
Mr. Lee kept the Mercedes for some years before selling it to Jerry Moore in 1986 for the sum of $450,000.
Mr. Moore repainted the car, possibly showing it at Pebble Beach in the late 1980s.
In 1990 he then sold it to Jerome Sauls for $950,000.
Mr. Sauls contracted the restoration firm of Hill & Vaughn to refresh the car and put it up for sale.
The car was sold to an important Japanese collection in December of 1991 for a reputed $1.2 million.
It was returned to the United States in January 2001 by purchaser Terena Shaw of Canada.
In May 2001 Mr. John W. Rich Sr. of Pennsylvania acquired this magnificent automobile for the collection.