Ordered new by the German Embassy in Japan
1937 Mercedes-Benz Type 320 Cabriolet B
Chassis no. 172263
Engine no. 172263
Long before they were united in hyphenated bliss in 1926, Daimler and Benz had become two of the greatest names in motordom. The roots of both companies extended back into the 19th century; their founders were present at the very beginnings of the automobile.
Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900) was a pioneering inventor and manufacturer of internal-combustion engines and the vehicles they powered. Daimler and his partner Wilhelm Maybach founded Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) at Stuttgart in 1890. After Daimlers death, Maybach developed a powerful (for the time) 35hp engine to be used in 36 special cars ordered by Emil Jellinek, a Daimler car distributor and DMG director. Jellinek had stipulated that the new Daimler model, due out in 1902, be named after his young daughterMercedes.
Karl Benz (1844-1929) founded Benz & Cie. in Mannheim, Germany and filed the earliest patent for a gasoline engine, in 1879. His 1885 Motorwagen, patented in 1886, is credited with being the first automobile specifically designed for production. The first customer took delivery in 1888, the same year Karls spouse, Bertha, made history by driving a Benz car 65 miles to visit her mother.
The difficult business climate that existed in Germany following World War I caused both Daimler and Benz companies to wither dangerously. In 1926, the two firms merged to form Daimler-Benz, which would henceforth produce vehicles marketed under the name Mercedes-Benz.
From the very first Mercedes-Benz offered a much broader line of cars than many collectors today realize. The Mercedes tri-star emblem stood atop the radiators of small, medium, luxury touring and out-right competition models. Although they differed widely in size, power and accoutrements, every Mercedes-Benz model had a unique character that appealed to automotive connoisseurs around the globe.
Mercedes-Benz offered an especially broad and interesting array of passenger cars for 1937. The lowest priced models were found in the relatively new Type 170 H rear-engine/Type 170 V front-engine four-cylinder small car lines. The largest, most costly and heaviest of all Mercedes-Benz models for 1937 was the Type 770 K Grosser or Grand Mercedes. Powered by a supercharged 7.7-liter straight-eight, the massive 770 K was primarily produced to transport heads-of-state, including, most notoriously, the German Führer.
Some of the most desirable cars in the world in 1937 were the Mercedes-Benz 540 K sports models. Combining lusciously swoopy lines with a supercharged 5.4L engine, the 540 K provided the ultimate in personal transportation.
Then there were the conventional passenger car lines for 1937, including the previously mentioned Type 230, first appearing in 1937, the Type 260 Dthe worlds first Diesel-powered production passenger car when introduced in 1936and the relatively large Type 320, introduced in mid-1937 and initially offered in two wheelbase lengths.
The Type 320, the model of primary interest to us here, provided Mercedes-Benz customers with a nicely sized, very comfortable car that exhibited the same general appearance as the firms higher-end models, at a significantly lower cost.
A six-cylinder engine powered all 320 models. Its original 3.2-liters displacement held through 1937 but was then enlarged to 3.4-liters for 1938-1942 editions. Rated at 78bhp, the engine provided a top speed near 80mph (130km/h), when equipped with the optional ZF overdrive transmission.
The chassis featured independent front and rear suspension; with coil springs all around, giving the car impressive road manners while passengers enjoyed an especially comfortable ride. Four-wheel hydraulic brakes provided sure stopping power.
As with the 290 it replaced, the 320 chassis was offered with in a number of stylesincluding a state-of-the-art streamlined sedan. Many 320s were supplied with formal limousine and sedan bodies, but it was the Cabriolet styles that best captured the essence of the contemporary 500K/540K sports models of the time.
There were three 320 Cabriolet models, designated by code letters. The Cabriolet A was a racy and relatively expensive sports model; it was definitely a junior 540 K in appearance. Cabriolet B was a 2-door, 4-window style with front and rear seatingthe Type 320 offered here is an example. Cabriolet D was a 4-door, 4-window style. There was also a true Roadster model.
A low and distinctive split-vee windscreen arose from the cowl of the 320 Cabriolets. Its panes could be tilted for ventilation. These convertible models tops were heavily padded, in the best German cabriolet tradition, to provide exceptional all-weather protection.
The 320 Cabriolet interior demonstrated all the attributes that made Mercedes-Benz cars some of the most enjoyable for drivers, starting of course with the sumptuously luxurious leather seating. The instrumentation was especially attractive and informative. The trademark Mercedes horn ring evident in the 320 had just been copied by the American Buick for its 1937 models.
The 320 was quickly recognized for the robustness of its chassis and was ordered in quantity by the German Wehrmacht, typically for use by high-ranking officers. The model was produced into 1942, with most of the later examples certainly destined for military use.
The offered 1937 Mercedes-Benz 320 Cabriolet B has a well-documented and quite intriguing history that will always set it apart. It was shipped to Japan when new, where it was assigned to the German Embassy. The car was reportedly retained by the Embassy for many years after.
The Embassy Cabriolet was obtained by one of the most prestigious private motor museums in Japan during the 1990s. The car had been exceptionally well kept since new and, according to the consignor, even yet remains original throughout. It has been held and carefully conserved by the museum until very recently and is seen at this auction for the first time ever in North America.
It is truly uncommon to find a 1937-1942 Type 320 of any style in original condition, as many were pressed into military service during WWII and were consequently used under the most rigorous conditions imaginable.
The 320 Cabriolet B offered here is essentially a one-owner vehicle and is very possibly unparalleled in its originality. The car also brings with it a unique historical significanceit is an authentic and important artifact of a period in world history that will continue to fascinate history-minded individuals for generations to come.
- Please note, this lot is applicable to an import duty calculated at 2.5% of the hammer price. This duty will be invoiced to the purchaser but may be refunded if the lot is exported within certain criteria.