King of Jordan's 1939 Mercedes-Benz sells for $1.7million

Bonhams auctioned off this 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet, last owned by the King of Jordan, during Retromobile for €1,581,250 ($1.7 million/£1.3 million)

During a once-in-a-lifetime auction, Bonhams hammered away an immaculate 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A with coachwork by Sindelfingen, selling for €1,581,250 ($1.7 million/£1.3 million) during Retromobile on February 7.

Not only did the Mercedes boast exclusivity, but it was once owned by the former King of Jordan – his Majesty King Hussein bin Talal. Gifted by the Belgian royal family, the Benz epitomizes an era where monarchs often demonstrated extravagant tastes and status by receiving gifts from some of the world's automotive elite.

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The 540 K was the pinnacle of Mercedes’ production models from the 1930s, with an independently suspended chassis, a 5.4-litre supercharged straight-eight engine and four-speed gearbox. These features were introduced under the company’s new chief engineer – Max Sailer – who truly perfected the supercharger system. Sailer's prowess ensured pressing the accelerator pedal simultaneously engaged the compressor and closed off the alternative atmospheric intake to the carburettor.

Mercedes chose the Paris Salon in October 1936 to launch the car, presented as a combination of racing history and new coachbuilt-focused design. Both the exterior and interior were afforded the highest standards of style, with polished metal, hardwoods and leather woven into the cabin. In Mercedes’ own words, it was ‘the car for the connoisseur’.

When not supercharged, the engine was capable of 178bhp, yet could crack 110mph when supercharged; a monumental pace for the time. Despite the common view that older cars run with druid-levels of technology, this Benz ran with servo-assisted hydraulic brakes, setting a new bar for rival manufacturers to follow.

One of the later models, chassis no. 408386, was first used in Germany by a Henry Ford Cooper, who left the country with the car in 1943. He used the car frequently, and eventually sold it in ‘54 to a US soldier. The car had been visually tweaked at this point to look more in line with Mercedes’ current stock, and the car remained with US owners until returning to its homeland in ‘78. Then, after seven years of ownership, Dr Haral Alfers let go of his Mercedes to none other than the King of Jordan.

His Majesty had ascended to the throne in 1953, and remained there until ‘99, building up quite a collection of cars in the process. Mercedes-Benz was one of his favourites, even visiting the brand’s Classic Centre in Stuttgart. In 1987 his Merc was transported to the Royal Albert Hall in London where it formed part of a ‘Ten Important Motor Cars’ event, and unlike most of his collection, it spent a lot of time on the road or around the world rather than his own museum.

In ‘91 it underwent a restoration which included converting the car to right-hand drive for an expected future UK residence of the car in the King’s Windsor mansion. The livery was also changed to tones of red, and it has remained in that specification since.

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