A GT car that predates the concept of the grand tourer, the 540 K Streamliner was automotive light-years ahead of its time.
The fully restored Mercedes-Benz 540K Streamliner. Photo:AFP
Today sports car and super car companies spend much of their time espousing the benefits of using aluminum as a way of making their latest cars both strong and lightweight and dedicate hours to testing new designs in the wind tunnel as if both are new developments.
However, that's exactly how the Streamliner got its remarkable shape back in 1938 -- a wind tunnel and hand-formed aluminum panels.
Underneath its wonderfully curved exterior is an in-line eight cylinder 5.4-liter engine and a supercharger, and although total output is just 180hp, that was good enough to achieve a 185kph (115mph) top speed. OK, it wouldn't be able to outrun a Ford Fiesta ST with that sort of performance, but back in the 1930s, those figures were racing car territory.
For some perspective, in 1948, Jaguar unveiled the similarly aluminum-bodied XK120 sports convertible, which, with a top speed of 120mph (193kph), held the record of being the world's fastest production car.
Like the Jaguar, the 540K Streamliner was conceived first and foremost as an endurance race car and, if it had had the chance to race and go into production, things might have been very different.
Unfortunately, the competition in question, the long-distance Berlin-Rome race, was initially postponed -- it was scheduled for 1938 and then moved to a 1939 start date -- but the outbreak of the Second World War kept that from happening and the car never, ever got the chance to perform.
That is until now. Mercedes-Benz's classic car and restoration arm took it upon itself to restore the car to its former glory and the fruits of its labor will be seen for the first time ever at Pebble Beach in California over the weekend.
The fully restored car was rebuilt under strict guidelines. The team responsible for bringing it back to life was prohibited from using modern materials or techniques, making the end result all the more impressive.