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1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K: The Resurfacing of a star from The Pranlal Bhogilal Collection!

Published on Feb 28, 2024 07:28 PM IST

The car remained with the family well into India’s independence, well after the princely families lost their privy purses.

Makarand Baokar
ByHT Brand Studio

Mumbai (Maharashtra) [India], February 28: Historic vehicle enthusiasts in Mumbai (and the rest of India) have always known of the existence of one of two of the most extraordinary automobiles made before the advent of WWII – the Mercedes-Benz 540K – within the fortress walls of the building known as Daskot on Walkeshwar Road. A hidden beauty that hadn’t been seen in over four decades.

Brijesh Chinai & Chamundeshwari Bhogilal Chinai

For that matter, not too many may have seen the astounding cars parked within Daskot, except for the occasional one that used to be taken out by the man who had collected them, Pranlal Bhogilal. India’s pioneer collector of historic vehicles long before it became fashionable, Pranlal Bhogilal (1937-2011) was one of the most important luminaries in India’s automotive cultural heritage.

For the handful of lucky enthusiasts who have had the good fortune of visiting the hallowed precincts of Daskot, some of India’s most startling vintage and classic cars were there to be seen: several Bentleys (including a 3 ½ Litre convertible, a Mk VI, and a fabulous 8 Litre) and Rolls-Royces (a ducktail 20/25HP Rolls, a’47 Silver Wraith, a pair of Phantom IIIs, as well as a humongous Phantom V). Amongst the two dozen-odd cars across two levels, the prettiest though were probably a low and stylish Invicta S100, and another beautifully elegant – and no less rare – convertible, a Mercedes-Benz 300 Sc.

But it was the other Mercedes-Benz, the extraordinary 540K, one of two that is extant in India, which remained hidden behind the locked doors of a standalone garage on one side of the Daskot palace complex for decades. A very early example of the model, this Mercedes (chassis # 130908) seems to have been one from the earliest batch of 540Ks. And was, likely, imported into India by Daimler-Benz’s Indian distributor Dadajee, Dhackjee & Co, from Mumbai, soon after the first of the 540Ks to be brought in (chassis # 130902, which is in Pune).

The late Mr. Pranlal Bhogilal at Dastan Autoworld Museum
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Unveiled at the Paris Motor Show of 1936, the 540K was one of the fastest and the most luxurious of automobiles on sale in the world. With a giant of an engine – 5401cc within eight cylinders aligned in a straight line – the 540K’s power plant developed a very impressive (for then) 180bhp with the aid of a supercharger. Mated to a four-speed gearbox, the 540K could easily do 170 km/h, which made it one of the fastest cars on Planet earth then. And this speed was reached in comfort and security, a hallmark for Mercedes-Benz already.

Chassis # 130908, the 540K which is the subject of our story, seems to have been acquired by Yashwantrao Martandrao Mukne, who became the Maharaja of Jawhar in 1938. At the time when # 130908 was acquired, the 20-years-old Yashwantrao Martandrao Mukne was too young to be crowned the maharaja, and the state of Jawhar (less than 100 miles north of Bombay) was being“ruled” by his mother, the Rajmata Saguna Bai Mukne, acting as the regent.

The car remained with the family well into India’s independence, well after the princely families lost their privy purses, parked at the basement of Sterling Apartments, in Mumbai’s Peddar Road. Aware of the car’s existence, Pranlal Bhogilal tried to convince the former maharaja to part with the 540K, which he finally agreed to, in 1976.

The car’s engine though had been replaced by a more economical diesel unit from Perkins. Luckily, when the car was being picked up from the basement of Sterling Apartment, they found the original engine, which was soon put back into the 540K.

But there was a problem. The gearbox, which must have seen a lot of abuse, was extremely troublesome, and just wouldn’t shift. And nobody could address that. Therefore, the car remained garaged for the next four decades, hidden away from envious eyes.

In the meantime, the collection of Pranlal Bhogilal expanded to that of one of the finest in India.Born on the 28thof November 1937, Pranlal Bhogilal was barely into his teens when he began acquiring arts and artefacts, jewellery, and cars from the princely families of India, realizing the importance and the value of most, years before other collectors got into the act. By the mid-1970s Bhogilal had a substantial collection of just about everything, but most importantly, the most comprehensive collection in India of historic vehicles.

Pranlal Bhogilal passed away in 2011. A few years ago, Bhogilal’s daughter Chamundeshwari, and his son-in-law Brijesh Chinai decided to revitalise the Pranlal Bhogilal collection, and the museum called Auto World that he had set up in 2005. The Mercedes-Benz 540K, one of the crown jewels of the collection, was given to a reputed restorer with strict instructions to perform in a timely schedule, who then completed the restoration of the car in 12 months, with these photographs taken on Valentine’s Day.

If this isn’t a case of love at first sight… even if that was four decades too late… then what is?

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