THE MAS­TER­PIECE

NEW ZEALAND’ S ONLY ME RCE DE S - BENZ 5 4 0 K ROADS TE R

New Zealand Classic Car - - Front Page - Words: Ash­ley Webb Pho­tos: Adam Croy

It’s def­i­nitely no se­cret that, as we ma­ture, our per­son­al­i­ties, and, in­deed, pref­er­ences for cer­tain things, change, and we of­ten look back at our younger years with a cer­tain de­gree of amuse­ment. Not sur­pris­ingly, our taste for clas­sic cars can also take a sur­pris­ing twist as we ma­ture. Yes, there are many who have be­come ad­dicted to a cer­tain mar­que and model of clas­sic that is, to them, the ul­ti­mate child­hood dream come true. On the other side of the coin, there are those who choose some­thing quite dif­fer­ent to re­place ev­ery sold clas­sic. There are also clas­sic car own­ers who are pas­sion­ate, mar­que­spe­cific en­thu­si­asts, such as Garry Boyce — the owner of our fea­tured 1938 MercedesBenz 540K Roadster — who have reached a point from which shape and form mean as much to them as any me­chan­i­cal in­no­va­tion or spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

Fol­low­ing a three-pointed star

Garry’s pas­sion for clas­sic cars has played a pre­dom­i­nat­ing part in his life, from both per­for­mance and en­gi­neer­ing points of view. Dur­ing his early years, Garry reck­ons he would have def­i­nitely been la­belled a ‘ boy racer’ by to­day’s stan­dards. Start­ing out with mopeds and mo­tor­cy­cles, he pro­gressed on to four wheels. His first car was a 1933 Ford Model Y and this was fol­lowed by a 1946 Fiat Topolino, a Van­guard, an A40 Fa­rina, and then a Re­nault Dauphine Alpine, the last nonMercedes car he’s owned since then.

As a 15-year-old ap­pren­tice fit­ter and turner, Garry quickly be­came in­volved in the lo­cal clas­sic car fra­ter­nity, and, dur­ing the en­su­ing years, Garry’s ca­reer ex­panded to en­com­pass all types of en­gi­neer­ing po­si­tions be­fore he fi­nally moved into man­age­rial roles within his cho­sen in­dus­try. It was dur­ing this pe­riod that Garry gained an at­ti­tude to­wards ex­cel­lence in ev­ery­thing he did.

With that kind of mind­set, it was clearly ob­vi­ous to Garry that, at the time, Mercedes-benz rep­re­sented in­no­va­tion, pre­mium build qual­ity, longevity, and en­gi­neer­ing ex­cel­lence, and he made a vow that one day he would ar­rive at a po­si­tion where he’d be able to af­ford one.

Fi­nally, in 1988, Garry pur­chased his first Mercedes — a 190E 2.6. How­ever, for a gen­uine car en­thu­si­ast, the real high­light ar­rived in 1994 when he pur­chased his first real ‘col­lec­tor’ car — a new E320 W124 coupé, the ve­hi­cle that would rep­re­sent the start­ing point of his col­lec­tion. In­ter­est­ingly, that E320 is the only new Mercedes-benz Garry and his wife, Ali­son, have ever owned, and they pur­chased that car di­rect from the Nieder­schlager in Ham­burg, a sis­ter com­pany for di­rect pur­chase for ex­port.

The flight of the Gull­wing

Dur­ing the years he was slowly build­ing up his car col­lec­tion, Garry never lost sight of his ul­ti­mate child­hood dream — to own a 300SL coupé, the leg­endary Gull­wing. How­ever, achiev­ing that dream seemed to be ut­terly and com­pletely out of the ques­tion, so, in­stead, he con­cen­trated his thoughts and ef­forts on the next best thing, a 300SL Roadster.

He’d al­ways ad­mired that car’s sen­su­ous, volup­tuous lines as well as its su­perb per­for­mance and han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics, but, due to high in­ter­na­tional prices, he felt that the most log­i­cal way for­ward would be to search the world for a suit­able restora­tion pro­ject.

Fi­nally, af­ter many years of dif­fi­cult search­ing — bear­ing in mind that many sur­viv­ing 300SL Road­sters had al­ready been fully re­stored as be­fit­ted their sta­tus as gen­uinely iconic and col­lectible clas­sics — in 2001, Garry fi­nally dis­cov­ered a roadster in a some­what dis­tressed state in the Nether­lands. The car was num­ber 154 off the pro­duc­tion line and, hence­for­ward, would be re­ferred to by Garry’s wife as “piles of junk in card­board boxes” fol­low­ing the ar­rival of said boxes in New Zealand.

Sort­ing through ev­ery­thing, Garry em­barked on a five-year restora­tion pro­ject, be­gin­ning in 2003 and com­pleted in 2008. The end re­sult, a stun­ning 300SL Roadster fin­ished in sil­ver, fea­tured on the cover of the Fe­bru­ary 2008 edi­tion of New Zealand Clas­sic Car.

Garry was now at the point of no re­turn. He’d caught the bug, and the only cure was to add a few more Mercedes into the garage, start­ing with a 1964 220 SECB coupé. In 1998, he ac­quired a 1957 190SL, a suit­able al­ter­na­tive to the 300SL coupé or roadster that were, at that time, well be­yond Garry’s means. Then, in 1999, Garry pur­chased his first ‘Pagoda’ — a 1968 280SL. This rare beast, fit­ted with a ZF five-speed man­ual gear­box, of which only 26 right-hand drive ex­am­ples were ever built, was nick­named the ‘Cal­i­for­nia Coupé’.

Over­all, the car’s in­cred­i­ble com­plex­ity made the re­con­struc­tion and re­assem­bly process tor­tur­ous, al­though Garry would later sum up the fi­nal re­sult as “scrump­tious”. The fi­nal test came in Fe­bru­ary 2008 when the car was pre­sented at the Eller­slie In­ter­mar­que Concours d’el­e­gance in the Masters Class event. The Mercedes ended the day in top po­si­tion, hav­ing earned a to­tal of 565 out of 590 points — the high­est score ever awarded to a concours com­pe­ti­tion car in New Zealand at that time. That same year, Garry took the car to Sonoma in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, US, for the Gull­wing Group In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion. Here, in com­pe­ti­tion with 68 other SL Gull­wings and Road­sters, Garry’s car was judged Best Show Roadster and Best of Show. A truly cred­itable achieve­ment and an out­stand­ing ad­ver­tise­ment for the qual­ity of clas­sic car restora­tion in New Zealand.

There can be few clas­sic cars as rare and de­sir­able as the Mercedes-benz 300SL ‘Gull­wing’, so imag­ine what it would be like to dis­cover one of the fab­u­lously rare al­loy-bod­ied ex­am­ples. It’s fair to say that noth­ing much hap­pens in clas­sic-mercedes world, lo­cally or in­ter­na­tion­ally, with­out Garry know­ing about it, so it wasn’t sur­pris­ing to learn that he be­came aware of an

ex­tremely rare 300SL light­weight Gull­wing as well as a 1958 300SL Roadster hid­ing away some­where in the Waikato.

Garry’s per­sis­tence fi­nally paid off, and, fol­low­ing a some­what drawn out ne­go­ti­a­tion process, he was able to ne­go­ti­ate the pur­chase of both cars. A de­ci­sion was then made to em­bark on the restora­tion of both cars si­mul­ta­ne­ously in an en­deav­our to ap­ply syn­ergy to the pro­ject.

As the cul­mi­na­tion of an ex­haus­tive and com­pre­hen­sive restora­tion, Garry fi­nally un­veiled his new mas­ter­piece — a gor­geous 1956 Mercedes- Benz 300SL Gull­wing, num­ber 27 of the only 29 alu­minium-body cars ever pro­duced — at the 2015 Eller­slie In­ter­mar­que Concours d’el­e­gance and, once again, took out top hon­ours in the cov­eted Masters Class com­pe­ti­tion. The Gull­wing fea­tured on the cover of our April 2015 edi­tion. And, as you read th­ese words, Garry’s se­cond 300SL Roadster is cur­rently in the fi­nal stages of restora­tion.

Over the years, Garry’s pas­sion for cars has de­vel­oped to the stage at which he views them as en­joy­able pieces of art­work with the ad­van­tage that you can drive them.

“Finer 20th Cen­tury Au­to­mo­biles, Ex­am­ples of Highly Com­plex and Mo­bile Three Di­men­sional Crafts­man­ship, Are Higher Forms of Art and De­sign Than Mere Two Di­men­sional Paint­ings or Sculp­ture”

This phi­los­o­phy in­flu­enced his de­ci­sion im­mensely when he started search­ing for his next Mercedes-benz. Af­ter sell­ing his 300SL Gull­wing to an off­shore buyer, he had be­gun look­ing for a car that would suit his chang­ing taste in cars, when a beau­ti­fully re­stored 1938 540K Roadster, due to go to auc­tion in the US, caught his at­ten­tion.

Garry was in­stantly mes­mer­ized by the in­tox­i­cat­ing artis­tic style, grace, and per­for­mance ca­pa­bil­i­ties of this piece of rolling sculp­ture — a car he de­scribed as “Big, bru­tal, in your face and ab­so­lutely gor­geous!”

That’s a view shared by the late Grif­fith Borge­son, one of the world’s great­est au­to­mo­tive his­to­ri­ans, who had

this to say in ref­er­ence to the 540K Roadster: “There is a har­mony and bal­ance of line and mass … which very sim­ply de­fies any con­ceiv­able im­prove­ment. They are sculp­tural per­fec­tion. For many peo­ple of taste, more beau­ti­ful cars will never be de­signed and built.”

For Garry, the 540K Roadster epit­o­mizes the leg­end painted across one of the cen­tral sup­port beams in his im­pres­sive garage — “Finer 20th Cen­tury Au­to­mo­biles, Ex­am­ples of Highly Com­plex and Mo­bile Three Di­men­sional Crafts­man­ship, Are Higher Forms of Art and De­sign Than Mere Two Di­men­sional Paint­ings or Sculp­ture”.

Garry pur­chased the 540K in late July 2015.

An ex­er­cise in el­e­gance

Back in those long-gone days when the price of fuel was just tup­pence ha’penny a gal­lon, the Mercedes-benz su­per­charged 5.4-litre straight-eight en­gine’s un­quench­able thirst was of lit­tle con­cern for the rich and fa­mous pri­vate own­ers who were able to fork out an ask­ing price that, at the time, was about the same as the cost of a cus­tom-built Rolls-royce Phan­tom III.

The Mercedes 540K Roadster was also a for­mi­da­ble per­former, be­ing the ul­ti­mate de­vel­op­ment of the su­per­charged Mercedes range that had its ori­gins in the com­pany’s World War I aero en­gines. The 540K’s per­for­mance def­i­nitely ben­e­fit­ted from

Paul Daim­ler’s — son of the com­pany’s founder — ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with su­per­charg­ers in an ef­fort to to make Ger­many’s war­planes fly faster and higher than any other.

Prior to World War II, Daim­ler-benz, the par­ent com­pany of Mercedes-benz, was the lead­ing man­u­fac­turer of lux­ury cars in Ger­many. The com­pany also en­joyed a great deal of suc­cess on the Grand Prix cir­cuits and in sports car events due, in part, to ad­vance­ments in tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing su­per­charg­ing, fully in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion, the use of light al­loy ma­te­ri­als, and over­head camshafts.

In 1932, Mercedes-benz started build­ing a range of large, fast grand tour­ers, and, in 1936, the 540K was un­veiled at the Paris Mo­tor Show as one of the cars com­mem­o­rat­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of the in­ven­tion of the first au­to­mo­bile by Karl Benz. It also be­came Mercedes-benz’s flag­ship model, built to spe­cial or­der only.

The 540K was su­perbly en­gi­neered and boasted all-in­de­pen­dent sus­pen­sion, with fea­tures such as un­equal-length con­trol arms in the front and coil­spring swing axles in the rear. Uniquely de­signed hor­i­zon­tal springs link­ing the two axle halves to­gether to pre­vent the rear-wheel tuck-un­der was an­other in­ven­tive fea­ture of the sus­pen­sion.

The 540K en­gine uti­lized the same pushrod in­line straight-eight de­vel­oped for the ear­lier 380K model of 1932 but en­larged ac­cord­ingly. Power out­put was a mod­est 115hp (84.5kw), but, when the su­per­charger kicked into ac­tion, those fig­ures were boosted sig­nif­i­cantly to 180hp (132.3kw). The 540K driver had the op­tion of max­i­miz­ing power by en­gag­ing the su­per­charger via a small clutch. Mercedes-benz warned that, to pre­serve en­gine life, the su­per­charger should only be fully en­gaged for short bursts.

The car also fea­tured a lux­u­ri­ously ap­pointed in­te­rior, com­plete with a mother-of-pearl in­stru­ment panel, rich leather seat­ing, and twin spot­lights flank­ing a swept-back front wind­shield, and the finest pre-war styling, penned by Her­mann Ahrens, epit­o­miz­ing the com­pany’s mas­ter­work.

Ahrens had joined the com­pany in 1932 to man­age the Son­der­wa­gen (Spe­cial Ve­hi­cles) sec­tion, de­sign­ing and build­ing lim­ited-pro­duc­tion coach­work for the top Mercedes-benz mod­els. With an im­pec­ca­ble eye for shape and form, the 28-year-old Ahrens had to­tal re­spon­si­bil­ity for the both de­sign and pro­duc­tion of the coach­work on all lim­ited-pro­duc­tion Mercedes-benz cars, in­clud­ing the great sports road­sters and coupés.

Art-deco sculp­ture

The 540K was es­sen­tially a larger ver­sion of the 500K and stood at the top of an en­tire range of Mercedes-benz lux­ury cars, the first of which had emerged in 1933 as the 380.

The 540K also shared the same me­chan­i­cal set-up and chas­sis con­fig­u­ra­tion as the 500K but was sig­nif­i­cantly light­ened by the re­place­ment

of the 500K’s weighty chas­sis sec­tions with much lighter oval-sec­tion tubes — a process in­spired by the com­pany’s de­vel­op­ment work on the fa­mous Sil­ver Ar­rows, the leg­endary race cars pro­duced by Mercedes-benz be­tween 1934 and 1939. The cars also shared the same body styles, which ranged from rather con­ser­va­tive cabri­o­let to the ex­otic and rare Spe­cial Roadster.

It was Ahrens’ artis­tic flair that that el­e­vated the 540K into a place among the im­mor­tals of mo­tor­ing his­tory. He was re­spon­si­ble for the car’s glo­ri­ous, sweep­ing scal­lop-edged guards, in­te­grated run­ning boards, and doors that beau­ti­fully com­pli­ment the ar­ro­gantly long bon­net with a low wind­screen and the ex­te­rior ex­haust pipes of the su­per­charged 500K and 540K. The hand­some V-shaped grille, an­other stand­out fea­ture, nes­tled be­tween the im­pos­ing front guards, gives the im­pres­sion of a ship’s hull cut­ting through bow waves. At the stern, an equally im­pres­sive, el­e­gantly tapered tail com­pletes the true marvel of pro­por­tion that was har­mo­nious de­spite its ex­treme length of over five me­tres. This mas­sive hand­crafted art-deco sculp­ture was the ab­so­lute pin­na­cle of au­to­mo­tive de­sir­abil­ity from the mo­ment it was launched in Paris.

Garry took a well-earned break from the rig­or­ous task of hav­ing a car judged at this year’s Eller­slie In­ter­mar­que Concours d’el­e­gance and de­cided in­stead to let us dis­play his el­e­gant 540K Roadster in the New­mar­ket Room. If you were for­tu­nate enough see the car, spare a thought for those who wit­nessed the un­veil­ing of this piece of rolling sculp­ture at the 1936 Paris Mo­tor Show.

1936: While liv­ing in Paris, the 23-year-old Baroness Gisela von Krieger buys a Mercedes-benz 540K twodoor coupé. Her 19-year-old brother, Hen­ning, buys a Mercedes-benz 540K Spe­cial Roadster, which Gisela — con­sid­ered one of the most fash­ion­able women of her time — com­man­deers soon af­ter.

Garry’s 300SL Roadster, fin­ished in sil­ver, fea­tured on the cover of the Fe­bru­ary 2008 edi­tion of

Newzealand­clas­s­ic­car

At over one me­tre long, the Mercedes-benz 540K 5.4-litre en­gine is an im­pres­sive sight from any an­gle. Con­sist­ing of a spe­cial sound­ab­sorb­ing grey cast iron, in­clud­ing the cylin­der head — com­plete with par­al­lel over­head valves ac­tu­ated via rocker arms and pushrods from the lat­eral camshaft — and weigh­ing a stag­ger­ing 600-plus kilo­grams, the 540K en­gine demon­strated the very best in en­gi­neer­ing.

Garry’s gor­geous 1956 Mercedes-benz 300SL Gull­wing, num­ber 27 of the only 29 alu­minium-body cars ever pro­duced — fea­tured on the cover of our April 2015 edi­tion.

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