In a show field—or maybe show fairway—lousy with pristine and priceless automotive crown jewels, it was a 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier that took home the ultra-vaunted Best of Show honors at the 70th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Considering the caliber of four-wheeled wonders on display, this was no mean feat; there was a celebration of the Lamborghini Countach’s 50th anniversary this year, after all.
We’re just joshing—a Countach didn’t have even a remote chance at the brass ring. It’s just not the type of car the cadre of Pebble judges look for when picking the winner. Remember, there was some minor uproar when a 1954 Ferrari 375 MM Scaglietti triggered the confetti cannon back in 2014. Before that, it was commonly held no postwar car would ever win the cup—let alone a Ferrari—no matter how beautiful the design or graceful the shape.
Well, that Ferrari did win, but a precedent wasn’t set. The Pebble Beach judge ledger was writ in stone sometime around the time of the Ten Commandments, and you’d have a better chance of convincing Moses to add an 11th rule regarding left-lane hogs than shaking things up in the bowels of Pebble’s Lodge.
So, when the field of final four contestants anxiously roared and rasped to a staging position a few feet from the winner’s stage, longtime showgoers could more or less see where things were headed. Joining the winning Merc was a trio of pure ecstasy in automotive design, starting with the stupid sexy 1957 Maserati 450S Zagato Coupe. The stunning 1967 Ferrari 365 Pininfarina Tre Posti was there, too, but we weren’t fooled. Aside from the Mercedes, the 1935 Bugatti Type 57C Convertible was the only other real competitor in the final four, 1954 Ferrari or no.
Of course, it was the dramatically swoopy and very theatrical 1938 540K Autobahn Kurier that won owners and show veterans Arturo and Debra Keller the prize Rolex and engraved their names for the third time onto the base of the Pebble Beach winner’s cup. It might have been the predictable choice from the final field, but that doesn’t diminish the car or the win.
Glossy black and outrageously tapered, the Autobahn Kurier certainly matches—and in some cases exceeds—past winners for grace and beauty. Created as a prototype for Mercedes-Benz’s ongoing developments in aerodynamics, only two were ever built and just the one remains. Curious about that name? It’s a reference to the then-new autobahn network running through Germany, roadways on which this Merc was no-doubt a contemporaneous superstar, considering the 180-hp 5.4-liter inline-eight shot the coupe to a top speed of 115 mph.
If you’re a regular concours cultist, you might already be familiar with this car. After a complete restoration, the car was shown at the 2006 edition of the Pebble Beach concours, where it took home a class win as the most elegant closed car and entered the finalist circle. After that close finish, the car claimed overall victories at Villa Erba in 2008 and both the Louis Vuitton Classic Concours and the Concours of America in 2011. Its biggest honor—until today’s win, at least—was the Best in Show title at the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. A thoroughbred winner.
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