Pebble Beach Best-in-Show 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Has Nazi Ties

The Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance is as bougie as it sounds, if you’ll allow me to butcher the French language. While we’re talking about French-adjacent things, let’s talk about the winner of this year’s concourse, a Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahnkurier from 1938. Why is it French-adjacent? It’s rumored to be a gift from France’s most famous conqueror: Adolf Hitler. Yeah. The Nazi. Buckle up, this one’s gonna be wild.

Three-pointed stars and Nazi cars

Adolf Hitler rides in a Mercedes-Benz convertible while greeting supporters in Nuremberg 1933
Note the three-pointed star on the hood | Hulton Archive via Getty Images

First of all, I’d like to thank Mr. Orlove over at Jalopnik. He did far more research than I had time to do to bring you this piece, so please, go read his too. Now, let’s start with where we are today. Recently, the Mercedes-Benz 540K you see below was crowned best-in-show at the Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance. But, how did we get to this whole Nazi car thing? It starts in 1930s Germany, with Hitler’s power on the rise.

Adolf was coming up fast and needed the support of der German volk in order to keep coming up. He also needed the support of German industry. Enter: Mercedes-Benz, pinnacle of German industry at the time and a favorite of the people. The German automaker was a staunch supporter of der Fuhrer back then, and the Mercedes-Benz 540K was a luxury coupe produced during that era. Supposedly, per the NY Times, Hitler was picked up by Jakob Werlin, then associate director after his stint in jail. In a Mercedes.

How we got to Pebble is quite the story

The Best-in-Show Mercedes-Benz 540K at Pebble Beach
Admittedly, the 540K is gorgeous | Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance

So, what makes this Mercedes-Benz 540K and its Nazi ties enough to be a winner at the prestigious concourse event? First, this is apparently the last 540K around. Much like the German regime, it’s a dying breed that is somehow still around (perhaps despite history’s best efforts). Moreover, this one was reported to be a gift from Hitler to one Dr. Barraquer, who was an ophthalmologist. However, other accounts say it was another German government official who gifted the car to him.

There’s also the condition of it. Unfortunately, photos simply don’t do it justice. But the Pebble Beach concourse is the most strictly-judged car show around, and everything must be (in very German fashion) millimeter perfect. Clearly, this 540K was. Interesting history always helps, confirmed or not. Regardless, this straight-8 cylinder coupe was a favorite of party members. Hermann Goering owned several Mercedes-Benz 540K models. Eva Braun also had one.

Should we be ok with this?

The Best-in-Show Mercedes-Benz 540K at Pebble Beach
The cynic in me is unhappy with this image | Pebble Beach Concourse d’Elegance

So, obviously, this car is inextricably linked with the Nazi party. Hitler’s favorite fraulein had one, and so did chief members of his staff, like Goering. And that begs the question: should we be celebrating this car? Something that’s so linked to one of the worst tragedies the human race has seen? Well, part of me says it’s just a car. It’s not like it’s got on an armband. But, perhaps some stones are left best unturned, or, at the very least, left out of the public eye.

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