Several months were spent searching the archives and making technical preparations to restore and reconstruct the streamlined saloon. When, in early 2013, work started on construction of the body and chassis, the same principle applied as when the vehicle was originally built times at Mercedes-Benz’s special vehicle production facility: consummate precision craftsmanship.
Art in sheet metal.
Brief biographies – the people behind the 540 K Streamliner.
The 540 K Streamliner would never have come into being in 1938 had it not been for the drive and creativity of the people involved, both at management level and in the design and engineering departments of what was then Daimler-Benz AG.
Hermann Ahrens was one of the outstanding vehicle designers of his era. The basis for this ability was provided by an extremely solid, technical education: Following an apprenticeship as a fitter he trained as an engineering draughtsman, studied mechanical and electrical engineering in the 1920s in Bingen and Varel and graduated with distinction as an engineer. After roles at the D-Werke in Berlin-Spandau and the Horch factory in Zwickau he joined Daimler-Benz AG on 12 September 1932, where he took charge of the special vehicle production unit at the Sindelfingen plant. Ahrens had come to the attention of the Sindelfingen plant manager, Dr Wilhelm Haspel, over the course of the various popular Concours d'Elegance that took place around that time, such as in Nice, Wiesbaden or Baden-Baden, where the mighty Horch cars that he had designed won prizes for their appearance.
During his time in the special vehicle production unit, Ahrens himself designed or oversaw the design of the body shells for such outstanding models as the 380 (W 22), 500 K (W 29), 540 K (W 29 and W 24), the Grand Mercedes (W 07 and W 150), G 4 (W 31), 600 (W 148 and W 157) and the off-road sports models 170 (W 15), 200 (W 21), 170 VS (W 136), 230 (W 143 and W 153).
Particularly when it came to the exclusive models in the special class, one vehicle was seldom the same as the next. Even if they sometimes looked the same, or very similar, from the outside, the interior details would have differed significantly from one another, as each car was appointed to the individual specification of its purchaser. Among them were a few vehicle bodies which, to look at, did not have what had by then become the expected appearance of a Mercedes-Benz luxury car.
Ahrens worked not only on passenger cars, but also on commercial vehicles. In the early 1940s he designed a bus which, with its flowing lines and angled radiator, differed significantly in shape from what had been conventional up to that point. Due to the war, however, this 4.5-tonne vehicle was never built. It was not until after the Second World War, in 1949, that a slightly modified version of it came onto the market.
From 1943 on Ahrens, as head of the special commission on vehicle bodies, became the father of the angular truck cabs built out of wooden planks: known as “standardised army cabs”, these were built without using any steel.
Ahrens’ departure from Daimler-Benz AG in 1945 was dictated by legislation imposed by the Allied Control Council. He worked initially in the field of interior architecture before being taken on again on 1 April 1949, at Haspel’s urging, as head of development for bus and commercial vehicle bodies and for special assignments. Among these were the larger passenger car models 300 (W 186, later W 189) and 300 S (W 188).
Ahrens’ period of responsibility as far as buses were concerned covered the transition to self-supporting vehicles with flush-mounted and rear-mounted engines and, in terms of trucks, the design of the short-nosed and cab-over-engine models through to the concept for the COE generation of trucks that was built from 1973 until 1996. It was Ahrens who introduced a second “Mercedes face” to the commercial vehicle range, one with more pronounced horizontal styling elements as first seen on the successful O 321 H model, to add to the familiar front end with the classic Mercedes radiator – so contributing to the widespread familiarity of this new characteristic feature of Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Born on 24 November 1907 in Süssen Died on 3 June 1996 in Bad Überkingen
Friedrich Geiger was a remarkable man in many ways. Not only was he the first head of Design for the Mercedes-Benz brand, a discipline still known back then as Stylistics. He was also an extremely modest and diffident personality. Geiger was essentially a craftsman and technician, but also a gifted artist. He kept his talent as an artist, however, completely under wraps – during his active time with the company, practically no one knew that Geiger also painted enchanting watercolours.
Geiger initially learned his trade in the 1920s as a wheelwright before going on to study coachbuilding in Meissen. It was also during this time that he qualified as a master wheelwright and cartwright. Given that in those days most vehicle bodies were mounted onto a wooden subframe, planked with steel, this career path makes good sense. On 10 April 1933, Geiger joined the special vehicle production unit at the Sindelfingen plant, under its head Hermann Ahrens. In particular with regard to the production of special vehicles, Geiger was able to demonstrate convincingly his dual talents as both a technician and an aesthete.
The next great era began for him in the 1950s, during which he supported Karl Wilferts in the body testing division, where together they built up and managed the Stylistics department. His design of the second “Mercedes face” with horizontal elements – as opposed to the classic Mercedes-Benz radiator design – set a benchmark in the history of design for the brand. This new front-end design appeared for the first time on the SL models 300 SL and 190 SL launched in 1954. Both these models represented a logical continuation of the developments in design that had begun with the 540 K Streamliner of 1938.
Just a year after the premiere of the 300 SL in New York, Geiger designed the body for the 300 SL Roadster, which made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show of 1957.
Further vehicles created under his leadership include the coupés and cabriolets of the model series W 111 and W 112, the 250 S to 300 SEL 6.3 (W 108/109) saloons, the Type 600 (W 100) and the “Stroke Eight” models (W 114/115). Geiger was particularly proud of the coupé in the W 114 model series, a car that he himself drove for many years.
The body of the 230 SL (W 113) was also designed under his leadership, whereby the “Pagoda” roof was promoted by the designer duo Béla Barényi/Karl Wilfert and formally implemented by Paul Bracq. Other cars among today’s classics, including the SL- and SLC-models of the model series R/C 107, as well as the S-Class in the model series 116 and the medium-range 123 series, were all creations that came about under his leadership.
Dr Wilhelm Haspel.
Born on 29 April 1898 in Stuttgart Died on 6 January 1952 in Stuttgart
Wilhelm Haspel joined the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in January 1924 as head of the costing department. This was followed, from 1925 on, by special assignments in the accounting, manufacturing administration and statistics departments, plus a doctoral thesis on the topic of “The calculation of overheads and cost accounting in a motor industry production plant”. He took over the administration of the body plant at Sindelfingen in 1927, then in 1932 the overall management of the plant. As part of the reorganisation that he instigated in this role, he initiated the establishment of the special vehicle production unit, appointing Hermann Ahrens as its head. A deputy board member under Wilhelm Kissel since the beginning of 1936, Wilhelm Haspel was appointed as a full board member in late 1941. Although his wife was Jewish the company continued to employ him, in contravention of the wishes of the National Socialist regime. Following the death of Wilhelm Kissel, Haspel was appointed on 19 August 1942 as Chairman of the Board of Daimler-Benz AG. At the end of October 1945 he was dismissed on the instructions of the American occupying forces. After his rehabilitation he was once again able, on 1 January 1948, to take up his role as Chairman of the Board of Daimler-Benz AG, without restrictions. From that time on he played a significant part in preserving and expanding the company’s commercial vehicle operations, was responsible for the transfer of passenger car assembly from Untertürkheim to Sindelfingen and bolstered the company’s export activities. He was also a fervent advocate of a return to motorsport.
Dr h. c. Wilhelm Kissel.
Born on 22 December 1885 in Hassloch Died on 18 July 1942 in Überlingen
Following a commercial apprenticeship and a period of study at the commercial college in Mannheim, Wilhelm Kissel took a job as a clerk for Benz & Cie in 1904. He transferred in 1907 to the purchasing department and was promoted there to head of department as an authorised company signatory. After his appointment as departmental director, his focus from 1921 lay firmly on the reconstruction of the company in the aftermath of the First World War. From 1924 he played an important role in organising the pooling of interests with the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and in 1926 was appointed to the joint Board of Management established between Benz & Cie and the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft. He chaired the Board meetings of Daimler-Benz AG from 1930 onwards, until the introduction of Germany’s new Stock Corporation Law allowed him to adopt the official title of “Chairman of the Board” on 1 October 1937, a function which he held until his death in 1942. In 1933 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the technical college in Darmstadt.
Born on 20 December 1882 in Esslingen Died on 5 February 1964 in Esslingen
Max Sailer joined the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) on 26 November 1902 and remained there, apart from breaks for study, until 1 July 1905. He left to join the Fahrzeugfabrik Eisenach automotive works, but returned to DMG on 1 October 1910. He was an industrious development engineer, who also had a successful sideline as a racing driver. In 1914 he was one of the drivers on the successful team that took the first three places in the legendary French Grand Prix of that year. Sailer, who drove the fastest lap in the race, was in the lead when forced to retire on the sixth lap. In the Targa Florio of 1921 he took the prize for the fastest production car, followed by a class victory in Sicily the following year. He also won both speed trials in the automotive tournament in Baden-Baden. In 1923 he finished as the best European driver in the Indianapolis 500-mile race, taking 8th place.
He was appointed as a Director of DMG in 1925 and held overall responsibility for the Daimler-Benz plant in Berlin-Marienfelde from 1927 until 1929. In 1935 he then succeeded Dr Hans Nibel as Technical Director and Head of Development for the entire vehicle range. In this role he was then appointed as a deputy member of the Board of Management, remaining on the board until his retirement on 30 June 1942. In this function Sailer was responsible for all vehicle development undertaken for the Mercedes-Benz brand, including the development of a whole series of successful racing and record-breaking cars, particularly in the period from 1936 to 1939. But it was also under his leadership that the diesel engine was first successfully introduced into passenger cars, in 1936.