Throughout the 1920s and 30s, Mercedes-Benz offered a variety of vehicle models where the designation primarily characterized chassis and engine; for these a variety of body variants were then available ex factory, often with up to ten or more different designs. At the same time, it was the age of the coachbuilder in automotive design, with many owners having customized bodies fitted to a chassis to meet their own specifications. Eventually the company’s own “Sindelfingen body” gained general acceptance. It reflected not only the stylistic self-assurance of the vehicle owners, but also of the Mercedes-Benz designers – those ‘stylists’, as they were then officially titled, who created mobile sculptures of timeless elegance.
Not every series featured a coupé; but in most cases there was at least one variant aimed at a similar category of buyers. There was the Mercedes-Benz 290 (W 18 series), for example, built in the mid-1930s, which in the long-wheelbase version with streamlined body had the appearance of a coupé – except it had four doors providing access to the interior. Decades later the CLS (C 219 series, market launch 2004) was to revive a similar principle, creating an even more coupé-like impact with its low, stretched roofline. The sports sedan, very popular in competitions, was available in smaller series such as the 130 model (W 23) or the 230 (W 153) – both two-door versions.
One body design to enjoy a certain star status with coupé genes in the 1930s was that of the motorway courier, created for the luxury 500 K (W 29) and 540 K (W 29) models. The design took its name from the new high-speed motorways that were under construction in Germany at the time; compared with today, of course, these new long-distance roads had much less traffic, and with its streamlined body the motorway courier could occasionally be seen almost literally flying into the distance. The motorway courier was the last word in state-of-the-art design – not to mention exclusivity, since anyone able to afford such a vehicle at the time certainly enjoyed grand appearances and a mobile lifestyle. A popular choice was to use as a basis a chassis with the engine set back, since with a lengthened engine hood the front end created a more elongated appearance, thus emphasizing the vehicle’s coupé character. In most cases the rear wheels also had fairings. Any motorway courier remains an object of fascination to this day. One world-famous model is the 540 K motorway courier of 1939 owned by Arturo Keller, one of only few units of an already extremely rare species to have survived. Keller’s flawless model continues to thrill audiences at classic car events and regularly garners trophies, as in 2006 at the Concours d’Elegance in Pebble Beach, California/USA, where it was awarded the prize for most elegant closed vehicle. Two doors give access to four seats. A novelty of the motorway courier that featured in the predecessor model, the 500 K motorway courier – and is nowadays a standard feature of coupé design – is the curved rear side window that emphasized the rapidly tapering rear end. The 540 K was also available as a classic coupé with two seats. There was even also a so-called combination coupé with two interchangeable roofs.