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1938 Maybach SW38 Roadster

It is easy to forget today, but in the 1930s, the Maybach automobile was held as more prestigious in its home country than any other car. Wilhelm Maybach had been a pioneer of the industry, helping Gottlieb Daimler develop his first car, and after inventing the honeycomb radiator, turned his attentions to aircraft manufacture. After building the powerplants for the great German Zeppelins, he turned his attention to automobiles by 1919, building incredibly expensive and exclusive automobiles with peerless engineering and build quality.

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One of the most popular Maybach automobiles was the SW38, a six-cylinder model capable of achieving speeds upwards of 100 mph. An object to be admired, the SW38 sported a high quality of fit and finish in the engine bay due to Maybach’s involvement in aero engine manufacture. The interiors of the finely coachbuilt bodies which adorned these chassis featured simple, elegant wood trim, and elegantly placed switchgear and instruments in the dashboard.

Equipped with a 3,790-cubic centimeter inline six-cylinder motor, the horsepower output of 140 was impressive compared to the 120 horsepower produced by the contemporaneous 5-liter, eight-cylinder Horch 853A and the 115 horsepower produced by the 5.4-liter, eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz without the blower engaged.

The Maybach powerplant was mated to a DSG manual transmission with four speeds controlled from a preselector in the center of the steering wheel, with a floor-mounted shifter for selection of low, high, and reverse gears; this arrangement allows for a total of eight forward speeds and four in reverse. The resulting elegant combination of form and function was an automobile of wonderful quality and high style, deserving of its vast cost and regal attitude.

Typical of German luxury cars of this era, the Maybach had quality engineering and size, but the coachwork, the majority of which was produced by Spohn Karrosserie, was rarely truly sporting. One exception for the Ravensburg coachbuilder was its handsome roadster, built on the shorter of the two available SW38 chassis, and which was Maybach’s equivalent to the Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial-Roadster of the same period. A large two-passenger automobile with balanced proportions front to rear, it featured long front fenders with integrated running boards, flowing gracefully back into the rear fenders. Its lines are further lightened by a “comet-tail” chrome spear on the body sides, a rear-mounted spare, and gentle scalloping in the rear section of the body, which eased the transition downward to the fenders. Unlike most German convertibles, which featured cabriolet tops that formed a high “stack” when folded, the Spohn Roadster concealed the top below a metal clamshell-style tonneau, further smoothing the lines of the coachwork.

According to Michael Graff Wolff Metternich’s Maybach Register, SW38 chassis number 2055 was originally delivered to Erich Tghart, a well-known art collector and General Director of Hoechst A.G., a heavy equipment manufacturing firm in Dortmund, Germany. The Register further notes that the car was ordered as a short-chassis four-door, 4/5 passenger convertible. Given the known provenance of this car, it is likely that Tghart changed his order after it was initially recorded, or as Metternich acknowledges in the Register, it is possible that a new body was fitted when the car was a year or two old. Most importantly, a photograph on file from the early 1960s shows chassis 2055 in unrestored condition with a black body, grey fenders, and a grey top. This photograph, as well as the presence of the body number 2278 stamped on the original wooden door sills and floorboards, verifies the authenticity of this roadster.