Aktion P: The Survival of a Mercedes-Benz from WWII

Giancarlo Perlas October 31, 2022
Cover artwork for Aktion P (chassis #408377) project.

The discovery of the 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Aktion P (chassis # 408377) from WWII is straight out of Indiana Jones lore. A mere 419 samples of the 540K chassis were built by Daimler AG (Now called the Mercedes-Benz Group AG), and only 20 of those were Aktion P models with all but one having been lost to history.

John O’Leary presenting his research on Aktion P (chassis #408377) in 2018 at the Second International Driver History Conference in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Some consider the 540K a masterpiece of the coachbuilder and the high point of Mercedes-Benz’s own ‘Special Vehicle Production Unit’. Mercedes-Benz 540K cars are held in esteemed collections as centerpieces and rarely come to market. Whenever they do come up for auction, they are unlikely to have led as mysterious a life as the Aktion P.

Richard Reuter removing Aktion P (chassis #408377) from the Barn in Estonia.

During the summer of 1992, Richard Reuter (3rd generation automobile restorer and President of Reuter’s Coach Works) received a call from a woman in Oklahoma with a lead about a unique automobile from WWII. After verifying the information, three Americans- Richard Reuter, Dick Fritz, and Ben Blake went on the adventure of a lifetime, but until now, the epic ‘barn find’ story of the hunt for Aktion P has never been fully documented.

Robert Reuter walks around Aktion P (chassis #408377) during restoration at Reuter’s Coach Works in Danbury, Connecticut.

“There was a moment – the moment we flew out with the Aktion P safely loaded – that made the whole thing worth it to me. It was just an incredible adventure,” stated Richard Reuter. “We would never be able to get the Aktion P out of Estonia and back to the United States today,” he added.

View of Reuter’s Coach Works in Danbury, Connecticut where expert restoration of Aktion P (chassis #408377) began.

John O’Leary was first introduced to the Aktion P saga by his father-in-law Richard Reuter. O’Leary has spent more than a decade researching this unique automobile from WWII.

As archivist for the Reuter’s Coach Works Archive, O’Leary has cataloged the original Daimler AG paperwork (Kommissionbuch entry, order number, and invoice) as well as receipts, videotapes, photo negatives, and other items that chronicle the origins, survival, and discovery of the 1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Aktion P (chassis # 408377).

About Author

Giancarlo Perlas

Giancarlo is an economist by profession with a career spanning nearly two decades. His professional journey has seen him assume vital roles in various government and private organizations. Alongside his civic and corporate pursuits though is his love for cars, particularly those made by Mercedes-Benz. In 2012, he found himself with like-minded individuals within BenzInsider. From then on, he used the platform as a way to share his passion with the automotive community. Follow his Facebook page at, X (formerly Twitter) @giancarloperlas, and IG @benzinsider. View all posts by Giancarlo Perlas →

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