Arizona

28-29 January 2016

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Lot 242

1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster by Sindelfingen

  • Chassis no. 130894
  • Engine no. 130894
  • Body no. 200335

Sold for $9,900,000


115/180 hp, 5,401 cc OHV inline eight-cylinder engine with driver-activated Roots-type supercharger and two-barrel updraft pressurized carburetor, four-speed manual transmission with synchromesh on third and a dog clutch on fourth, independent wishbone coil front suspension, independent swing-arm rear suspension, and four-wheel servo-assisted hydraulic drum brakes. Wheelbase: 128 in.

  • An original U.S.-delivery example, with known history since new
  • The most desirable “longtail,” “high door,” left-hand-drive configuration; as original
  • Believed to have traveled only 10,277 miles from new
  • One of a handful of known pre-production examples of the 540 K
  • An elite landmark, offered for sale for the first time in decades


The Mercedes-Benz 540 K was one of the most prestigious and, in the eyes of many, the most beautiful automobile of the interwar years. Its combination of power, light weight, and sheer beauty made it the master of the road, and it was a testimonial to the astonishing capabilities of the German automotive engineers of the day. It was also breathtakingly expensive, guaranteeing exclusivity among its owners; just 419 chassis were built, and of those, only a handful carried the superlative longtail Spezial Roadster coachwork that may well have been the high point of the coachbuilder’s art at Mercedes-Benz’s own Sonderwagenbau in Sindelfingen.

The Special Roadster is the ultimate Mercedes-Benz 540 K. Remarkably, it effectively accommodates only two passengers. Yet, the Sindelfingen designers succeeded in designing a car that looks much smaller and lighter than it is. The gently sloping and instantly recognizable Mercedes-Benz radiator is tucked back at the front wheels’ centerline behind sweeping front fenders. The fenders then dominate the long hood before gently curving up to create the rear fenders, which in turn flow delicately down, wrapping into the tail. Subtle bright accents complement and outline the form of the body elements, punctuated by functional and styling details that draw the eye and mitigate the effect of the roadster’s size. Two massive exhaust pipes emerge from the hood’s right side and disappear into the fender, suggesting the power that lurks inside.

Exceptionally priced at 28,000 Reichsmark, or about $12,000 US at the prevailing exchange rate, the Special Roadster was priced by New York importer Mitropa Motors at about $14,000 landed in the United States—about 40 percent more than the most expensive catalogue-bodied Cadillac V-16. As a result, only a mere handful of supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz automobiles sold in the United States were Special Roadsters. Among them is the exceptional automobile offered here.

REGINALD SINCLAIRE AND HIS 540 K

Chassis number 130894 is one of the earliest known examples of the 540 K known to exist. Jan Melin notes in the first volume of Mercedes-Benz: The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars of the 1930s that the factory recorded cars up to chassis number 130900 as 500 Ks, with 13 examples having the 5.4-liter motor and being, in effect, pre-production 540 Ks. The possibility of 130894 having special status or being used for display purposes while still in the hands of the factory, like other closely numbered Special Coupes and Roadsters, is still being explored at the time of publication. It was subsequently delivered through Mitropa Motors, the aforementioned U.S. distributor, in New York City on April 24, 1937.

The original owner of the car has long been believed to have been Reginald Sinclaire of Larkspur, Colorado. The Sinclaire name is one known in many circles. He was born in Corning, New York, the heir of Henry Purdon Sinclaire, one of the founders of Corning Glass. Prior to U.S. involvement in the First World War, Reginald Sinclaire became a member of the famous Lafayette Flying Corps, a group of American volunteers who flew in the French Air Force. He relocated to the Colorado Springs area in 1921 and, with the exception of further service in the U.S. Navy during World War II, remained on his beloved Larkspur Ranch for the rest of his life.

The 540 K Special Roadster was not the first or last great automobile that Sinclaire owned. A man of means and with a keen interest in automobiles at a unique time in history, he is very similar to his East Coast contemporary in New York, William A.M. Burden, in having owned important luxury automobiles both before and after the Second World War. Among the cars that were counted in the Sinclaire stable were a 540 K Cabriolet B and a Duesenberg Model SJ. According to recent conversations with two of his grandchildren, he continued to indulge himself in the best new cars in the post-war era; they distinctly recall several Mercedes-Benzes remaining on hand, including a 300 SL Gullwing. He also enjoyed a Maserati, an Aston Martin DB4, and a Bentley S3 Continental.

The Sinclaire grandchildren note that many of their grandfather’s cars were kept in a large garage at the ranch. Others were maintained at the Broadmoor, a luxury hotel and resort in Colorado Springs. For seven decades, the Broadmoor had a garage where its affluent clientele would have their cars stored and serviced. The hotel also stabled polo ponies for many of those same patrons. A recent conversation with the Broadmoor’s archivist confirmed that Reginald Sinclaire was a familiar name; he stabled both cars and ponies there and was a close friend of the Broadmoor’s colorful owner, Spencer Penrose.

Reference to Sinclaire’s pair of 540 Ks appears in the June 1948 issue of the Horseless Carriage Club of America Gazette, as part of a mention of notable old cars in Colorado: “Robert Donner of Colorado Springs has a Duesenberg; so does Reginald Sinclaire of Colorado Springs, and two Mercedes-Benz cars to boot.” A photo of Sinclaire with the Cabriolet B while on a hunting trip appears in Life magazine in 1949. It is likely that he kept the Cabriolet B and Special Roadster until the mid- to late-1950s, around the same time that he is known to have sold the Duesenberg.

A CENTERPIECE OF GREAT COLLECTIONS

In 1957, the Special Roadster appeared at an exhibition of antique automobiles, “Horseless Carriage Days,” held at the Denver Art Museum, as is also documented in the HCCA Gazette. It was shown by James S. Harrison, of 1 Cheyenne Mountain Boulevard in the affluent Broadmoor neighborhood, who was vice president of Import Motors, a dealership that specialized in new foreign cars. It is likely, given his address and profession, that Harrison would have known Sinclaire and purchased this car directly from him, some time prior to display in Denver.

Later in the 1950s, the Mercedes-Benz came into the ownership of E.W. Price, a great enthusiast in Boulder, Colorado, who counted two Duesenbergs, an Auburn, and a Cord among his fine collection. However, his daughter Layne recalls that the 540 K was his special pride and joy. It was sold around 1962 when Mrs. Price lobbied for their three daughters to attend private school. The purchaser was Irving Tushinsky of Sun Valley, California, passing next to his good friend Thomas Barrett III, the well-known antique automobile dealer.

Barrett in turn sold the Special Roadster to his greatest client of the era, Axel Wars, as part of what became a magnificent collection of important pre-war automobiles, believed to have numbered over 100 specimens. At the time of the Wars Collection’s dispersal in the mid-1980s, the 540 K’s next owner commissioned the well-known Mike Fennel of Saugas, California, to restore the car in its current livery.

The Sinclaire 540 K Special Roadster has been maintained in the collection of its current owner since 1989. It presents in wonderful condition, with the odometer displaying a mere 10,277, a figure that is believed to be original. The car retains all its original drivetrain components, including engine number 130894, and a recent inspection by an RM Sotheby’s specialist indicated numerous original wood components bearing the body number 200335. The typenschild on the firewall, bearing the chassis number and order number of 218872, is also the original plate installed by the factory in 1937!

SUMMARY OF A LEGEND

Few of the Special Roadsters were built in this most desirable configuration, with high doors, a long tail, and factory left-hand drive. It is believed that only six left-hand-drive longtail roadsters exist today. These cars are held in esteemed collections as centerpieces and seldom ever come to market. When they do, they are even less frequently truly great cars that have led relatively obscure lives, such as the Sinclaire Special Roadster.

The offering of chassis 130894, after 26 years in the same stable, is sure to garner tremendous interest from the world’s most discerning Mercedes-Benz collectors, who recognize this as an automobile of unparalleled elegance and uniqueness, as well as one that will afford them an opportunity for display at any of the most prestigious motoring events around the world. It is many things, among them the finest design of Sindelfingen, the finest factory coachbuilder of them all. It is also an important historical artifact of the West, as the pride and joy of one of the most significant and fascinating automotive enthusiasts—the airplane-flying, cattle-ranching, supercharged-eight-loving socialite Reginald Sinclaire.

Special is, quite simply, an understatement.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alain Squindo


Detroit, Michigan

Alain Squindo joined RM Auctions in 2007, after graduating from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., with a degree in History. R... read more

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby's in 2011 as a car specialist, after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born ... read more

Annette Abaci

aabaci@rmsothebys.com

+49 (0) 40 441 95 737
Germany

With post-secondary degrees in Economic Science and Mechanical Engineering, Annette Abaci initially worked part-time at Mercedes-Benz ... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a senior car specialist, after more than a decade in the collector car hobby... read more

Barney Ruprecht

BRuprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Barney Ruprecht graduated from Boston University in 2013 with a degree in Hospitality Administration. In ... read more

Dan Warrener

dwarrener@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Possessing a degree in Economics from Brandon University, Dan Warrener spent the initial stages of his career working around the globe... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a car specialist in May 2015. He is a lifelong automobile enthusiast and g... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don Rose joined RM Auctions in 2006, after many years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputatio... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord joined RM Sotheby's in 1998, initially responsible for the transportation and logistics of the company’s auction and re... read more

Ian Kelleher

ikelleher@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
New York, United States

Ian Kelleher began his automotive career immediately following his graduation from Oberlin College, with a B.A. in Politica... read more

Jack Boxstrom

jboxstrom@rmsothebys.com

+1 818 703 2816
Ontario, Canada

Jack Boxstrom joined RM Sotheby's in late-1996 to assist with the recently acquired, and subsequently record-breaking, auction in ... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 917 213 5672
Ontario, Canada

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Jonathan Sierakowski

JSierakowski@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Jonathan Sierakowski developed a passion for classic cars while working at a restoration shop as a teenag... read more

Kurt Forry

+1 260 927 9797
Indiana, United States

Kurt Forry joins Auctions America with more than a decade of experience on the North American auction scene and a well-rounded knowled... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby's, Mike Fairbairn has a longstanding interest in the classic car industry. Gra... read more

Pete Fisher

PFisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his ho... read more

Peter Wallman

pwallman@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Peter Wallman joined RM Europe in 2007, following nearly two decades in the international advertising industry, read more

Rob Myers

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As chairman and founder of the RM Group of Companies, Rob Myers’s entire career has been devoted to the classic car industry. Ro... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

TVanderVelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
Netherlands

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a car specialist. A... read more