19-20 August 2011
1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Spezial Roadster by Sindelfingen
- Chassis no. 154140
- Engine no. 154140
- Body no. 200325
Sold for $9,680,000
-Offered from the Collection of Sam & Emily Mann
- 540 K Spezial Roadster in its most desirable form with LHD, covered spare, long tail and high doors
- Award-winning restoration by marque specialists
- Recent inspection by experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany
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 amongst its owners; just 419 chassis were built, and of those, only 25 carried the superlative long tail Spezial Roadster coachwork that may well have been the high point of the coachbuilder’s art at Mercedes-Benz’s own “Sonderwagenbau” in Sindelfingen.
Mercedes-Benz always commanded a place as the premier supplier of fine motor cars to the political, artistic and commercial elite of the day. The 540 K was no exception, representing a highlight of German motor vehicle development before World War II. The broad array of models in all market segments helped Mercedes-Benz survive the worst days of the Great Depression, with production growing from only 6,000 cars in 1932 to over 15,000 in 1935.
Yet, while Mercedes-Benz maintained its factories and employment with small and medium-sized cars, it catered to the market’s most demanding clientele with a limited offering of the finest motor cars ever built. Based on a strong and rigid chassis, these pioneering automobiles introduced coil spring four-wheel independent suspension using parallel wishbones at the front and swing axles at the rear. These massive and high speed automobiles were designed from a clean sheet of paper, sharing little with the marque’s predecessors, except for one visceral attribute: each was fitted with Mercedes-Benz’s driver-controlled supercharger that boosted engine output by about 60% in short, full power bursts.
The series began with the Mercedes-Benz 380, introduced at the Berlin Motor Show in 1933 and produced only for two years, 1933-34, before being phased out in favor of the much more powerful 500 K in 1934. The 500 K, in turn, was succeeded during 1936 by one of the ultimate motor cars of the thirties, the Mercedes-Benz 540 K. Offering more power than its predecessor, the 540 K was capable of all-day, high speed touring while carrying elaborate and extremely comfortable coachwork. Such capabilities were not inexpensive, and as a result, the 380, 500 K and 540 K accounted for an average of less than one percent of production.
The ultimate Mercedes-Benz 540 K was the Spezial Roadster. Exceptional at the time, the 540 K Spezial Roadster has subsequently firmly established itself at the pinnacle of classic cars. Priced at 28,000 Reichsmark (about US$12,000 in Germany at the prevailing exchange rate). The New York importer asked $14,000 landed in the US – about 40% more than the most expensive catalog-bodied Cadillac V-16.
Remarkably, the Spezial Roadster effectively accommodates only two passengers. Yet, the Sindelfingen designers have 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 540 K Spezial 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.
Of the 25 540 K Spezial Roadsters, only a limited few were created in the long tail style with a cover over the single spare tire recessed into the rear deck, one of which is the car offered here.
Chassis no. 154140
This spectacular Spezial Roadster was ordered new by the factory branch in Buenos Aires for S. Mastro & Cia Aguirre of Buenos Aires, Argentina, owners of a prestigious clothing store, on January 5th, 1937. This fact is confirmed by a copy of the original build sheet. Prior to its delivery to Argentina on June 29th, however, the car was first sent to Zurich and then Vienna by rail. According to Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany, it is likely that these cars were on display in Switzerland and Austria’s Mercedes-Benz agencies or perhaps even the cities’ respective car shows. Regardless of its intended purpose, this was the finest in Mercedes engineering and coachwork and worthy of being transported for display around Europe.
According to noted expert Rolf Wagner, a subsequent owner in Argentina was Jose M. Ahumada. The car remained in Argentina for many years, into the 1960s, until it was discovered by Bob Morgan of New York and exported to the United States, where it was owned by well known collectors and dealers, including Rolls-Royce collector Millard Newman, M.H. “Tiny” Gould and Dr. Don Vesley.
During his ownership, Vesley began a restoration before selling the car to Kerry Manolas of Australia in 1980. The car remained in Australia for several years until it went to Germany and was acquired by Axel Schuette, who commissioned the start of a proper, complete restoration and engaged marque specialist Rolf Wagner to conduct a rebuild of the car’s original motor, 154140.
Sam and Emily Mann
Sam and Emily Mann had always wanted a 540 K Spezial Roadster. As owners of some of the finest coachbuilt American and European prewar cars and, at last count, four-time Best of Show-winners at both the prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance and Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, it was only fitting that a supercharged, eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz be added to their collection.
As such, Mr. and Mrs. Mann sent noted American restorer Paul Russell over to Germany to inspect this car. His positive report, which confirmed the car’s originality, convinced them to buy the car.
Following acquisition in 1998, a collaborative effort in the United States completed the car’s restoration. This work was done by two of the finest restoration shops in the United States – Stone Barn Restorations in New Jersey and Mann’s own in-house team, which was responsible for all his Best of Show awards to that point. Stone Barn ensured the running and driving chassis was completed to a show-quality standard, while the Mann team painted the body, assembled the chrome trim, completed the luxurious interior and finished final assembly.
The result was nothing short of spectacular. It has been maintained ever since in the Mann’s private, climate-controlled collection and serviced by his on-site team while being driven sparingly. The car presents beautifully, from the flowing fenders to the lovely interior and stunning dashboard. Just last year, the car was honored with the Best of Show award and “Best Mercedes” at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance – a testament to the quality of restoration and preservation, which was first honored by First in Class and “Best Mercedes” at Pebble Beach in 2004, following completion. Most recently, it was featured at the gala opening of Mercedes-Benz’s newest, 330,000-square foot corporate dealership in Manhattan, where it was photographed with celebrities and Mercedes executives alike.
In preparation for this car’s offering at Monterey, two veteran experts from Mercedes-Benz Classic Germany in Stuttgart personally visited the car at the Mann Collection. Following this inspection, they were able to conclude that in their expert opinion, the car’s engine is original to the chassis, as both are correctly stamped 154140, as is visible in the adjoining photographs. The transmission number indicates that it is not original to this car but is of the correct type.
Few of the Spezial Roadsters were built in this most desirable configuration: the high door, long tail, covered rear spare cars with factory left-hand drive. It is believed only three are known to exist, and its absolute rarity must be considered in league with the Bugatti T57SC Atlantic – an extraordinarily desirable motor car in its own right. Such cars rarely, if ever, come to market, much less publicly. As such, 154140’s offering at auction 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.
Its meticulous restoration will give its new owner the complete experience of driving a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K with the most desirable and attractive coachwork ever created for this chassis – perhaps for any chassis in history. Its condition is impeccable, its style grand, its presence magnificent and its provenance pristine. Quite simply, this is automotive artwork at its finest.
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