<b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080
Lot 74
1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster
Coachwork by Mayfair
Sold for US$ 3,277,500 inc. premium

Lot Details
<b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis no. 154080<br />Engine no. 154080 <b>1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster</b><br />Chassis 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Ex-General William Lyon and Imperial Palace Collections
1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Sports Roadster
Coachwork by Mayfair

Chassis no. 154080
Engine no. 154080

5,401cc OHV Inline 8-cylinder Engine with Roots Supercharger
180bhp at 3400rpm With Blower Engaged
4-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Drum Brakes

*A unique automobile, the 'Mayfair 540K'
*Prominently featured in Jan Melin's 'The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars'
*Unseen at public Concours events for more than a decade
*Long term American history


THE MERCEDES-BENZ 540K

The magnificent Mercedes-Benz 540K represented the pinnacle of the pre-war achievements by the Stuttgart firm during the 1930s. A development of the 500K, whose independently suspended chassis it shared, the 540K was powered by a 5.4-litre supercharged straight-eight engine. The 540K was one of the first models developed under Mercedes' new chief engineer, ex-racing driver Max Sailer, successor to Hans Nibel, who had died in November 1934 aged only 54. Mercedes-Benz's new flagship model, it featured the company's famous Roots-type supercharger system in which pressing the accelerator pedal to the end of its travel would simultaneously engage the compressor and close off the alternative atmospheric intake to the carburetor. This system had been thoroughly proven on the preceding series of Dr Ferdinand Porsche-conceived S cars that had dominated racing during the 1920s, and in effect the 540 K was the last supercharged production Mercedes until relatively recent times.

Presented at the Paris Salon in October 1936, the 540K was hailed by Mercedes-Benz as conjuring up 'visions of breath-taking exploits of racing cars and drivers of international fame, but also of superlative comfort and coachwork of exquisite beauty, fine paintwork, brightly polished metal, the finest hardwoods and leather - massive and yet outstandingly attractive bodies - in short: the car for the connoisseur.' It had an engine that developed 115PS un-supercharged or 180PS (178bhp) with the compressor engaged, while the gearbox was a four-speeder but with a direct top gear rather than the overdrive ratio used on the earlier 500K. With the supercharger engaged, the 540K's blown straight eight gave it a top speed approaching 110mph (177km/h. Servo-assisted hydraulic brakes provided adequate stopping power.

Tested by Britain's Motor magazine, the 540K was judged to have less heavy steering and handling than its predecessor, the 500K, plus a more comfortable ride, even though the same all-round independent suspension layout with parallel links and coil springs at the front and swing axles at the rear was retained. The Motor's test car returned 102mph over the timed quarter-mile with the supercharger engaged and 85mph with it disengaged. The servo-assisted brakes came in for fulsome praise, the blower was found to be relatively quiet and the springing more comfortable than that of the 500K, while the steering and handling also compared favorably with that model.

In May 1938, the 540K was tested by Motor's rival magazine Autocar and achieved the highest maximum speed of any road-test car up to that date: carrying three passengers, the car reached 104.65mph (168.5km/h) on the race circuit at Brooklands, Surrey.

'One's foot goes hard down, and an almost demonical howl comes in,' reported test driver H S Linfield. 'The rev counter and speedometer needles leap round their dials: there is perhaps no other car noise in the world so distinctive as that produced by the Mercedes supercharger.'

Late in 1938, a revised 540K made its appearance, with oval-section chassis tubes instead of channel frame members, while the adoption of sodium-cooled valves followed the company's highly successful racing practice. The manufacturing record of the 540 K reveals its exclusive nature: 97 being produced in 1936, 145 in 1937, 95 in 1938 and 69 in 1939 before the war ended series production (though three more were built up to July 1942). In recent years, the rarity, style and performance of these big supercharged Mercedes have made them one of the most sought-after of all classic cars on the few occasions they have come on the open market.

THE MOTORCAR OFFERED

Testament to the quality of the brand over other automobiles in the 1930s era, even as the decade progressed the unapproachable supercharged Mercedes-Benz remained extremely popular with their well-established British clientele. Numerous examples were delivered to the UK including this car.

Sources differ on the original order instructions for this car. A copy of the Mercedes build sheet shows order to Paris initially, and then transferal to British Mercedes-Benz Ltd. in London on March 3, 1937. While unquestionably it was eventually sent new to the U.K. One thought is that it was commissioned by noted UK agent of European makes, Charles Follett of Mayfair, for a French Racing driver. Another, more romantic view is that the car was one of a pair of cars, a Mercedes-Benz and a Lagonda, that were ordered by a youthful Eastern Prince. The tale goes that the Lagonda was finished first and so the Prince chose that car, leaving the Mercedes in the UK, or perhaps more credibly the Prince commissioned the cars through Follett, tying these two views together. Historian Jonathan Sierakowski who has assisted Bonhams with the research of the car believes that it is used to carry a Follett supply badge on its glovebox, from visual evidence and that perhaps, just perhaps, that the 'French racing driver' might have been Goffredo 'Freddy' Zehender, who was retained by Mercedes-Benz UK as their technical advisor and demonstration driver.

In any event, the most remarkable aspect is that it is understood that the car was delivered very much as it can be seen today, as a flamboyant rakish two-seater roadster echoing the famed SSK of Count Trossi, with fender skirts and a plethora of louvers. Importantly, it was one of the very rare examples to have been delivered with a 'zurtückgesetztem Motor' or set-back motor. This specification was reserved for the more sporting cars Mercedes built and enabled the coachbuilders to create cars with an altogether more aggressive and sporting stance, as evidenced here.

Its builder was the lesser known Mayfair Carriage Company Ltd., based in the locale of Follett in the Mayfair region of London. Founded as the "Progressive Carriage Company" in 1920, Mayfair is best known for its fine, high-quality coachwork. By 1929, the firm had changed its name to "Mayfair". One source states that "By the 1930s, (they) were responsible for creating some of the most luxurious and impressive coach bodies of their time." Nearly 400 Rolls-Royce chassis were clothed in Mayfair's coachwork, as were a few pre-war Bentleys, several open and closed Alvis Speed models, Lagondas, Armstrong-Siddeleys, at least one Sunbeam, a Buick, and we believe a pair of Mercedes-Benz, a 500K, chassis 123689, and this car.

After the war, the car was advertised by noted dealer J. Olding & Co. Ltd. in London, then later renowned Brooklands based dealers Thompson & Taylor. Its final UK ownership appears to have been with a John S. Truscott Ltd. again in London in 1955, at which point it was purchased by Peter Hessler of Canada.

Hessler brought the car home to Quebec City, Quebec, keeping it for a couple of years before it was sold to Gisbert von Bock, of Toronto, who would own it for most of the next decade. Von Bock sold the 540K to Paul Suckling in 1968. And so for the first 30 plus years of its life the car survived in this form, but very unfortunately tragedy struck in 1960, when while garaged in a car park and along with a Sunbeam of an earlier vintage both cars were the victims of an arson attack, it is said perpetrated by a jealous lover of the owner. Or as can sometimes be the case, the gentleman's love or time spent with his cars exceeding that of his partner! The Fire Department were called, but between the fire and their work to extinguish it, the resulting damage was considerable.

In fact, the Mercedes may well have been lost, had it not been for Richard C. Mertz and his son, who were charmed greatly by its design and encouraged by David Holls, a Senior Member of the Design Team at General Motors. After a long pitch of offers on the car, Mertz secured it and over the course of the next two decades, and his son Stephen were able to return this striking automobile to its former glory. What remained of the bodywork, served as templates for the wood frame, and the metalwork was replaced by a talented bunch of newly patriated British craftsmen at Alcraft of Madison Heights in Michigan. Luminaries in the American Mercedes world, such as Bud Cohn of Los Angeles were able to assist the Mertzes with lost parts, including a steering box and wheel. At the end of a long journey, Mertz was able to debut the car at what was then one of the highest profile Concours in the nation, at Meadowbrook Hall. A series of photos of the car taken then, resplendent in a two tone scheme of black over silver are depicted in numerous books, not least being prominently featured at the start of Jan Melin's second authoritative work Mercedes-Benz - The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars. Its history in this period is well charted with features in Torque magazine, copies of which are on file.

It is not surprising that this put the Mercedes on the radar of noted collector Ralph Engelstad of the Imperial Palace Collection, in Las Vegas who acquired the car in 1995 Shortly after this, it was acquired by him, and as was the fashion of the day it was refurbished with a repaint in the single red scheme it remains today. It remained at the Imperial Palace until 2002, when it passed to General William Lyon, who retained the car until 2007, when it was sold at public auction to the current owner, where it has resided in a distinguished private collection. In this custody, the car has been shown at Pebble Beach in 2011 as part of the 125 Year Celebration of Mercedes and Benz.

Even among its peers, such as the factory bodied Spezial Roadsters, 154080 is a car that stands out for its extraordinary and unique design, it will no doubt be welcomed back into Mercedes and Concours circles.
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