<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371

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Lot 126
The 1973 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Best of Show Winner
1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A
Coachwork by Sindelfingen

Refer to department for estimate
1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A
Coachwork by Sindelfingen

Chassis no. 408371
Engine no. 10124019.10.408371

5,401cc OHV Inline 8-cylinder Engine
Rootes Supercharger
180bhp at 3400rpm (Supercharger Engaged)
5-Speed Manual Transmission
4-Wheel Independent Suspension
4-Wheel Drum Brakes

*The 1973 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance Best of Show Winner
*Formerly part of prominent collections including Melton, Chandler, Wars and Lyon
*Unique coachwork features including raked and 'vee'd windscreen'
*One of the great automobiles of its day



THE 1930s KOMPRESSOR MERCEDES-BENZ

Together with its predecessor the 500K, the magnificent Mercedes-Benz 540K was arguably the most noteworthy production model offered by the Stuttgart firm during the 1930s, representing the pinnacle of its pre-war achievements. 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 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 540K 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.' In May 1938, the 540 K was tested by UK 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. '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 540K 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. Since the dawn of car collecting, the rarity, style and performance of these big supercharged Mercedes have made them among the most sought-after 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 clientele around the globe. According to Mercedes-Benz factory records, the magnificent 540K offered here, chassis and engine number 408371, were delivered as a left-hand drive car under commission number 311463 to a client in Paris on April 29, 1939. The bodywork is recorded by the factory as a Cabriolet A, which indeed was at the top of the Sindelfingen coachwork lineup of the time. However, 408371 was not to be a 'standard' Cabriolet A, but was ordered with a raked vee'd windshield, a feature found on the iconic Special Roadsters of the period, which emphasizes both the length of the front end and the powerful thrust of the front fenders. Only one similar example of such a Special Cabriolet, produced on the earlier 5.0-Liter 500K platform, is known to exist. The cockpit offers luxurious seating for two additional passengers behind the front seats, and a 3-piece fitted luggage is situated in the trunk. Having been completed near the end and fully developed production run of the 500/540K production run, this car is fitted with the desirable 5-speed manual transmission, an astonishing feature at the time when most cars on the road were 3-speed.

540K Special Cabriolet A number 408371 would make its way to the US after WW2, where the term 'car collecting' started to become known, as individuals understood the importance of automobiles of significance. Its earliest known post-war owner was American operatic tenor James Melton, probably one of the best-known American car collectors of the time. Mr. Melton appears to have used his 540K quite extensively for much of the rest of his life. He and 540K number 408371 were photographed together many times, including at Indianapolis in 1947, at Watkins Glen in 1949, and in front of the Melton household in Weston, Connecticut. In his 1954 autobiography, Bright Wheels Rolling, he wrote of the fun that he had with his supercharged Beast: 'Most superchargers draw from the carburetor, but the Mercedes type blew through the carburetor. The whistle of the compressed air going past the obstructions and turnings of the carburetor made a noise that would lift the wig off a dressmaker's dummy'. Surely a cornerstone and favorite of Mr. Melton's collection, as even when he began selling his collection in the 1950s, 540K 408371 would be retained. Only shortly before his passing in 1961 was it sold, as one of the final cars in his stable.

About a decade later, 408371 was purchased by Otis Chandler, another renowned pioneering car collector. The latest family member to publish the Los Angeles Times, Chandler is well remembered by his many friends in the car collecting hobby as a good-natured, conscientious enthusiast of superb integrity, known for purchasing only the finest examples for his diverse and superb collection. The 540K was restored for Chandler by renowned restorer Richard Martin in time for the 1973 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Finished in a striking two-tone green livery, it was shown by Marilyn B. Chandler along with the couple's Duesenberg Model J Tourster. Not surprisingly, the 540K won its class and went on to win the prestigious Best of Show award.

540K number 408371 was later purchased by Tom Barrett for his client, Axel Wars, a Mexican enthusiast at the time amassing one an incredible collection of pre-war automobiles. When the Wars collection was dispersed in the early 1980s, the Special Cabriolet A was purchased by General William Lyon, and formed part of one of the most prominent collections of Kompressor Mercedes-Benz motorcars ever assembled. It remained in General Lyon's famous stable for nearly a decade, meriting an appearance in the pages of Beverly Rae Kimes' 1990 book The Classic Car.

In the early 1990s, 540K number 408371 was restored again by the late Mike Fennel of Saugas, California, during which time it was changed to the present livery of bright scarlet, with tan leather upholstery and a tan padded cloth top. It then joined its present owner's collection, where it has now been maintained for over two decades. With its exceptional pedigree of previous and current prominent car collector owners, 408371 can rightfully be considered one of the superlative 540Ks. It has all that all the ingredients a collector car should have in spades: stunning and quite unique coachwork design, superb engineering, and Best of Show winning history.

Footnotes

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Contacts
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
<b>1939 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Cabriolet A  </b><br />Chassis no. 408371 <br />Engine no. 10124019.10.408371
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