Mercedes Benz 540K’s are some of the most-collectible cars in history. They are one of the few non-Ferrari marques to clear the $10-million hurdle nearly every time they come up for auction air.
This example will be one of the all-time greats for RM Sotheby’s.
A long-tail, high-door configuration with left-hand-drive and virtually no miles…. the car is a dream in red silk.
What will really seal the obscene price estimates for this car? Its condition and originality. Not a re-do — this is the original item. Proof is just the 7k total miles ever travelled in this straight-eight stunner.
1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special
28-29 January 2016
1937 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster by Sindelfingen
- Chassis no. 130894
- Engine no. 130894
- Body no. 200335
$10,000,000 – $13,000,000
To be auctioned on Friday, January 29, 2016
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.