The 1930s were a tumultuous time for many of the world’s premier automakers. Even as an economic depression swept over much of the global economy, Packard, Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Duesenberg, and many others continued rolling out increasingly glamorous, sophisticated, and costly automobiles. Mercedes-Benz carried the pride of Germany with their magnificent eight-cylinder supercharged models, starting with the 380 of 1933. Nearly as soon as the 380 hit the market, engineers in Stuttgart set about developing a replacement, as they felt the 3.8-liter engine was not up to the performance standard they were after. They swiftly introduced the mighty 5-liter, 160-horsepower 500 K. The ultimate evolution of the series arrived in late 1936 with the 180-horsepower, 5.4-liter 540 K. The 500 K and 540 K are among the most coveted of all 30’s motor cars, offering an abundance of breathtaking performance, exquisite quality, and impeccable style.
Customer demand for Mercedes’ flagship was sufficient to warrant 342 500 K chassis and another 419 540 Ks. While a handful of outside coachbuilders had a go at the Mercedes chassis, the vast majority of these cars were bodied at the Mercedes-owned Sindelfingen body works, a facility renowned for impeccable build quality and excellence in design. Sindelfingen’s catalogue offered a variety of body styles to suit a demanding and sophisticated clientele, and the experienced coachbuilder readily accommodated personal requests, ensuring exclusivity for their customers.
Chassis 189391 is a desirable third-series car, fitted from new with Sindelfingen’s elegant and desirable Cabriolet A coachwork, originally delivered without side-mounted spares. According to the Daimler-Benz Kommission sheet, the order for this car came via the British Mercedes-Benz distributor in London. The original owner, Mr. Manson, appears to have taken delivery in Paris, though the car was registered in the UK as FLC 217, and it mercifully remained in England for the duration of the war, undoubtedly ensuring its survival. In 1951, the great British actor, writer, filmmaker, and raconteur Sir Peter Ustinov acquired 189391. Ustinov was an enthusiastic and discerning petrolhead, having owned many significant sporting automobiles throughout his career, including a Mercedes S36/220, a Hispano Suiza, and numerous post-war Astons, Lagondas, and Maseratis. Sir Peter kept this 540 K for only a short period, selling it in 1953, likely via the dealer Simmons of Mayfair, which advertised the car around this time in Motor Sport magazine.
In July 1953, the 540 K came stateside via pioneering American collector Ralph Buckley of Absecon, New Jersey. Buckley was well known in the hobby as an expert on Mercer T-Head automobiles and was a friend of seminal motoring book author Ralph Stein. From Mr. Buckley, 189391 went to John R. Bond, beloved Road & Track magazine publisher and a prominent character in the American motoring press. John was a sharp-witted writer, and together with his business-savvy wife Elaine, the Bonds maintained a carefully selected collection of cars in their California home. In 1977, John Bond met Jim Wilson of Hermosa Beach, California, who, upon seeing the 540 K for the first time at Bond’s house, was instantly smitten. He soon arranged to buy it and later recalled it was a complete, highly original car showing no signs of a restoration aside from an earlier repaint.
In Mr. Wilson’s care, the 540 K was treated to a comprehensive nut and bolt mechanical and cosmetic restoration to show-quality standards. After five years, the Wilsons exhibited the freshly restored 540 K at the 1983 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, taking a well-deserved 3rd in class. After a few years, the Wilsons sold the 540 K to Manfredo Lippmann of Guatemala, an avid collector of supercharged pre-war Mercedes-Benz automobiles. It eventually came to join a US-based collection, where it was displayed alongside several other significant Mercedes and classic-era cars.
As offered today, 189391 is well-presented with a preserved restoration and pleasing overall character. Finished in a lovely shade of claret and accented with chrome wire wheels and a recently restored black canvas top, the restoration remains appealing and attractive, with a light patina. During its life, someone modified the original skirted front fenders to accommodate dual side-mounted spare wheels. The rounded tail gives the car a decidedly sporting appearance, befitting the powerful 5.4-liter supercharged eight under the long bonnet. Marque experts have noted that 189391 retains original details, such as the body number suffix “205” stamped into the bonnet hinge, and have stated that the chassis and engine number stampings are original and correspond with production records. It would undoubtedly make a most enjoyable and exciting 540 K to drive and enjoy following some servicing.
The 540K stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the most coveted collectible automobiles in the world, and no prestigious collection is complete without a supercharged pre-war Mercedes-Benz. After many years in a private collection, this lovely example is now ready for a new custodian to carry on its fascinating legacy.
Offers welcome and trades considered
Stock number 7375
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