Though identity of bidder was a closely guarded secret, last weekend Gooding & Co., auctioned a 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster for $11,770,000. This special Mercedes 540 K Roadster made its way to Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday where the unidentified bidder picked up the vehicle.
The California auction of the 17 foot long car believed to be one of only 12 such vehicles in existence today at one time lay unattended and unwanted for decades in a barn in Connecticut. It was brought into the US by the family of German Baroness Gisela von Krieger post WWII where it lay in a barn for the past 30 odd years only to resurrect after the Baroness’ death in 1989 from where it has made its way to Pebble Beach auction.
Formerly the Property of Baroness Gisela von Krieger, the 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster Coachwork was undertaken by Sindelfingen. The baroness was never wiling to sell the car despite multiple offers from car cllectors over the decades, and left the vehicle without a will when she passed away in 1989.
Press information: 1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Special Roadster
COACHWORK BY SINDELFINGEN
CHASSIS NO. 130949
ENGINE NO. 130949
KOMMISSION NO. 221515
Estimate Available Upon Request
The Ultimate 540 K – A High-Door, Long-Tail Special Roadster
An Undisputed Masterwork of Automotive Art
Special-Ordered with Unique Custom Features
Captivating and Romantic History
Exceptionally Documented Provenance
Only Three Caretakers in 76 Years
Extremely Authentic Matching-Numbers Example
Pebble Beach Class-Winning Chris Charlton Restoration
Faithfully Presented in Original, As-Delivered Appearance
5,401 CC Type M24 OHV Inline 8-Cylinder Engine
Single Twin-Updraft Carburetor Roots-Type Twin-Lobe Supercharger
180 HP at 3,400 RPM (Supercharger Engaged)
4-Speed Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Vacuum-Assisted Hydraulic Drum Brakes
Independent Front Double-Wishbone Suspension with Coil Springs
Independent Rear Swing-Axle Suspension with Coil Springs
THE VON KRIEGER SPECIAL ROADSTER: 1936 MERCEDES-BENZ 540 K SPECIAL ROADSTER
The history of this exceptional Mercedes-Benz begins on April 10, 1936, when Josephine von Krieger placed an order for a Special Roadster through the offcial Berlin concessionaire. Although Frau von Krieger would have surely enjoyed the use of a sporting 540 K, the car was in fact intended as a rather generous graduation present for her 19-year-old son Henning.
On May 9, 1936, Daimler-Benz AG addressed a letter to Frau von Krieger at Berlin-Wilmersdorf, Nikolsburger Platz 3 acknowledging receipt of her order and the agreed-upon purchase price of RM 28.000.
According to factory records, the von Krieger Special Roadster, chassis 130949, was originally ordered as a 500 K. However, by the time the order was processed and construction begun, 540 K production was already underway. As evidenced by its chassis and associated production numbers, this Special Roadster is among the frst ffty 540 Ks built.
On August 15, 1936, Henning von Krieger collected his brand-new 540 K Special Roadster at the Berlin agency – operated by famed Mercedes-Benz team driver Rudolph Caracciola – and settled the remaining balance.
To satisfy the von Kriegers’ refned sensibilities and desire for
exclusivity, the Special Roadster was fnished entirely in black with pigskin upholstery and specifed with several unique and noteworthy features. Most signifcantly, the Mercedes-Benz was equipped with an ultramodern Telefunken radio that featured stations marked by European cities and emitted a distinctive blue light when in use. An extremely rare and unusual accessory at the time, this feature alone commanded an astounding price tag of RM 1.045.
In addition to the state-of-the-art radio, bespoke interior features included a tasteful full-leather dashboard rather than the standard and somewhat garish mother-of-pearl treatment and a beautifully integrated burl wood writing table, which neatly stowed beneath the passenger glove compartment.
As the Special Roadster was primarily intended for use in Paris, where the von Kriegers were then residing, the Bosch headlamps were equipped with distinctive fat lenses – in lieu of the typical convex lenses – as these were more compatible with the yellow light bulbs required by French regulations.
A fnal and signifcant addition to the Special Roadster was the application of the von Krieger family crest to the driver door, just above the chrome beltline. Painted by hand, the crest is comprised of a classic four- quadrant shield, topped by a marvelous jewel-studded crown.
Between 1936 and 1939, the magnifcent Special Roadster must have caused quite a stir on the boulevards of Paris with its gleaming streaks of chrome brightwork, extravagant proportions and stylish, youthful passengers. One can easily imagine the von Kriegers enjoying their supercharged Mercedes-Benz, arriving at the exclusive Hôtel Meurice or traversing country roads en route to a preferred destination in the South of France.
At the outbreak of World War II, Henning von Krieger returned to Germany and entrusted his beloved Special Roadster to the Mercedes- Benz factory for service and repairs to the front passenger-side fender.
In May 1942, soon after Gisela and Josephine von Krieger had taken up residence at a Swiss resort, Mercedes-Benz contacted Henning to settle his bill and arrange for the delivery of the 540 K. At Henning’s request, the Mercedes-Benz was transported by rail to Switzerland and collected by Josephine and Gisela. Throughout the remainder of the war, Gisela von Krieger assumed use of the Special Roadster, which undoubtedly served as a comforting reminder of more carefree times.
Following Henning’s safe arrival in Switzerland, the Special Roadster remained the von Kriegers’ preferred mode of transportation, and when they left for the United States in March 1949, the prized Mercedes-Benz accompanied the family on their transatlantic voyage aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth.
As it had done in Paris, the black Special Roadster made a dramatic splash upon its arrival in New York City. Although the baroness possessed the means to acquire any new car of her choosing, she remained true to the Mercedes-Benz’ matchless qualities and unsurpassed beauty. With the 540 K representing her sole means of transportation, Gisela von Krieger ensured that the car was always kept in outstanding condition and had it regularly serviced by Zumbach’s, Manhattan’s famed foreign car garage.
??????Even when the baroness relocated to Connecticut, the aging Mercedes- Benz remained her faithful companion. In the mid-1950s, the Special Roadster was stored in the garage of the Greenwich Cab Co. at 81 Railroad Avenue before moving to the Homestead Inn, a landmark in the Belle Haven area of Greenwich.
When Gisela von Krieger departed for Switzerland in 1958, she left the Special Roadster in Greenwich, anticipating a return in due course. Sadly, this was not to be. Henning’s untimely death in 1959 represented a devastating loss for Gisela von Krieger and any plans for a return trip to the United States were abandoned. Gisela von Krieger’s Special Roadster was to become a distant, albeit signifcant possession – a poignant reminder of her past and her family.
Although Gisela von Krieger became increasingly reclusive following her brother’s death, her Special Roadster, secreted away in a Greenwich garage, continued to serve as her connection to the outside world.
By the mid-1960s, the Special Roadster had become a valuable, sought- after treasure for early car collectors. Just as in her heyday, Gisela von Krieger began receiving attention and correspondence from admirers. This time, however, the interest was directed not at the baroness, but rather toward her very special Mercedes-Benz.
Among the frst to discover the von Krieger Special Roadster was Daimler-Benz. In 1967, Gisela von Krieger visited the Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart to discuss her 540 K with museum directors.
In August 1967, a representative of Mercedes-Benz wrote to Gisela von Krieger thanking her for the recent visit. Most notably, the museum offered to send a representative of Mercedes-Benz of North America to inspect the car in the “garage outside of New York” and extended the baroness an offer of DM 15.000–20.000 for the Special Roadster, depending on its originality and condition. Mercedes-Benz concluded by saying that they would be pleased if a purchase could be negotiated and remarked that the Special Roadster would be a valuable addition to the museum.
Mercedes-Benz was not the only party interested in Gisela von Krieger’s Special Roadster.
In the 1970s, Mercedes-Benz enthusiast George Maley heard rumors of a 540 K stored in Greenwich and hired a private investigator to track down the car and its owner. After he discovered the car, and later Gisela von Krieger, he made seven trips to Switzerland over two decades in an attempt to buy the Special Roadster. Although the visits were friendly and informative, the baroness made it quite clear that the car was not for sale.
Another American gentleman, Harold C. Bott, pursued the 540 K from yet another vantage point. According to extensive correspondence between him and Gisela von Krieger – dating from July 1979 to December 1988 – Mr. Bott was an employee of the Homestead Inn who was paid to store and check on the Special Roadster for its distant owner. In a letter dated July 10, 1979, Gisela von Krieger wrote to Mr. Bott, “I am grateful and appreciative a lot that you keep an eye on the car.”
Careful not to disrupt the happy situation, Mr. Bott made few references to his personal interest in the car. Finally, in 1986, Mr. Bott wrote, “My son is an automobile enthusiast and has shown interest in buying your Mercedes car, should you decide to sell it some time in the future. Even though the car is in a deteriorating condition due to long years of storage (it still has a Connecticut license plate year 1956), my son is enthusiastic about investing the time and money to restore it. I know he will give it a good home.”
On June 4, 1986, Gisela replied, “I think it is very nice that your son seems to like the car. This love of good cars is said to be men’s purest passion. As long as I am still here – I won’t decide anything. We shall have to talk about it in front of the car.”
True to her word, Baroness von Krieger retained the Special Roadster until her death in 1989. Yet even after her passing, the prized car remained elusive.
In 1991, David Gooding, then working at Christie’s in Beverly Hills, received an unusual call from an attorney representing the von Krieger estate. After asking a few basic questions, it became clear to Mr. Gooding that the man to whom he was speaking knew very little about cars. When asked to describe the car’s features, the man replied, “it’s an old, black two-seat Mercedes.” Still intrigued, Mr. Gooding asked if there were any defning characteristics.
“Well, it has two pipes coming out of the side and a really long tail.” His interest piqued, Mr. Gooding asked the fellow if he was able to send
a photo through by fax. Mr. Gooding remained on the line while a black 540 K Special Roadster appeared on the page. He replied, “I’ll be in Greenwich tomorrow.”
Upon his arrival in Greenwich the following morning, Mr. Gooding entered a non-descript building flled with carnival equipment and assorted utilities. After passing through several storage rooms, he arrived at the back of the building and, behind the last door, discovered the von Krieger Special Roadster in its long-protected hiding place.
Even today, Mr. Gooding remembers the experience vividly. “It was an amazing discovery. I found her cigarettes in the ashtray and old driving maps in the side pocket. Of all the great long-lost cars I’ve ever seen, the Special Roadster was, by far, the most memorable. It was truly a time capsule from a bygone era and had an incredibly haunting presence.”
After struggling to get through to the estate, Mr. Gooding reached an impasse.
As it turned out, Gisela von Krieger’s estate proved to be a complex affair – she left no will and no heirs. Dr. James Smith, then-owner of the Homestead Inn, claimed ownership of the Mercedes-Benz as payment for years of unpaid storage fees. Following several years of litigation, the estate of Gisela von Krieger fnally acquired legal rights to the Special Roadster in 1994.
As soon as the von Krieger estate was settled, the 540 K was sold to Horst Lautenschlager of Reinheim, Germany, for an undisclosed multi- million dollar fgure. The transaction eventually unraveled, reportedly due to a disagreement between the new owner and his restorer. In the later part of 1996, Mr. Lautenschlager enlisted Paul Russell and Company to fnd a new caretaker for the Mercedes-Benz.
In March 1998, the von Krieger Special Roadster found an appreciative home with the current owner, an East Coast collector with a passion for the fnest and most signifcant coachbuilt automobiles. In 1999, eager to return the grand motorcar to its former splendor, the owner commissioned Chris Charlton of Classic Car Services in Oxford, Maine, to undertake a complete restoration. Not only was Mr. Charlton supremely qualifed for the task at hand – having serviced or restored no fewer than six Special Roadsters – his artistic touch and reverence for authenticity made for an ideal pairing.
In consideration of the Special Roadster’s historical signifcance and remarkably original condition, the restoration process took on a measured pace. Before any aspect of the car was addressed, hundreds of photographs were taken and notes catalogued to create accurate references for original details. Only after extensive research and analysis were conducted was every aspect of the Special Roadster restored to aesthetic and functional excellence. As a result of Mr. Charlton’s meticulous restoration effort, this Special Roadster is one of – if not – the fnest 540 Ks in existence.
The von Krieger Special Roadster made its post-restoration debut at the 2004 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where it earned a prestigious Best in Class in the competitive pre-war Mercedes-Benz category. Since appearing at Pebble Beach, the Special Roadster has been selectively displayed at leading concours events and has never failed to draw a captive audience.
In 2010, the von Krieger Special Roadster was among a select group of automobiles invited to take part in a special exhibit organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Portland Art Museum. The exhibition, The Allure of the Automobile: Driving in Style, 1930– 1965, brought together 18 of the world’s rarest and most exceptional automobiles in an effort to trace the evolution of the motorcar. The von Krieger Special Roadster was the only pre-war Mercedes-Benz chosen for display; the marque’s post-war representative was the 1955 300 SLR “Uhlenhaut” Coupe.
Most recently, the von Krieger Special Roadster was returned to Mr. Charlton to be refnished in its original black livery. Abiding by the philosophy that guided the initial restoration, no expense was spared in this process and the results speak for themselves. Today, the Special Roadster is nothing short of spectacular and appears just as it did when Henning von Krieger took delivery in 1936, complete with the original hand-painted family crest on the driver’s door.
Finished in immaculate, mirror-like Tuxedo Black, the Special Roadster projects an elegantly tailored appearance ideally suited to its undulating sculptural form, faultless lines and superb details. Presented in its exquisite formal livery, the voluptuous Sindelfngen coachwork is highlighted by brilliant white rubber trim, double-whitewall Firestone tires and tastefully integrated chrome brightwork.
The interior, upholstered in rich tobacco leather, is equipped with the original Telefunken radio, leather-covered dashboard, writing table and tasteful ivory fxtures, creating a refned and utterly distinctive ambience. With the top stowed, side windows raised and supercharger engaged, there may be no other more sophisticated motorcar in which to enjoy the delights of open motoring.
With its dashing V’d windscreen, lithe proportions, shimmering exhaust pipes and rear-mounted spares, the Special Roadster combines all the legendary characteristics of Mercedes-Benz’ iconic supercharged sports cars and dresses them in the most fashionable black-tie ensemble.
Over the past 75 years, this extraordinary Mercedes-Benz has had just three caretakers and each has, in his or her own way, felt a great responsibility toward this important automobile.
Both Henning and Gisela von Krieger felt a deep attachment to their Special Roadster. Present in times of joy as well as painful tragedy, the Mercedes-Benz became much more than an automobile – it came to embody the memories and romantic associations of a lost era. Built during the earliest days of the Third Reich, the von Krieger Special Roadster was a star in 1930s Paris, a refugee during World War II, an ethereal vision in 1950s Manhattan and, in its later years, a carefully protected family treasure.
Although Mr. Lautenschlager only owned the Special Roadster for a brief period, he approached the car and its history with the utmost respect and in no way disturbed its remarkable as-found original state.
The current owner, who has maintained and cherished the Special Roadster for almost 14 years, has made the diffcult decision to part with ??????the car, having changed the focus and direction of his collection. Although the consignor has owned some of the fnest classics, including one-off Duesenbergs and Dietrich-bodied Packards, the Special Roadster has the notable distinction of being the last pre-war automobile in the collection.
Not only does this 540 K have a remarkable visual presence and outstanding provenance, it is surely the most comprehensively documented 540 K Special Roadster. Offered with the von Krieger Special Roadster is a signifcant historical fle that includes extensive personal correspondences, factory records and archival photographs. In addition to these important documents, the fle contains Baroness von Krieger’s white driving glove, personal logbook, road maps and lipstick-stained cigarettes, all of which were found in her car after four decades of controlled, static storage.
The high-door, long-tail 540 K Special Roadster represents the quintessence of the collectible automobile. Here is an object of unparalleled beauty, rarity and sophistication whose romantic history, ironclad provenance and unquestioned authenticity are among the many qualities that converge to give this machine its uniqueness and appeal.
The very best example of Mercedes-Benz’ most celebrated road- going automobile, the von Krieger Special Roadster has been coveted by amorous suitors for decades. We have no doubt that it will continue to elude even the most jealous pursuits.