Monterey 2024

1936 Mercedes-Benz 540 K Cabriolet A by Sindelfingen

United States | Monterey, California



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  • Scarce and desirable first-series 540 K Cabriolet A with rear-mounted spares
  • Retains its numbers-matching chassis, engine, and coachwork, as delivered in Stuttgart
  • Well-known ownership history with noted Mercedes-Benz enthusiasts

Few automobiles of the Classic Era could compare in prestige, grandeur, and performance to the Mercedes-Benz 540 K, inarguably one of the finest and most beautiful cars ever to come from Stuttgart. Engineered by Hans Nibel, the 540 K boasted a pushrod overhead-valve inline eight-cylinder engine, displacing 5,401 cubic centimeters and equipped with a double-vane Roots-type supercharger. When engaged at full throttle, the supercharger boosted horsepower to 180, enabling most any style to reach 100 mph.

Chassis number 130945 is a very special car. As a relatively early example of the 540 K, it was thus delivered with the so-called first-series Cabriolet A body. One of the most attractive styles on the 540 K, the first-series Cabriolet A was essentially a copy of that used on the 500 K, to its benefit; it features the long, flowing open fenders that visually emphasize the power lurking between them, as well as double rear-mounted spares that further add an appearance of length and grace, and an extremely low windshield. The early 540 K Cabriolet A clearly recalls the lines of the great SSKs in a way that few other bodies do, and thus these are among the most desirable designs on this great chassis.

The Daimler-Benz kommission sheet, a copy of which is on file, shows that chassis number 130945 was indeed delivered as a Cabriolet A, with the client of record having been Mrs. Maria Leyder of Stuttgart. Like many 540 Ks, the car eventually made its way to the United States in the post-war era, and was purchased, likely in the 1950s, by Don Rounds of Denver, Colorado. President of the Don M. Rounds Drilling Company, he was an internationally known oil driller and wildcatter, credited by his obituary as “one of the important oil figures who led the Rocky Mountain oil boom following World War II.” He also had fine taste in cars, as he also possessed a Duesenberg Model J in the same era.

Following Mr. Rounds’s passing in 1969, the 540 K was offered by his estate; a description of the car, from the records of historian Jonathan Sierakowski and included in the file, notes that it had been mechanically restored but was likely still wearing its original finishes, with accompanying photographs showing it in apparently very good and intact condition. It was sold from the estate in 1970 to engineer Lowell E. Ledford of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who kept the car for 15 years, undertaking its first restoration. In his care it was awarded its Primary First Place, with a perfect 100 points, at the Classic Car Club of America Gulf Area Grand Classic in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1977.

Mr. Ledford sold the car to Don Williams of the Blackhawk Collection in 1985. A color photograph published in the second volume of Jan Melin’s book, Mercedes-Benz: The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars of the 1930s, shows the car in this period, painted the red that was then de rigeur for any self-respecting 540 K.

Subsequent owners included Japanese collector Nachiro Ishikawa, who maintained the car in California but occasionally journeyed with it to Europe; reportedly he drove it twice in the famed Monte Carlo Historic Rally, finishing 1st in the event in both 1991 and 1994. In the mid-1990s he sold the car to the longtime Mercedes-Benz procurer, Thomas Taffet, who would become its next longtime owner and caretaker.

The car was sold from the Taffet collection in 2011, and following a brief period with a collector in the UAE, was returned to the United States and purchased for the present owner’s collection, in which it has remained since. Its older restoration was freshened cosmetically near the end of Mr. Taffet’s long ownership, and is still quite attractive overall, with its red and black finish an elegant contrast to the bright red interior, as proven by its exhibition at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 2019. Both the chassis and engine number stamps are original, as is the firewall data plate. More recently, the car received a service in preparation for sale by the highly regarded firm of Fast Cars in Redondo Beach, California, invoices for which work are included in the file.

A lovely example of the 540 K in its highly sought-after first-series Cabriolet A form, this car has the beautiful, graceful lines and robust performance that one seeks in this significant model. It would be an ideal, astute acquisition for the new owner seeking a supercharged Mercedes-Benz for touring or regional concours competition, where it would undoubtedly be warmly welcomed as it has by enthusiasts for half a century. It has all the appeal that it did in the hands of Mrs. Leyder in 1936.