Auctions and Brokerage
Coachwork by Sindelfingen
Baron Gustaf Wrede, Finland (acquired new in 1941)Valdemar Stener, Sweden (acquired from the above via Gjestvang in 1947)George Kreissle Family, Sarasota, Florida (acquired circa 1954)Current Owner (acquired from the above via Herbert von Fragstein in 2004)
With the rapid expansion of Germany’s roads in the early 1930s, Mercedes-Benz recognized the need for a new touring model of great power and prestige, giving rise to one of the most legendary series of automobiles ever to be engineered. Boxed frame sections gave extreme torsional rigidity; the first fully independent, parallel-wishbone front coil-spring suspension provided superior handling; and servo-assisted hydraulic brakes were state of the art–all of which ensured that the new line’s supremacy would be unchallenged on the continent. The 380 (W22) model debuted at the Berlin auto show in 1933, and its OHV straight eight generated 120 hp with its supercharger engaged. Before long, it was clear that the 380’s power to weight ratio was insufficient, and the model was phased out after just 157 cars were completed, but concurrent with the production of the 380, the engineering of a five-liter engine was well underway.
The 500 K was introduced to the public in a very newsworthy way; in March 1934, at the international automobile and motorcycle exhibition in Berlin, the bold, aerodynamic coupe dubbed the “Stromlinien-Limousine” was displayed under the guise of “future development.” The motoring press in attendance provided ample coverage of what Mercedes-Benz had in store. The 500 K model soon hit its stride; its advanced underpinnings now had power in reserve. Most were fitted with in-house coachwork, which was offered in numerous body styles of great elegance, matched with Teutonic interiors of wood, leather, mother-of-pearl, and chrome. Of the 342 examples of the 500 K, open cars – both cabriolets and roadsters – far outnumbered closed versions, a trend that would continue with the introduction of the 540 K in 1936.
Expanded in both bore and stroke, the 540 K, with its peak 180 hp, had become a true 100 mph car. No more than 419 were built, and all but 29 received factory Sindelfingen coachwork. Today, each of the surviving cars are among the most magnificent creations of the classic era. The Cabriolet A, of which 83 were built, is one of the 540’s most exquisitely proportioned body styles. As it was built primarily as a two-place automobile, the design allowed for a long hood, diminutive, rearward-set cabin, and a short tail.
This fascinating 540 K Cabriolet A, chassis 189392, was built later in the model run, with its chassis being completed in July 1938, and its coachwork was not completed until October 1939. Built in right-hand drive, 189392 was originally intended for the British market. However, with the outbreak of WWII, German cars could not be exported to the UK and, according to documents with the car, it remained in storage, unsold throughout 1940. In April 1941, 189392 was purchased through the Mercedes-Benz dealer in Helsinki, Finland, by Baron Gustaf Wrede, an influential engineer, industrialist, and businessman, who kept it as his personal car until after the war.
Baron Wrede was with this Mercedes-Benz in Sweden in a photo dated 1946, and he is known to have sold the car through the well-established dealer, Gjestvang, in Stockholm, which passed it on to its next owner, Valdemar Stener, in February 1947. Earlier that month, Stener had placed 9th in the Swedish Grand Prix and would go on to a successful racing career throughout the 1950s, driving the most potent Ferraris of the day, including a 166 MM, 500 Mondial, and 375 MM.
Within a year, after reportedly participating in ice races with the 540 K, Stener traded the car toward a Maserati through dealer Bruno Tavelli; then in 1948, 189392 was exported to the US.
The next known owners of the Cabriolet A were George Kreissle Sr. and George Kreissle Jr. of Sarasota, Florida. Circa 1954, George Jr. found advertisements for three different prewar Mercedes-Benz for sale in The New York Times. George Sr. and his son, after seeing each, settled on 189392, due to its low mileage and rare five-speed gearbox. After paying the asking price, they drove it home to Florida. It has recently been reported by George Sr.’s grandson that the 540 K’s side-mounted spare wheels that were fitted to the car when new, had already been removed with a single spare relocated to the trunk by the time his elders acquired the car. Over the next several years, the 540 K was sympathetically restored by George Sr. and his son in their home workshop. During the project, the car was resprayed from a very dark shade of green to the lighter gray it still displays today. The car was shipped back to New York, where a retired Mercedes-Benz factory upholsterer re-trimmed the interior in the proper pattern of calfskin leather. In addition, more than one trip to Germany was reportedly made to hunt down a few necessary parts. Amazingly, an extremely rare 540 K five-speed gearbox was sourced and fitted to replace the car’s damaged original unit. In 1959, when the work was complete, the Mercedes-Benz joined the family’s collection of classics. Over the next several decades, the Mercedes-Benz was driven very little but was occasionally placed on display in the 1970s at the South Florida Museum in Bradenton.
In 2004, after a half century of ownership, the Kreissle family sold its prized Cabriolet to prewar Mercedes-Benz specialist Herbert von Fragstein, who soon passed it on to the consignor. Largely untouched since the 1950s refurbishment, the 540 K exudes an inviting and authentic patina today, with its now microblistered gray paint and much of the 1950s-installed upholstery still intact. In addition, much of the trim appears to retain its original factory plating.
A Mercedes-Benz factory Zertifikat, issued to the consignor in 2008, as well as copies of the original build sheets, attest to the 540 K’s completion date, document its original specifications, and correlate with its engine stamping.
With most of the surviving 540 K examples already refinished to perfection, shown at the top concours, and held in the world’s most respected collections, the appearance of this late-production Cabriolet A at auction is particularly noteworthy. The next owner will have the thrill of deciding what its next chapter will be, and add to its already fascinating history. As one of the most beautiful and sought-after Mercedes-Benz models ever built, it will certainly draw attention wherever it goes, whatever its color or condition.