The Mercedes 540 was certainly one of the most glamorous pre-war sports cars, which made it the ideal car for one of Europe's most glamorous women, the Baroness Gisela von Krieger. And that, in turn, makes it the star of Gooding & Company’s 2012 Pebble Beach Auctions, taking place on Saturday and Sunday, August 18 & 19.
The Special Roadster was purchased new in 1936 by an aristocratic Prussian family and was initially enjoyed by the von Krieger’s son, Henning, before his sister, Gisela, assumed the driver’s seat for her own use. Baroness von Krieger was widely recognized for her elegant style, and was named one of the ten most fashionable women in the world. Among the very elite of international society, the beautiful Baroness enjoyed a privileged life for many years, residing at the Ritz and Hotel Le Meurice in Paris and Hotel Martinez in Cannes, while frequenting the best European destinations and social events, including the coronation of King George VI.
The Von Krieger Special Roadster remained an important possession of the family, carefully stored even while they lived outside of Germany, avoiding orders of the Third Reich. In 1942, at the height of the war, Baroness Gisela shipped the car to Switzerland. After the war ended and the family reunited, Henning and Gisela moved to New York, shipping the Special Roadster on the Queen Elizabeth, in an effort to start a new life.
Following the death of her brother and mother, Baroness Gisela returned to Switzerland where she lived as a recluse until her passing in 1989. The Hermann Ahrens-designed Special Roadster remained tucked away in a Greenwich garage for the better part of four decades, with such items as the Baroness’s driving maps, lipstick-stained cigarette butts and silk gloves intact. After the estate was settled, the car was sold to its current owner, who has cared for it ever since. It was recently returned to its original grandeur by Chris Charlton, whose restorations have won Best of Show at Pebble Beach. Looking just as it did when it left the factory in 1936, it is finished in black and chrome over a cognac-colored leather interior, with the von Krieger family crest hand-painted on the upper portion of the driver’s door.
While Gooding & Company has not placed an estimate due to the car’s unprecedented historical significance and provenance, the auction house is confident that this rare and exquisite car will realize a world record for the marque. Both the car and its original owner could, in my opinion, have played a role in a book (and a movie) by Graham Greene or Ian Fleming. Are you listening Mr. Bond?
[Image copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photo by Peter Harholdt]