CHRONICLES OF ELEGANCE: The Timeless Journey of the Mayfair 540K


Written by Nicole Ellan James


Life unfolds like chapters in a book, each page revealing exquisite yet fleeting moments, akin to the illuminating flash of lightning in a summer monsoon storm or the rare appearance of a comet’s tail once every century. If not embraced, these moments can fade into the shadows of memory and remorse. In the mere blink of an eye, we risk overlooking something genuinely extraordinary – in this instance, the offering of a 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster with one-off coachwork by Mayfair Carriage Company, from the personal collection of Don Williams.

Williams, an integral figure in the founding team of Barrett-Jackson and a cherished member of its family, left an indelible mark on the collector car hobby with his profound knowledge of classic vehicles. Alongside Barrett-Jackson Chairman and CEO Craig Jackson, Williams played a key role in establishing the Salon Collection at the Scottsdale Auction. Since its inception, the Salon Collection has showcased some of the world’s rarest, most valuable, collectible and sought-after vehicles, including the stunningly presented Mayfair-bodied Mercedes-Benz 540K selling with No Reserve at the 2024 Scottsdale Auction, which runs from January 20-28 at WestWorld of Scottsdale.

It was common for upscale luxury cars built before World War II – such as those often showcased within the Salon Collection – to receive custom bodies crafted by renowned coachbuilders. However, the Mercedes-Benz 540K defied convention. Its factory body styles were so beloved that only 70 out of the 419 vehicles produced between 1936 and 1940 were designated for custom coachwork, an unusually low number for luxury vehicles of that era. The example on offer in Scottsdale, Chassis No. 154080 – one of the exclusive 70 – has a unique distinction: It is one of less than 10 graced with custom coachwork by a U.K. coachbuilder.

The original owner of Chassis No. 154080 commissioned the Mayfair Carriage Company in London to craft its body. Specifically ordered with a set-back radiator designed for open cars and factory roadsters, this variant, known as “Fahrgestell mit zuruckgesetztem Motor” (meaning “chassis with a setback motor”), featured a distinctive modification. The radiator and entire drivetrain were set back by 185 millimeters (just over 7 inches), visible externally by the relative position of the radiator over the front axle. This alteration imparted a unique flair, lending the car a more aggressive front end and an overall longer, lower appearance.

According to Mercedes-Benz chassis records, Chassis No. 154080 was dispatched to Paris, France, on October 7, 1936, a rather unconventional journey for a right-hand-drive chassis destined for English bodywork. As documented by Williams’ Blackhawk Collection, speculation surrounds the car’s purpose, ranging from an order by a British expatriate to an original commission for an Indian maharajah. The limited details fuel intrigue, enhancing the exotic allure enveloping the car.

The Mayfair coachwork on the 540K is truly exquisite, featuring a folding windshield, sleek lines, fender skirts and polished louvers that embody the “elegance in motion” of automotive design from that era. Notably lighter than the conventional closed bodies usually found on these chassis, the Mayfair design enhances the vibrant performance of the inline 8-cylinder engine, equipped with a driver-activated and gear-driven Roots-type supercharger delivering 180 horsepower. The engine is fed by twin updraft pressurized carburetors and is paired with a 4-speed transmission featuring synchromesh in third and a dog clutch in fourth. The suspension includes independent wishbone coil front suspension, independent swing-arm rear suspension, and four-wheel servo-assisted hydraulic drum brakes, all riding on an impressive 128-inch wheelbase.

The car’s journey through time adds layers to its narrative. At the end of World War II, the car was in London before being purchased by Peter Hessler of Quebec, Canada, who brought it to North America and owned it for only a brief period before it found its way into the hands of an enthusiast named Paul Suckling residing in Toronto.

In the 1960s, the vehicle was stored and unfortunately caught fire. Rob Williams – who inherited his prewar-car knowledge from his father Don – shared that sections of the car’s body were removed after the fire. Notably, those body panels and doors were not lost or destroyed in the incident; the car did receive new wood framing though to bring it back to life. Impressively, the vehicle’s metal is entirely

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By: Barrett-Jackson
Title: CHRONICLES OF ELEGANCE: The Timeless Journey of the Mayfair 540K
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Published Date: Thu, 04 Jan 2024 17:27:22 +0000


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