Mercedes-Benz 540K wins Best of Show at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance

Words: Elliott Hughes | Photography: Rolex

A magnificent 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier has been bestowed with the Best of Show award at this year’s prestigious Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance.

Inaugurated in 1950, and after its cancellation in 2020 postponed its landmark birthday, the Concours marks its 70th anniversary in 2021. It is the flagship event of America’s annual Monterey Car Week, and is widely regarded as the most eminent concours competition in the world.

The winning Mercedes is owned by Pebble Beach regulars Arturo and Debra Keller of Petaluma, California. With this year’s victory, the Kellers have taken home the Best of Show award three times, each with pre-war Mercedes-Benz models. The couple last won the venerated award two decades ago in 2001, following their opening triumph in 1986.

“This is my triple crown,” Arturo said. “This is the only remaining car of its kind, and I am the second owner from new. It’s a very special car, and we are very happy.”

The 540K Autobahn-Kurier was built at a time when Germany had emerged as a global leader in the fields of engineering, science and technology. During the late 1930s, the nation had built much of its famous Autobahn network, and the 540K Autobahn-Kurier was designed to conquer them in speed, style and comfort.

This starts with the car’s arrestingly curvaceous bodywork, which is not only beautiful but also represents a pioneering foray into aerodynamically conscious design. Mercedes’ highly successful W154 Silver Arrow racing car is said to have provided inspiration for the 540K’s voluptuous bodywork, boasting a similarly sleek design.

Then there’s the car’s engine, a 5.4-litre supercharged straight-eight, developing around 180bhp and yielding a top speed of 115mph. Such figures were rarely surpassed in period.

The car was first revealed at the 1938 Berlin Motor Show after being commissioned by Ignacio Barraquer, an eye doctor from Barcelona, Spain. The 540K remained in the Barraquer family until 2004, when it was purchased by Arturo Keller. Keller then had the Mercedes fastidiously restored by Paul Russell and Company in 2006, and it has been a winner on the international concours circuit ever since.

Following its restoration, the Mercedes secured a class win in its previous Pebble Beach Concours appearance in 2006, narrowly missing out on the Best of Show award to a 1931 Daimler Double-Six 50 Corsica Drophead Coupé. The Keller’s Mercedes then added some impressive accolades to its resumé by taking top honours at Villa Erba in 2008, the Louis Vuitton Classic and Concours of America in 2011, and Amelia Island in 2019.

Of the total 235 vehicles that were curated to grace Pebble Beach’s fairways for the 2021 Concours, three others besides the Mercedes made the cut as Best of Show contenders.

The Italian duo of the 1966 Ferrari 365P Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale, one of two ‘Tre-Posti’ prototypes built, and a beautiful 1956 Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé made up two of the four finalists. Either would have been a rare post-war era winner – something that has occurred only once since 1954.

The remaining finalist was one of the winning-Mercedes’ contemporaries: an exquisite 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Drophead Coupé.

By vanquishing its French and Italian opposition, the 540K secured a ninth Best of Show win for the three-pointed star, which puts Mercedes-Benz on an equal footing with Bugatti as the Concours’ most successful marque.

In recognition of their win, the Kellers were presented with an engraved Rolex Oyster Perpetual Datejust wristwatch and bottle of Dom Pérignon Champagne and also took home the Elegance in Motion award.

This year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance raised over $1.75 million (£1.22m) in charitable donations, bringing the event’s total to over $32m (£23m) to date. Around 95 local charities are selected by the Pebble Beach Company Foundation as beneficiaries of the funds raised.

Next year’s Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance is scheduled to take place on August 21, 2022, and will celebrate Lincoln and the Talbot-Lago Grand Sport – similarly to the way the 50th anniversary of the Lamborghini Countach was honoured this year. More classes will be announced soon, and further information is available on the Pebble Beach Concours website.

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Full 2021 Pebble Beach Concours dElegance results:

BEST OF SHOW

1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier

The Keller Collection at The Pyramids, Petaluma, California

BEST OF SHOW NOMINEES

1937 Bugatti Type 57S Corsica Drophead Coupé
Joanie & Scott Kriens, Saratoga, California

1966 Ferrari 365P Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale
RQ Collections, The Woodlands, Texas

1956 Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé
Jonathan & Wendy Segal, San Diego, California

ELEGANCE AWARDS

Gwenn Graham Most Elegant Convertible

1936 Lancia Astura Series III Tipo Bocca Pinin Farina Cabriolet
Robert Bishop, Palm Beach, Florida

JB & Dorothy Nethercutt Most Elegant Closed Car

1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic
Merle & Peter Mullin and Melani & Rob Walton, Los Angeles, California

Jules Heumann Most Elegant Open Car

1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Touring Spider
John & Heather Mozart, Palo Alto, California

Strother MacMinn Most Elegant Sports Car

1956 Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé
Jonathan & Wendy Segal, San Diego, California

SPECIAL AWARDS

Alec Ulmann Trophy

1925 Hispano-Suiza H6B Million-Guiet Torpedo
Jonathan Feiber & Heather Buhr, Atherton, California

Ansel Adams Award

1914 Packard 1-38 Five Passenger Phaeton
Joe & Janice Conzonire, San Marino, California

ArtCenter College of Design Award

1963 Iso Grifo A3/L Prototype Bertone Coupe
Peter Wilde, Brookline, Massachusetts

Briggs Cunningham Trophy

1924 Miller 122/91 Boyle Special
Miles Collier Collections at Revs Institute, Naples, Florida

Chairmans Trophy

1929 Bugatti Type 35B Grand Prix
The Pearl Collection/Fritz Burkard, Switzerland

Charles A Chayne Trophy

1925 Lancia Lambda Casaro Roadster
Paul & Victoria Tullius, Chico, California

Classic Car Club of America Trophy

1933 Duesenberg SJ “Twenty Grand” Rollston Arlington Torpedo Sedan
The Nethercutt Collection/Helen & Jack Nethercutt, Sylmar, California

Dean Batchelor Trophy

1926 Miller 91 Perfect Circle Special
Tom & Suzie Barbour, Bellvue, Colorado

Elegance in Motion Trophy

1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier
The Keller Collection at The Pyramids, Petaluma, California

Enzo Ferrari Trophy

1956 Ferrari 410 Superamerica Superfast Pinin Farina Coupe Speciale
Anne Brockinton Lee/Robert M. Lee Automobile Collection, Reno, Nevada

FIVA Post-war Trophy

1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham
Kirk Wentland & Lawrence Camuso, San Jose, California

FIVA Pre-war Trophy

1908 Bailey Electric Victoria Phaeton
Larz Anderson Auto Museum, Brookline, Massachusetts

The French Cup

1937 Delahaye 135 M Chapron Cabriolet
Tom McGough Sr. & Tom McGough Jr., North Oaks, Minnesota

Gran Turismo Trophy

1969 Ferrari 512 S Berlinetta
Pierre Mellinger, Crans Montana, Switzerland

Lincoln Trophy

1923 Lincoln L Brunn Roadster
Mike & Diane Barrett, Nooksack, Washington

Lorin Tryon Trophy

Anne Brockinton Lee

Lucius Beebe Trophy

1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Brewster Special Brougham
David & Teresa Disiere, Southlake, Texas

Mercedes-Benz Star of Excellence Award

1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster
Richard & Melanie Lundquist, Palos Verdes Estates, California

Montagu of Beaulieu Trophy

1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Schapiro-Schebera Skiff
Sam & Emily Mann, Englewood, New Jersey

The Phil Hill Cup

1953 Jaguar C-Type Roadster
Tom & Gwen Price, Larkspur, California

Tony Hulman Trophy

1926 Miller 122 Locomobile Junior 8 Special
The Richard H. Driehaus Collection, Chicago, Illinois

The Vitesse Elegance Trophy

1957 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Scaglietti Berlinetta
Audrey & Martin Gruss, Palm Beach, Florida

CLASS AWARDS

Class A-1: ANTIQUE

1st: 1910 Winton 17 Seven Passenger Touring, Schuster Family, Redding, Connecticut

2nd: 1914 Packard 1-38 Five Passenger Phaeton, Joe & Janice Conzonire, San Marino, California

3rd: 1910 Peerless 27 Rois des Belges Tourer, Robert & Jackie Lederer, South Barrington, Illinois

Class A-2: Early Electric Cars

1st: 1912 Rauch & Lang TC4 Brougham, John W. Rich Jr., Gilberton, Pennsylvania

2nd: 1905 Columbia Mark XXXV Brougham, Mary & Ted Stahl, Chesterfield, Michigan

3rd: 1901 Columbia Mark XXXI Victoria Phaeton, Nick Grewal, Sanbornton, New Hampshire

Class B: Vintage

1st: 1920 Packard 3-35 Twin Six Runabout, Timothy & Dennis Heywood, Frankfort, Illinois

2nd: 1916 Packard 1-25 Twin Six Runabout, Nicholas & Shelley Schorsch, Newport, Rhode Island

3rd: 1924 Pierce-Arrow Model 33 4 Passenger Touring, Tony Wollesen, San Jose, California

Class C: American Classic

1st: 1933 Auburn 12-161A Speedster, Steven Moore, Incline Village, Nevada

2nd: 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton, Laura & Jack Boyd Smith Jr., Elkhart, Indiana

3rd: 1932 Chrysler CL Custom Imperial LeBaron Convertible Sedan, Mr. & Mrs. Lorenzo Nannini, Pine Grove, California

Class D: Packard

1st: 1936 Packard 1407 Twelve Coupe Roadster, Neal & Susan Ryan, Smithtown, New York

2nd: 1937 Packard 1507 Twelve Coupe, Jeffrey Mihaly, San Leandro, California

3rd: 1937 Packard 1508 Twelve Rollston Convertible Victoria, Jean & Don Ghareeb, Birmingham, Alabama

Class G: Duesenberg

1st: 1930 Duesenberg J Murphy Dual Cowl Phaeton, Ross & Beth Myers, Boyertown, Pennsylvania

2nd: 1933 Duesenberg SJ Murphy Convertible Berline, Jeannie & Rob Hilarides, Visalia, California

3rd: 1931 Duesenberg J Weymann Tapertail Speedster, The William Lyon Family, Newport Beach, California

Class H: Rolls-Royce Pre-war

1st: 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Schapiro-Schebera Skiff, Sam & Emily Mann, Englewood, New Jersey

2nd: 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II Continental Carlton Drophead Coupé, Stephen Brauer, St. Louis, Missouri

3rd: 1914 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost Barker Landaulette, James & Nancy Scharfeld, Avon Lake, Ohio

Class I: Mercedes-Benz Pre-war

1st: 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn Kurier, The Keller Collection at The Pyramids, Petaluma, California

2nd: 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster, Richard & Melanie Lundquist, Palos Verdes Estates, California

3rd: 1927 Mercedes-Benz SS Armbruster Cabriolet, The Keller Collection at The Pyramids, Petaluma, California

Class J-1: European Classic Sports

1st: 1937 Bugatti Type 57S Corsica Drophead Coupé, Joanie & Scott Kriens, Saratoga, California

2nd: 1925 Lancia Lambda Casaro Roadster, Paul & Victoria Tullius, Chico, California

3rd: 1932 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 Gran Sport Figoni Cabriolet, David Raisbeck, Sanibel, Florida

Class J-2: European Classic Touring

1st: 1940 Alfa Romeo 6C 2500 S Touring Coupé, Don & Max Behrens, Manhattan Beach, California

2nd: 1928 Isotta Fraschini Tipo 8A S Castagna Landaulet, Peter & Jennifer Gleeson, Edmonds, Washington

3rd: 1937 Delahaye 135 M Chapron Cabriolet, Tom McGough Sr. & Tom McGough Jr., North Oaks, Minnesota

Class L-1: Pre-war Preservation

1st: 1933 Packard 1006 Twelve Dietrich Convertible Runabout, John & Heather Mozart, Palo Alto, California

2nd: 1931 Alfa Romeo 6C 1750 GT Touring Coupé, Jack Braam Ruben, Maastricht, The Netherlands

3rd: 1930 Packard Deluxe Eight 745 Dietrich Dual Cowl Sport Phaeton, Lynn & Michael Harling, Dallas, Texas

Class L-2: Post-war Preservation

1st: 1969 Porsche 917PA Spyder, Miles Collier Collections at Revs Institute, Naples, Florida

2nd: 1956 Porsche 356A Carrera Reutter Coupe, Chuck House, Bermuda Dunes, California

3rd: 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham, Kirk Wentland & Lawrence Camuso, San Jose, California

Class M-1: Ferrari Grand Touring

1st: 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB Scaglietti Berlinetta, John Paul Rowan, Savannah, Georgia

2nd: 1967 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 Scaglietti NART Spyder, Jon & Kim Shirley, Medina, Washington

3rd: 1968 Ferrari 206 GT Dino Scaglietti Coupe, Ron Hein, Montecito, California

Class M-2: Ferrari Competition

1st: 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO Scaglietti Berlinetta, Aaron & Sasha Hsu, New York, New York

2nd: 1951 Ferrari 340 America Touring Barchetta, Mr. Kevin Cogan, Louisville, Kentucky

3rd: 1957 Ferrari 250 GT LWB Scaglietti Berlinetta, Audrey & Martin Gruss, Palm Beach, Florida

Class N: Iso

1st: 1963 Iso Grifo A3/L Prototype Bertone Coupe, Peter Wilde, Brookline, Massachusetts

2nd: 1967 Iso Grifo GL Bertone Coupe, Paul & Natalie Roesler, Ross, California

3rd: 1965 Iso Rivolta GT Bertone Coupe, Buddy Pepp, Beverly Hills, California

Class O-1: Post-war Racing

1st: 1964 Porsche 904 GTS Coupe, The Ingram Collection, Durham, North Carolina

2nd: 1966 Ford GT40 Mark I Coupe, Janus Associates, San Clemente, California

3rd: 1959 Porsche RSK Wendler Spyder, Steven Adler, New Vernon, New Jersey

Class O-2: Post-war Sports

1st: 1956 Maserati A6G Zagato Coupé, Jonathan & Wendy Segal, San Diego, California

2nd: 1964 ATS 2500 GTS Allemano Sports Coupé, Stephen Bell Classic Investments Inc., Englewood, Colorado

3rd: 1958 BMW 507 Series II Roadster, William H. & Cheryl K. Swanson, Arroyo Grande, California

Class O-3: Post-war Touring

1st: 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham Fleetwood Sedan, Jean & Don Ghareeb, Birmingham, Alabama

2nd: 1954 Chrysler GS-1 Ghia Coupe, John H. White, Sacramento, California

3rd: 1965 Aston Martin DB5/C Touring Drophead Coupé, Jim & Nancy Utaski, Princeton, New Jersey

Class P-1: Pinin Farina Pre-war

1st: 1938 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet, Filippo Sole, Milan, Italy

2nd: 1935 Lancia Astura Pinin Farina Cabriolet, Piet Janssen, Lottum, The Netherlands

3rd: 1937 Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B Pinin Farina Cabriolet, Lawrence Auriana, Greenwich, Connecticut

Class P-2: Pininfarina Post-war

1st: 1953 Lancia Aurelia Pinin Farina PF200 C Spider, Anne Brockinton Lee/Robert M. Lee Automobile Collection, Reno, Nevada

2nd: 1948 Lancia Aprilia Pinin Farina Spider, Joe Capasso, Glastonbury, Connecticut

3rd: 1948 Bentley Mark VI Facel-Métallon Cresta Coupé, Fred & Donna Kriz, Monaco

Class P-3: Pinin Farina Ferrari Early

1st: 1953 Ferrari 375 America Pinin Farina Coupe, Jamie & Cecilia Muldoon, Guadalajara, Mexico

2nd: 1952 Ferrari 212 Inter Pinin Farina Cabriolet, Kim & Stephen Bruno, Boca Raton, Florida

3rd: 1955 Ferrari 250 Europa GT Pinin Farina Coupe Speciale, Rare Wheels Collection, Windermore, Florida

Class P-4: Pininfarina Ferrari Late

1st: 1966 Ferrari 365 P Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale, RQ Collections, The Woodlands, Texas

2nd: 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB Pininfarina Berlinetta Speciale, Lee & Joan Herrington/The Herrington Collection, Bow, New Hampshire

3rd: 1961 Ferrari 400 Superamerica Pininfarina Cabriolet, Peter Kalikow, New York, New York

Class Q: Porsche 917

1st: 1969 Porsche 917K Coupe, Chris MacAllister, Indianapolis, Indiana

2nd: 1972 Porsche 917/10 Can-Am Spyder, Mouse Motors, Chicago, Illinois

3rd: 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder, Rob Kauffman/RK Collection, Charlotte, North Carolina

Class R: La Carrera Panamericana 1950-54

1st: 1952 Ferrari 340 Mexico Vignale Berlinetta, Les Wexner, New Albany, Ohio

2nd: 1953 Ferrari 340/375 MM Vignale Spyder, Bruce R. McCaw, Redmond, Washington

3rd: 1954 OSCA MT4 1500 Morelli Spyder, Michael & Katharina Leventhal, Beverly Hills, California

Class S: Lamborghini Countach 50th Anniversary

1st: 1981 Lamborghini Countach LP400S Series III Bertone Berlinetta, Robert Bishop, Palm Beach, Florida

2nd: 1976 Lamborghini Countach LP400 “Periscopica” Bertone Berlinetta, Mouse Motors, Chicago, Illinois

3rd: 1985 Lamborghini Countach 5000 Quattrovalvole Bertone Berlinetta, Jeffrey Ajluni, Washington, DC

Class V: Miller

1st: 1926 Miller 91 Perfect Circle Special, Tom & Suzie Barbour, Bellvue, Colorado

2nd: 1926 Miller 122 Locomobile Junior 8 Special, The Richard H. Driehaus Collection, Chicago, Illinois

3rd: 1924 Miller 122/91 Boyle Special, Miles Collier Collections at Revs Institute, Naples, Florida

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