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Renowned car collector Arturo Keller passes away at 91


Arturo Keller, who has passed away aged 91, was one of the greatest but least well known of all the leading car collectors worldwide. Private and understated, Arturo’s passion for cars was immense, and his collection at The Pyramids was seen only by a chosen few and documented in a book gifted only to his closest friends.

He was best known for his love of pre-World War Two Mercedes-Benz, although Ferraris, pre-war Alfa Romeos and many other marques also featured prominently.

With wife Deborah, Arturo was a popular and prolific entrant to the Pebble Beach Concours of Elegance, winning Best of Show on three occasions. The most recent accolade was for their 1938 Mercedes-Benz 540K Autobahn-Kurier, at the 70th running of the concours, in August 2021. Their first win was in 1986, on the centenary of Mercedes, with a 1936 500K Special Roadster. In fact, they took six Mercedes to the event that year, and went home with six awards – in addition to the concours’ top prize, the cars earned a special award for Best Mercedes, two Firsts in Class, and two Second in Class awards.

They won again in 2001, with a 1930 Mercedes-Benz SS Erdmann & Rossi Roadster, but their cars have created a stir most years at Pebble Beach – such as in 1999, when the couple crammed all eight of their granddaughters in a 1938 Lagonda V12 Rapide, which was awarded Most Elegant Convertible.

Although of Swiss origin, Arturo Keller was born in Mexico City, and later became a resident of the US. His success came with the production of automotive upholstery, which led him to San Francisco, supplying all of the main five automotive companies operating in North America: General Motors, Ford, Chrysler, Volkswagen and Nissan. From the proceeds of the company, he was able to start building a car collection, with early acquisitions including a Talbot-Lago T150 SS Teardrop Coupé and a 1936 Hispano-Suiza – which was his first restoration and the first car he took to Pebble Beach.

He continued to build the collection, accumulating important examples of Mercedes-Benz rivalled only by the company’s own heritage collection, along with such gems as the Ferrari 340 Mexico Berlinetta Vignale driven by Phil Hill in the Carrera Panamericana.

Arturo and Deborah came across their 650-acre estate in the 1980s, while driving one of their cars on a tour of the Sonoma region of northern California, and fell in love with it. It was here where they built up the collection, which is now housed in five huge buildings, each one dedicated to a different nation: the US, Great Britain, Germany, France and Italy. To keep the cars exercised, they built a road that winds around the property.

Later, they moved into wine production, planting vines on the estate. Being on the edge of the Sonoma region, the land had never previously been used for wine production, but they succeeded: Keller Estate wines are now world renowned. The company is run by Arturo’s youngest daughter Ana, producing about 5000 cases a year of chardonnay, pinot noir, syrah and pinot gris. Keller Estate was even commissioned by fellow car collector and friend Sir Michael Kadoorie to produce a private-label chardonnay and pinot noir for his Peninsula chain of luxury hotels.

The use and conservation of collector cars was always Arturo’s true passion, though, and Pebble Beach was particularly special to him. In 2015, Ana explained this to luxury lifestyle website Haute Living:

“We really feel like we’re partners with Pebble Beach,” said Ana. “We’ve grown together. When we started going, it was a tiny show; you’d bring your blanket, you’d sit in front to have a picnic and see the cars go. Now it’s this production… One of the things my dad holds very dear to his heart is that he really helped promote the fact that the cars needed to be driveable.”

“I was fortunate enough to be the one with him when he went to the first car shows,” she continued. “We did [an organised] tour and went to a couple of shows. I felt really grown-up being with him. It was always a special place.

“He’s a bit of a pioneer in many things,” Keller said of her father. “He’s a passionate person. That’s what he taught us; his passion for cars, his passion for attention to detail, for perfection, for being the best you can in whatever you’re trying to do.”

The car world will miss Arturo Keller’s quiet contributions to the scene. We send our sincere condolences to Deborah, Ana and the rest of the Keller family.

Thanks to the Mercedes 300SL Register for the lead image.

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