The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, held each August on the Monterey Peninsula in northern California, is America’s premier show of collectible cars, with top-tier automobiles from around the world assembled on the 18th green of one of the Pebble Beach resort’s famed golf courses. All 200 cars compete with each other for the coveted best of show award, but only one car wins. This year, that car was an imposing 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K Special Roadster, owned by collector Jim Patterson of Louisville, Kentucky; and Palm Beach, Florida.
Patterson has only owned the car since early 2022, when he purchased it at an RM Sotheby’s auction, having identified it as a very rare model and one that was exceedingly original, always having retained its original mechanical components and never having been subjected to a full restoration. “It only has 13,000 miles on it,” Patterson told AD on the stand, just after receiving the award. “Some of the leather is original—that’s 85-year-old leather.”
The car is just one of three extant Special Roadsters with the unique long-tail body built by the Mercedes factory. It was originally purchased by the then 23 year-old king of Afghanistan. Its daggered streamlined bodywork and aircraft engine-inspired wheels recall other menacing and martial exemplars of fascist architecture and design from this period in Germany.
This car is, in many ways, a typical best of show winner at Pebble, a site that tends to privilege uniquely designed exemplars of the interwar era from pinnacle brands. In fact, this win places Mercedes-Benz atop the pyramid of the winners in Monterey, just beating out Bugatti as the automaker that has acquired the greatest number of these awards.
As such, it reinforces recent trends in the highest ends of the concours world which, despite pressures to include more postwar cars on their podiums, have remained steadfastly committed to the absolute best handmade, special vehicles from the 1920s and 1930s.
“We may have to wait another year, or decade, for a postwar car to win again at Pebble Beach,” said a veteran Pebble Beach judge, and noted automotive author and curator Ken Gross, referencing a single win, by a 1954 Ferrari 376MM, back in 2014. “I’ve seen a million 540Ks, and this car immediately caught my eye,” he added. “Taken as a machine, it’s still a breathtaking car. It’s a revered and respected example of a classic.”