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|Not Found on eBay: 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300 C Station Wagon|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Sunday, 07 February 2010 10:15|
Looking for more than just any old station wagon to haul home the groceries from your local Whole Foods? Then here's your ride: a one-off Fifties Mercedes-Benz station wagon
For much of the post-war era, the sight of a full-sized American station wagon in the driveway of a tract house typified life in suburbia. Baby boomers like me can remember an entire starting roster of our Little League team piling into Mom's Country Squire, nary a seatbelt in sight. It's amazing that we survived the ordeal, long before the Safety Nazis mandated such things.
This vision was probably a bit different in 1956 for Mrs. Caroline Folke, a woman of apparent means (with homes in Paris, Manhattan, and Palm Beach) for whom a top-of-the-line Chrysler, Mercury, or Buick station wagon would simply not suffice. Back when nearly everyone liked Ike, she walked into the New York City Mercedes-Benz dealership with a most unusual request: a brand new Mercedes-Benz station wagon. At the time, Mercedes-Benz was re-establishing itself in the automobile business. It was just 11 years after the end of the Second World War, after all. They were apparently eager to fill her unusual request--even though station wagons were not part of the Mercedes-Benz model range in 1956.
The starting point was a brand-new 300 C sedan, at the time the flagship of the Mercedes-Benz sedan lineup. The 300 C was powered by a three-liter (2,996 cc) SOHC inline six with fuel delivery provided by a pair of Solex Carburetors, producing 125 horsepower at 4,500 rpm. This sophisticated overhead cam engine (in fuel-injected form, a related version could be found under the hood of the legendary 300 SL Gullwing and roadster) was hooked up to a four-speed manual transmission, something rarely found in its U.S. counterparts. According to various accounts, it was shipped directly from Stuttgart to the Binz coachworks company in nearby Lorch. As many coachbuilders had folded during the war, and many were unable to restart operations afterwards, Binz was among the few available to take on the commission to build Mrs. Folke's wagon. (Binz was best known for the ambulances, hearses, and other commercial vehicles they built on the chassis of several smaller Mercedes-Benz models, so they weren't accepting the project with blinders on.)
According to famed Mercedes-Benz restorer Bob Hatch, the Binz craftsmen most likely removed the entire roof, as well as the standard bodywork, from the front doors back--in much the same way one would build an American-style wood-bodied station wagon. Next, they apparently fabricated a one-piece roof panel along with a new rear section complete with handsome wagon bodywork, folding rear seats, and two-section tailgate. To create a seamless fit, the original rear doors were substantially modified, and exquisite vent windows were incorporated to allow for reasonable ventilation. Other unique modifications made for the wagon were 190 SL rear taillights (standard items being too large), polished, un-painted wheel covers, and a unique livery of medium gray over red leather. The finishing touch to Mrs. Folke's wagon was the application of diagonal stripes, painted from the leading edge of the chrome-belt molding to the lower rear edge of the door. The colors chosen were red and blue... to match her yacht club burgee. Upon completion, the one-off wagon was assigned Binz serial number 3.
Legend has it that Mrs. Folke was so fond of her splendid wagon that she had it shipped by air from home-to-home as she traveled. Years later, the car was sold, eventually coming to the attention of Bill Patton, a car collector from Orange County, California. It remained with him for many years before being sold to collector Charlie Crawley. In Mr. Crawley's care, the car was repainted its current shade of Midnight Blue, a striking complement to the red leather interior. About 10 years ago, it moved on to its current owner, who brought the unique 300 C station wagon to the renowned Mercedes-Benz restoration specialist Hatch & Sons, commissioning a partial restoration. Once completed, the magnificent Mercedes-Benz was shown, for the first time in many years, at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. It was very well received. Over the past decade, it has benefited from the attentive care of its owner who has lovingly looked after and enjoyed this remarkable piece. This unique car has been featured prominently in The Star Magazine and the book Mercedes-Benz Personenwagen.
The interior, which is representative of the era of the Adenauer Mercedes-Benz sedans (named after the post-war West German prime minister), is a superb example of the quality and attention to detail that typifies the senior Mercedes-Benz sedans of this period. The wood grain surrounds the cockpit and extends across the dashboard, on the doorsills around the flush-fitting chrome window frames, and even surrounding the windscreen. Like other 300 C models of its era, the interior fitments of chrome, leather, thick carpets, and wood exude a feeling of luxury, quality, and timeless design. In the dash, you'll find the expected signal-seeking Becker Mexico radio, in-dash clock, and an optional air-conditioning system. As Mrs. Folke lived part of the year in humid Palm Beach, Florida, this was a necessity, not a luxury. Just imagine her pulling up to a swanky Palm Beach country club, drawing the attention of everyone she encountered as she arrived in this stunning station wagon.
This exquisite station wagon--a blend of German coach-building craftsmanship and engineering and American practicality--is one of the stars of next month's Gooding and Company auction at Amelia Island, on Friday, 12 March 2010. A 300 C of unusual grace, style, and distinction, this custom Binz-bodied station wagon is a prize for a discerning Mercedes-Benz enthusiast who appreciates the rare and unusual designs of the Stuttgart marque. It is certain to amaze the crowds at any top-tier concours and Mercedes-Benz club meets while still quite capable of acting as an exclusive town car--the same attention that Mrs. Folke likely enjoyed back in 1956.
For additional details on attending this world-class event, visit the Gooding & Company website. The photos shown here were taken by Pawel Litwinski and are provided courtesy of Gooding & Company.
When Studebaker and Mercedes-Benz Got Hitched
In a little-recognized historical footnote, just two years later after Mrs. Folke commissioned her one-off 300 C, Studebaker-Packard Corporation entered into an agreement to distribute Mercedes-Benz cars in North America. Starting in 1958, this alliance allowed for wider distribution of Mercedes-Benz cars while expanding the offerings for many Studebaker dealers who lost the luxury Packard nameplate that same year. (The ad shown here is for the 1958 300 d hardtop/limousine, an attempt to transfer some of the cache of the Mercedes-Benz brand to Studebaker.) The agreement became strained in 1961, when Studebaker-Packard executives entered into informal discussions with Franco-American automaker Facel Vega about offering their Facel Vega Excellence model in the United States. The move was an abortive effort to revive the Packard nameplate. Mercedes-Benz objected to the proposal, and the initiative was dropped as Studebaker needed Mercedes-Benz distribution payments to help stem heavy losses in their own automotive division.
Mercedes-Benz maintained an office within the Studebaker factory in South Bend from 1958 to 1963 when Studebaker's U.S. operations ended and the agreement was ultimately terminated. By 1965, distribution of Mercedes-Benz vehicles in the United States was handled by Mercedes-Benz USA, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Stuttgart company. Many of the former Studebaker dealers who carried the Mercedes-Benz marque were offered the opportunity to become franchised Mercedes-Benz dealers. If you trace back the family tree of many current Mercedes-Benz dealers, you will find that several were once Studebaker-Packard dealers--a fact often overlooked by current fans of the marque, many of whom would find it hard to believe that the Three-Pointed Star was ever aligned with the long-defunct South Bend automaker.
High-resolution images of the 1956 Merecedes-Benz 300 C station wagon are available in the Automotive Traveler image gallery.