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SPECIAL CONVERSIONS Binz 300c estate / #Mercedes-Benz-300-Adenauer / #Adenauer / #Mercedes-Benz-Adenauer-Estate / #Mercedes-Benz-Type-300-Estate / #Binz /
Mercedes never intended the #1951 #Mercedes-Benz-Type-300-Adenauer as an estate car, but German coachbuilding firm #Binz begged to differ and created this one-off wagon, reports Richard Truesdell. IMAGES Richard Truesdell.
SPACE WITH GRACE
“BINZ CRAFTSMEN, DRAWING ON THEIR EXPERIENCE IN AMBULANCE AND HEARSE CONVERSIONS, WERE TASKED WITH CONVERTING THE 300C INTO AN AMERICAN-STYLE ESTATE”
Station wagons, estates, T-models. Call them what you will, such vehicles bearing the three-pointed star are commonplace today. But back in the 1950s you had to go down the custom coachbuilt route if you wanted a #Mercedes-Benz-Kombiwagen . That is just what one wealthy American did and this is the story of her car, which spans more than five decades.
In the 1950s, the mass-produced, all-steel, American station wagons were in their heyday. As the first of these cars were introduced in 1948 and 1949, real-wood body conversions were already on the decline. And while there were some large, powerful and luxurious American-built station wagons available, from Buick and Chrysler especially, none, it seems, had sufficient cachet for Caroline Foulke, a wealthy socialite with homes in Paris, New York and Florida. In 1956 she visited her local dealer – the flagship Mercedes-Benz dealership on New York City’s Park Avenue – with an unusual request. She wanted a Mercedes-Benz station wagon. There was, however, just one little problem – at the time, #Mercedes -Benz offered no such model.
But this didn’t deter the eager-top-lease sales team at #Mercedes-Benz Manhattan, who apparently arranged for a new #W186 300c #Adenauer saloon – one of just 1,367 built between September 1955 and July 1957 – to be delivered directly to #Binz-&-Company-Coachworks in Lorch, Germany. The Binz craftsmen, drawing on their experience in ambulance and hearse conversions, were tasked with converting the four-door 300c into an American-style estate. It should be noted that unlike many conversions of Mercedes saloons into hearses and ambulances, the rear side windows of this car are set almost flush with the bodywork aft of the ‘C’-pillars. This contributes to the car’s factory look, while the design of the thin, chromed pillars gives the car exceptional all-round visibility.
Indeed, some liken this car’s appearance to subsequent factory-built Mercedes estates. Like its saloon counterparts, Mrs Foulke’s 300c estate was powered by Mercedes’ M186, three-litre, 123bhp #straight-six . When mated to the standard four-speed manual transmission with a steering column-mounted shifter, as in this car, the 1,860kg 300c saloon could do 0-62mph in 17 seconds, with a maximum speed of 99mph.
Much folklore surrounds this car. One of the stories is that Mrs Foulke was so proud of her unique Mercedes that she had it flown to her many homes at huge expense. After all, it is a car that would be very much at home on Madison Avenue in New York City, in Palm Beach, Florida, or on the Champs-Élysées in Paris. As commissioned by Mrs Foulke, the car was finished in the striking combination of graphite grey with a contrasting red leather interior.
In the years that followed, the car passed through a number of owners. One of these was noted collector Charlie Cawley (a former CEO of bank holding company MBNA in the USA) who at one time had over 200 cars in his collection. It was when this 300c estate was in his care that it was repainted in its current dark blue.
In 1999 the car found a new owner, investment banker Lee Munder, who purchased it through the RM Auctions 1999 Amelia Island sale for a reported $75,000. The car was invited to the 2000 Amelia Island concours d’elegance where it garnered more than its share of admiration. Afterwards, the car went to Hatch & Sons for a refresh. At the time, Jeff Cote worked on the car, but he now serves as the Restoration Manager at the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, California.
“It was apparent that, while at Binz, most of the standard bodywork was removed from the front doors backwards,” Cote tells us. “In its place, the craftsmen there, with their experience of converting sedans into ambulances and hearses, fabricated a full-length, one-piece roof. When we had the car apart you could see all the welding in the rear doors, as well as the bespoke, two-piece tailgate, all of which were apparently hand made. The original 300c tail lights were replaced with smaller units from the then current 180 Ponton and 190SL.”
For much of the 2000s, this bespoke wagon didn’t attract too much attention – until it appeared in the Gooding & Company auction catalogue for an Amelia Island event in 2010. There it attracted the eye of collector Bruce Iannelli, an exotic-car broker and automotive wholesaler who lives in Bergen County, New Jersey. And this is where the story starts to get really very interesting. Iannelli told us that he had known of the car for a long time, and was keen to add it to his collection, which includes nine other Mercedes, many of which were restored and acquired through the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center.
“I’ve known about the car for 10 years, but I could never get my hands on it,” Iannelli says. “Then I saw it in the 2010 Amelia Island listing and I told my wife, Margaret, that we had to have it – I told her we will take our oldest daughter to college in it.”
Michael Kunz, Manager of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, remembers being contacted by Iannelli soon after the Gooding & Company catalogue was released. “Reading the description, we were excited at the prospect of him adding the car to his collection,” says Kunz. “And it certainly didn’t hurt that our own Jeff Cote was intimately familiar with the car, as he led the refreshing efforts on it while working at Hatch & Sons.”
“I couldn’t be at Amelia Island to bid on the car,” continues Iannelli, “ but the Classic Center served as my eyes and ears. They told me exactly what it would need if I bought it. Work included removing what appeared to be an after-market air-con system, fitting new interior wood and refurbishing two exterior panels, and attending to the top of the motor.” Iannelli then shares his excitement regarding the bidding process itself. “On the day of the auction, the Gooding people called me, asking if I could be available to buy the car on the phone. They told me they would call at 7.30pm as the car was scheduled to be auctioned at 8pm.
Margaret and I were in a local restaurant at the time, so I told her to put down the wine. ‘We’re going home, I don’t want to be distracted – we are going to buy this car.’”
When the bidding started, Iannelli held back, hoping not to show his hand. “The bidding started at $75,000, then reached $110,000 before levelling off at $165,000. I put in a bid of $170,000 [over £100,000] and then my phone went dead. I called back on another phone and the Gooding girl answered, telling me to bid another $5,000 even though I didn’t know the total price – and I got it! In the time between my phone going dead and reconnecting with Gooding, the bidding went to $230,000 [around £140,000] and without knowing it at the time, my extra $5,000 made me the winner! Owning the car was more important than the final price. For me, it is the story of this car, the simple passion of owning the best, and in this case, a unique Mercedes-Benz.
Now that this one-off 300c Adenauer estate is part of his stable, we asked Iannelli to reflect on it. “It has a very distinctive and proud nose, the design is so straight and perfect – it’s hard to tell that it wasn’t originally designed as a station wagon,” he considers. “Looking into the dash, the beauty of the instruments and the wood, it’s so finely detailed, so perfect. It’s the ultimate. The car drives down the road so absolutely flawlessly. It’s rolling art.”
In looking back on his now four-year ownership of the Adenauer estate, Bruce offered up these comments. “Unique, one-of-a-kind cars are rare and getting rarer. Often they go into private collections and in many instances will never come out again. As a family, we are lucky to have it. People see the uniqueness and it is now a key part of our collection.” It would seem that Bruce Iannelli has the right spirit in preserving and sharing the cars bearing the three-pointed star that reside in his collection. He is doing the memory of Caroline Foulke proud.
TECHNICAL DATA SPECIFICATIONS #Mercedes-Benz-300c-Estate-W186 / #Mercedes-Benz-300-W186 / #Mercedes-Benz-W186 / #Mercedes-Benz-M186 / #Mercedes-Benz / #Mercedes-Benz-300c-Binz-Estate-W186 / #Mercedes-Benz-300c-Binz / #Mercedes-Benz-300-Binz-W186 / #Binz-W186 / #Mercedes-Benz-Type-300 / #Adenauer / #Mercedes-Benz-300-Station-Wagon / #Mercedes-Benz-300-Kombiwagen / #Mercedes-Benz-300-Kombiwagen-W186 / #Mercedes-Benz-300-Station-Wagon-W186
Engine #M186 2,996cc 6-cyl
Power 123bhp @ 4,500rpm
Torque 163lb ft @ 2,600rpm
Transmission 4-speed manual
Top speed 99mph
Fuel consumption 22.6mpg
All figures from Mercedes-Benz, and for a standard 300c
“ONE OF THE STORIES IS THAT MRS FOULKE WAS SO PROUD OF HER MERCEDES THAT SHE HAD IT FLOWN TO HER MANY HOMES AT HUGE EXPENSE”
“THE ORIGINAL 300C TAIL LIGHTS WERE REPLACED WITH SMALLER UNITS FROM THE THEN CURRENT 180 PONTON AND 190SL”
“LOOKING INTO THE DASH, THE BEAUTY OF THE INSTRUMENTS AND THE WOOD, IT’S SO FINELY DETAILED, SO PERFECT”
RIGHT The Adenauer’s interior wood trim was renewed and looks really beautiful.
RIGHT Seperate front seats, but the close together chairs could take three people.
ABOVE The Binz conversion to an estate included making up an entire new roof section.
BELOW Contemporary photos show it was an official, if very unusual, conversion.
BOTTOM Original paperwork adds to the 300c’s provenance.
ABOVE It must have been one of the poshest wagons to ride around in back in the 50s.
ABOVE LEFT This being an early 300 model, the transmission was a four-speed manual.
ABOVE TOP LEFT Even at this level of luxury occupants had to wind their own windows down.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.