A Royal Ride – Was this elegant 1960 220SE Coupé originally a birthday gift for a princess?

Gary Anderson with Richard Soares
Richard Simonds with Stephan McKeown
Very little is known about this unusual version of the 220SE Coupe except its list of owners, but from that and careful inspection, we can guess a little bit, and have the basis for making up endless numbers of romantic stories.

A Royal Ride

Was this elegant 1960 220SE Coupé originally a birthday gift for a princess?

 

Article Gary Anderson • Richard & Renate Soares

Images Richard Simonds • Stephan McKeown

 

When Renate and Richard Soares drove their 1960 220SE Coupé out onto the Legends of the Autobahn® show field or displayed it at Concours on the Avenue in Carmel during Monterey Classic Car week in 2019, they couldn’t help attracting attention. The striking two-tone white-over-maroon color combination of this pristine example of the 1950s Ponton body style is absolutely stunning.

 

Love at first sight

The couple had exactly the same reaction when they first saw the car themselves, in 2003 at a local car show near their home in Carmel, California. With its elegant styling, they thought the 220SE Coupé was a work of art.

Having an interest in Mercedes-Benzes they immediately introduced themselves to the owner, another Monterey Peninsula resident. From him they learned that he had bought the coupé from an Army dentist stationed at Fort Ord, who in turn had bought it in 1976 from another military officer in Germany. Renate, in particular, fell in love with the car. They told the owner that if he ever decided to sell, they would like to buy it.

Over the next five years, whenever they spotted the two-tone beauty at local events, they chatted with the owner. Renate, who had been born and lived in Germany until she was 14, found that he enjoyed talking about his time stationed in Germany, comparing places he had been and seen with what Renate remembered from her childhood. In addition, he and Richard shared the experience of Army service in Vietnam.

Those common interests formed a bond among them. In 2009 when the owner decided to sell the coupé, he honored his promise and offered them right of first refusal. There was no haggling; the asking price was reasonable and they bought the beautiful 220SE.

 

Who owned this car?

During the time that Renate and Richard had been getting to know the car and its owner, he had told them what little he knew. The most solid piece of information he had was the original German automobile registration card listing the first six owners.

The original entry is the most fascinating. Listed on the bureaucratic form is the information that the first owner was “Princess Gabrielle von Liechtenstein-Kesselstatt” with the address of “The Castle” in Föhren, near Trier in western Germany. A friend managed to find some information on this member of royalty of one of the smallest countries in Europe, indicating that she was born in 1942, which means she would have just turned 18 when the car was produced. Could the car have been her birthday present? There’s no way to know for sure, but it makes a fine story.

Clearly the woman’s life had been significant to a music composer, since the one other reference to her on the internet says that a piece of classical music by René Staar for soprano, narrator, jazz combo and large orchestra, called “Just an Accident – A Requiem for Victims of the Absurd” commissioned by the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra and first performed in 1986, was dedicated to her. But beyond that tantalizing tidbit, history is mute on her life story.

Regardless of the possible romance of her ownership or later life, the clinical German form records that she owned the car for just over one year. The coupé would pass through the hands of three more owners in three years, then one owner would keep it for 10 years before selling it to a student in 1974. It was that student who sold it to an American military officer who brought it back to Fort Ord and then sold the 220SE on to the man from whom Richard and Renate bought it. It’s almost amazing that a car with so many owners is still in such lovely unrestored condition.

But beyond that mere skeleton of information, the only clues to its life story are in the car itself and they are puzzling.

 

Mysteries within mysteries

Looking at the exterior of the car, an enthusiast who knows these lovely Ponton coupés and their sibling cabriolets built between 1956 and 1960 would suspect even when seeing it from a distance that the lovely two-tone paint job is not original. The telltale is that if the 220Ss and SEs were painted in contrasting colors at the factory, the portion of the lower color above the front fender would terminate in a slender, curving piece of chrome trim that was only used on the two-tone cars. This 220SE does not have that trim piece, indicating this is a second, aftermarket, paint job. However, as far as the previous owner knew, the car had always been white over maroon, accented by wide white sidewall tires with hubcaps in matching maroon paint.

Coming closer, our enthusiast would note that the word Coupé, in chrome script, is fixed to the C-pillars above the door handles, and is squeezed into the space between the tri-star logo and the 220 SE model badge on the trunk lid. The trim piece looks fine on the top, but out-of-place on the trunk. Querying a variety of knowledgeable concours specialists, we found that no one has ever seen similar identifiers on any other coupé of any Mercedes-Benz model, nor can such a badge be found in the Daimler archives.

Looking into the interior, we are impressed with the lovely leather interior with a nice patina, in a shade matching the exterior maroon, contrasting with the beautiful wood dash and trim pieces.

But one additional mystery remains. In the area below the radio (of course this car was equipped with a Becker radio as the first owner would have expected) under the dash is a wood accessory panel with two pull knobs that is clearly not original, because the finish doesn’t match the remainder of the interior wood trim.

Richard isn’t sure when that accessory might have been added, though he does recall that the car had been cared for by a knowledgeable Mercedes-Benz specialist. The purpose of the green knob is clear: it turns on lights in the foot wells to facilitate getting into the car at night. The red knob is more interesting. The first-generation mechanical fuel-injection engines could be hard to start if they had been sitting for a while. Pulling the knob activated an auxiliary electric fuel pump to make sure that the engine had an adequate supply of fuel before the starter was engaged. The red knob has a light on it to indicate when the pump is engaged, plausibly to remind the owner to turn it off after the engine was running smoothly.

The rear seating area is original, with the optional rear bench seat that converts into a luggage shelf, perfect for the overnight trips to fancy destinations requiring many changes of clothing for which these luxury coupés seem to have been designed.

 

An inspiration for stories

In all other respects, this 220SE is an excellent original example of one of the most elegant postwar cars that Mercedes-Benz built, and with its pleasing two-tone exterior and lovely matching interior will continue to attract spectators for many years in the same way it caught the eyes of Renate and Richard Soares 17 years ago.

The rest of the story can simply be a blank slate on which to imagine any tale you might conjure up, including the romantic idea that a young princess, who would one day inspire an orchestral work, was given a Mercedes-Benz for her 18th birthday and drove it for a brief and exciting year before life took her and her 220SE Coupé in different directions.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

1960 Mercedes-Benz 220SE Coupé (W128)

TYPE: Two-door, four-passenger coupé

PAINT & TRIM: White over Maroon two-tone • Red leather upholstery

OPTIONS: Sunroof • Fog lamps • White wall tires

ENGINE: M127, 2,195cc, overhead cam I-6 • Bosch mechanical fuel injection

TRANSMISSION: 4-speed manual

HORSEPOWER: 134 (SAE Gross) at 5,000 rpm

TORQUE: 152 lb-ft at 4,100 rpm (SAE Gross)

WHEELBASE: 106.3 in • CURB WEIGHT: 3,020 lb

ACCELERATION: Zero-62 mph 15 sec • TOP SPEED: 99.5 mph

FUEL EFFICIENCY: Approximately 17 mpg

 

 

Images

With its subtle curves and fine proportions, this 1960 beauty represents the final flowering of the Ponton era; production of 220SE coupés and convertibles ended in November of that year.

 

It is easy to understand why Renate and Richard Soares fell competely in love the first time they set eyes on this two-tone masterpiece of postwar automotive design from Sindelfingen.

 

 

 

The interior’s leather, chrome and wood trim wrap lucky occupants in an elegant time machine. Red and green knobs below the radio control an auxiliary fuel pump and footwell lights.

 

Only 1,942 220SE coupés and convertibles were equipped with the fuel-injection engine, making these stylish luxury vehicles among the rarest of postwar Mercedes-Benz models.

 

 

 

 

 

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