Avenues & Alleyways – The 1903 Mercédès Limousine

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what value a location? To stand on a street corner and watch the world scurry past. To stop and smile at the thought of the excitement, innovation, history that once filled a space, so mundane today.

Racing Daydreams - History - Caracciola, Mercedes 1952 Monte Carlo Rally
Caracciola & Kurrle, Mercedes 220 – 1952 Monte Carlo Rally

The Mercedes-Benz entry for the 1952 Rallye Automobile Monte Carlo featured some great names: Caracciola, Kling, Lang. None of them exactly set The Monte alight – the best finish, Rudi & Paul Kurrle bringing their 220 home in 18th overall. It was a worthwhile endeavour though. Perhaps one of the most important for our motoring heritage.

Whilst working on the rally, a Mercedes press officer went exploring at 54 Promenade des Anglais, Nice. Emil Jellinek’s Villa Mercedes II had long gone, but the garages still stood.

Racing Daydreams - 54 Promenade des Anglais, Nice
54 Promenade des Anglais, Nice

Today, step off the bustle of Promenade des Anglais into workaday Rue Andrioli, and get a little relief from the sun. The rather mundane apartment buildings and narrowness of the street providing shelter.

Immediately to your left is an alley that runs behind the houses of the promenade – behind the apartment building that now bears the auspicious address. This alley?.. Impasse Mercedes… of course.

Racing Daydreams - Impasse Mercedes, Nice
Impasse Mercedes, Nice
Racing Daydreams - History - Garages at Villa Mercédès, Nice 1903
Garages at Villa Mercédès, Nice 1903

It was here that the great & the good prepared their racing machines 120 years ago, where cars were fettled & dispatched to European aristocracy & monarchy. This is where Emil Jellinek – “Monsieur Mercédès” – had his garages. And it was inside one of these – miraculously still standing in 1952 – that the Mercedes press officer found Jellinek’s 1903 Mercédès 60hp limousine. A Belle Époque grande dame. A survivor of so much history – two world wars and the downfall of the family that dreamed it into existence.

What happened next is the subject of the introduction to Guy Jellinek-Mercédès’ biography of his father.

Racing Daydreams - History - Mercedes 60hp Limousine leaves Nice
Mercedes 60hp Limousine leaves Nice

On 27 June 1953 a strange vehicle was taken from the yard of No. 54 Promenade des Anglais in Nice. On this site the famous villa Mercedes is no more; in its place has risen a huge block of flats, one of those pretentious new buildings which are gradually displacing private houses and gardens. Yet the garages in the yard are still there and memories and traces of the past cling to them.

This strange vehicle, a limousine, had sheltered there for 38 years. It was like a salon on wheels, seating eight persons with three soft upholstered seats in the back, then two armchairs, real armchairs, then two comfortable flap-seats and one seat next to the driver. The driver’s compartment was partitioned off by glass, but a long flexible speaking tube, fixed to a trumpet in the ceiling, connected him with the car’s interior.

In spite of two powerful pairs of cylinders, strong chains and springs, this vehicle could no longer move by its own volition for it rested on bare rims. The tyres, up against one wall, looked oddly like lifebelts, and were hard and dry as wood. It is almost unbelievable that between 1914 and 1919 this limousine survived garrisons and requisitions, and later, in 1943, did not fall victim either to the French or the Germans.

Signs of decay were pitilessly disclosed by the glaring light. The red paint, as well as the black of the mudguards – the livery of my father’s cars – were faded. In front, above the honeycomb radiator, a dark stain traced the three-pointed star. At each side of the bonnet, U-shaped headlight brackets looked like candle holders and the number on the plate, 43-M, just visible, bore witness to its great age. The large round container on the roof was for the spare wheel. Horsehair protruded from the upholstery and here and there a spring showed through the light grey seats. Yet in spite of all this, the sixty horse-power limousine was still a grand old lady…

…this 60hp Mercedes now takes pride of place in the Daimler-Benz museum, not only as a link in their in their long development but as a machine unique in it’s luxurious fittings and in its relation to a glorious past…

…What tales this limousine could tell of sumptuous dresses, flower-laden hats; of decorated uniforms, tailcoats, feather-adorned shakos and top hats with a brilliant sheen. What serious and trifling conversations, what witticism, confidences and secrets she must have heard – but like a perfect hostess, she was discreet.

This automobile was the symbol of a creative idea, the forerunner of her kind and a faithful servant of her master. But let me add this: like great wines, motor cars have their vintages. Beneath the cherry-red bonnet of this one worked untiringly a motor that can be called, with some respect, the ‘Gordon Bennett 1903‘. This type is worth a sacrifice. Indeed, the heirs of Emil Jellinek-Mercédès and the Directors of Daimler-Benz agree that never before had so much been paid for an ‘old crock’.

When this venerable ancestor began its journey, slowly and ponderously, it passed the spot where so often it had stood ready to to render a distinguished service. But gone where the stairs which lead to the hall-like kitchen where delicious meals were prepared for famous parties; gone the high windows of the empire-style dining-room, that looked upon the most select gatherings – all have disappeared. Limping and moaning the car reached the goods train where it was loaded into a wagon brought specially from Germany. The doors were closed and this wonder of the past moved out of sight.

The numerous visitors to the museum in Untertürkheim can now admire this 60hp car in all its pristine beauty. Apart from a new coat of paint and tyres made to measure, she is the same as she was in her heyday. She can take us on a drive, back through a half-century, filled with La Belle Epoque, two world wars, much unhappiness and great hopes for the future. Yet there is no return: only the magic of these memories can lead us back.

Guy Jellinek-Mercédès – My Father Mr Mercédès, 1961

There is no return: only the magic of these memories can lead us back.


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