In 1956, Mrs. Caroline Foulke enjoyed a tri-city life with homes in Paris, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida, and that year, she walked into the New York City Mercedes-Benz dealership with a most unusual request-a new station wagon. While this is a commonplace order today, no such car was available in the Mercedes-Benz lineup in the 1950s. This was far from a standard model; however, Mercedes-Benz dealerships in the 1950s were eager to please. After some clever research, a new 300c sedan was ordered and, according to various accounts, it was shipped directly from Stuttgart to the Binz & Co. Coachworks in nearby Lorch-one of the few remaining custom coachbuilders in Germany. Known for building ambulances, hearses, and other commercial vehicles on smaller M-B chassis, it was a fitting task for them to create a station wagon. According to famed Mercedes-Benz restorer Bob Hatch, the Binz craftsmen most likely removed the standard bodywork from the front doors back. A one-piece roof panel was then fabricated, as was a new rear section, complete with folding rear seats and two-section tailgate. To create a seamless fit, the original rear doors were substantially modified, with vent windows incorporated. Other modifications were 190SL taillights (standard items being too large), polished, unpainted wheel covers, and a unique livery of medium gray over red leather. The finishing touch for Mrs. Foulke'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. Binz assigned serial number 3 to the one-off wagon. Legend has it that Mrs. Foulke was so fond of her splendid wagon that she had it shipped by air from home to home. 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 Cawley. In Cawley's care, the car was repainted in its current shade of Midnight Blue. Approximately ten years ago, the unique wagon was bought by its current owner, a collector with an interest in one-offs. It was promptly sent to Hatch & Sons, who were to undertake a partial restoration. What ensued was the removal of the engine and interior, a thorough engine bay detailing, a mechanical rebuild, and an interior restoration. Once completed, the car was shown at the Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance, where it was well received. This one-off station wagon is surprisingly architectural in its features, a masterpiece of then-modern German coachbuilding. The interior is magnificent. Woodgrain surrounds the cockpit and extends across the dashboard, onto the door sills, around the flush-fitting chrome window frames, and even surrounds the windscreen. The instruments and hardware are also impressive in their quality and spectacular in design, and the front compartment is generously equipped with a Becker Mexico radio, in-dash clock, and an optional air conditioning system, a necessity in humid Palm Beach. The passenger compartment and luggage area are similar in their deluxe appointments (woodgrain door caps, storage nets, and rich leather) and are meticulously finished with chrome hardware and thick carpets. Inside and out, the car remains in marvelous condition. A 300 of unusual grace, style, and distinction, this custom Binz-bodied wagon is a prize. It entertains at high-end concours and Mercedes-Benz club meets alike and is still quite capable of acting as an exclusive town car, just as Mrs. Foulke imagined it back in 1956.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Mercedes-Benz 300C
Years Produced:1956
Number Produced:1
Original List Price:$12,457 (300S cabriolet)
SCM Valuation:$242,000
Tune Up Cost:$750
Distributor Caps:$75
Chassis Number Location:Tag on firewall, stamped on right front chassis rail
Engine Number Location:Left side of block below head
Club Info:Mercedes-Benz Club of America 1907 Lelaray St. Colorado Springs, CO 80909
Investment Grade:B

This car sold for $242,000, including buyer’s premium, at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island Auction, in Amelia Island, Florida, on March 12, 2010, against a pre-sale estimate of $200k-$300k.

Imagine yourself a wealthy Manhattanite in the ’50s, with a son in boarding school and gear to carry between multiple homes. A Bentley is already in the garage, so a distinctive wagon is just the ticket for a family hauler. The 300 sedan, just improved for 1956 in the “c” model, now featured M-B’s low-pivot swing axle rear suspension, and could be ordered with air conditioning. This advanced luxury car served as the basis for Mrs. Foulke’s wagon. The selection of luxurious wagons at the time was limited to the occasional coachbuilt Rolls shooting brake, so the choice seems obvious in retrospect.

Originally Graphite Gray, now Midnight Blue-both work

The popular but conservative Graphite Gray color was chosen, but with a broad red diagonal stripe on the door to personalize the car (not that one would have confused this unique car with another Mercedes). If the car had belonged to a Main Line resident, it probably would have borne a letter F in a circle on the tailgate, done in red to match the interior leather.

This very wagon went through Dearborn Automobile Company in the 1980s. At that time, it was in nice original condition, needing only cleaning and service work to be a near #2 quality collector car.

My appraisal price was the auction selling price

By 1997, it was in the collection of Charles Cawley of Wilmington, Delaware, and Camden, Maine. Mr. Cawley had it repainted in dark blue. The odometer read 44,172 miles. I appraised it at $60k at that time. A year later, the car changed hands at Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction, selling for $60k-right on my appraisal number. Having been around collector cars and auctions all my life, I can assure you it doesn’t always work out that way.

By 1999, the wagon was at Hatch & Sons of Hudson, Massachusetts, being restored for Palm Beach collector Lee Munder. I’m sure the car knew its way around the city.

It’s tempting to compare the various historical values of this car with those of the 300 and 300b/c four-door convertibles, themselves rare variants of the 300 sedan. A #2 quality 300c convertible might have traded for $60k in 1998, matching the ’98 auction price of this wagon.

Although improved by the 1999 Hatch restoration, the sale price of $242,000 at Gooding Amelia was 20% higher than I expected, and probably 20% higher than a similar quality 300c four-door convertible might have brought that day.

All the things the market wants

The present collector market seems to honor quality, rarity, and provenance, which this Mercedes has in abundance. To illustrate, today nice production cars like 280SLs lag behind the peak values of 1997, while the rarer (and more expensive) post-war M-Bs like the 1954 300S roadster have risen in value. I paid $165,000 in 2004 for the burgundy 300S roadster which sold at Gooding’s Scottsdale auction in January 2010 for, coincidentally, $242,000. The astonishing run-up of values of 300SLs since 1997 further illustrates this point.

Less expensive Mercedes models like 1951-54 220 cabriolets and 1958-60 220SE convertibles have also held value or increased slightly since 1997. I can only attribute this to the scarcity of good examples. Some later M-B models, such as the 220SEb/280SE/3.5 convertibles, have dropped maybe 15% in value since 1997. As lots of good examples of these cars are extant, this makes them not rare, so the drop in value fits my thesis.

As this wagon has quality, rarity, and provenance, I consider it a treasure well bought, and it probably made the seller a decent profit as well. A good deal for both sides, and happy news in any market.

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