A Faded Patina of Intrigue
Few tragedies are as poignant as those of storied lives meeting undignified ends. Such appears to be the case with this poor panzer veteran serving time with younger relatives on an ignoble car lot in Allentown, PA. You may recall this location as the site of our FC-150. Like that monument to four-wheeled awesome, this car deserves rescue and accolade but before that can happen, let’s take a moment for quiet reflection and study, because it’s far too dignified to beg for attention.
We here at Redusernab all seem to have an unintentional affection for Stuttgart tanks, and there are arguably few of them more deserving than this: a classic Fintail of timeless elegance even when left abandoned. But this particular example – forlorn though it may be – exhibits multiple layers of historic identity crises at play, and the stripped model badge on the trunk is only the tip of the iceberg.
The “Fintail” Benz signified the W111 platform from 1959 to 1968, and was the lauded forebearer of the subsequently designated Mercedes S-class. The fintails were somewhat controversial; supposedly created to add a belatedly understated appeal toward American tastes of the time, the cars were not actually made available west of the Atlantic until 1960 and when they were, they were only available at your friendly local Studebaker dealer. Tellingly, the W111 Cabriolet and Coupe were not graced with the Heckflosse treatment. Still, the Mercedes 220, 230, 250, and 280 sedans and wagons sported their flosse with pride for a decade (to heck with… um, linguistic pun fail?).
Wikipedia and other Heckflosse sites state that the cars bound for the United States recieved unique, stacked headlights to conform to US DOT regulation; photos reveal that European fintails sported flush, one-piece headlight covers, and also lack the inboard parking indicator projectiles. So then it appears we do have a US-spec car. But which year and model? Allegedly we may peg this as an early (1960) 220-S due to the rare chrome strip on the sides – a briefly used, US-specific cue that was quickly dropped and used nowhere else. Apparently Germans like excess chrome even less than tail fins. But they gave us oompa music, go figure.
So if this is a car built to US-spec for export and sale over here, then what of all the weatherbeaten medals of European heritage and origin on the grille? Did this car travel back across the pond and rack up serious time and meritorious service, before a discharge back to the ignobility of an American convalescent lot? I’m hoping our more well-versed and well-traveled readers can help out here.
The 200,000KM medal is of obvious origin and purpose; before you snicker about it, recall that 124K miles was (and still is) a pretty big deal for a gasser of 1960’s vintage. Several automakers offered such commemorative trinkets before the Japanese made such accomplishments merely required, boring and mundane.
But what of all the others? It appears this car is decorated with the medallions and honorifics of a veritable smorgasboard of european car organizations. When you join the AAA in America, you get a cheesy sticker which, if applied, magically transforms your car into a promotion for the AARP as well. But these are actually medals, to be installed and worn with pride. Were these from clubs that had US chapters, or did a car have to be registered locally to their respective HQs to earn respect and notoriety? And what are those clubs for, in the first place?
Working roughly clockwise from the top, I’ve only been able to identify a handful of them, and so far it’s not clarifying this car’s history too much.
The “TCS” badge with the Swiss crest was easy. The Touring Club Suisse (not that I can read it), but its name lends a general enough description to its purpose. According to Wikipedia (which might be taken with a grain of salt where Euro-to-‘Merican translations are concerned), its primary function is to “serve stranded motorists”. Which would make them a Swiss AAA. That’s OK by me, as long as they still use those St. Bernards with the whiskey barrels when you really get crossed up.
From northern Europe we move southwest to the north Atlantic coast of Spain and the small province of Guipuzcoa. This is the smallest province of Spain, and noted for its rugged, mountainous geography. The “Real Automovilklub de Guipuzcoa” has proved more esoteric in Google, but a few interesting tidbits have turned up. The Automovilklub seems to have disappeared, but an outfit called the Real Motoclub de Guipuzcoa has survived since 1913 with a focus on motorcycles. But would you believe I found an auction site selling the same medal that our mystery veteran wears? Yours for 80 Euros. (I can’t help wondering about the emphasis on the word “real”; Filmation wasn’t building cars in Spain, were they?)
I can’t identify the faded medal on the bottom right. It looks like it may say “Espana” and the remnants of a central yellow band would correlate to that, but I can’t find any active Spanish clubs using similar insignia. (That’s not to say they don’t exist; just that my espanol needs work). The primary auto club in Spain is – the Royal Automovil Club de Espana – and is another general-interest, AAA-like organization. Their logo is quite a bit different however.
The medal on the bottom left is potentially interesting and rare. It’s virtually illegible in the photo, but by pure dumb luck I found a site selling knock-offs of the medals used by the Automobile Club de France. The knock-offs are slightly different, while the one on our Fintail is of legitimately aged pedigree – and given its deep 3-D relief, was probably expensive to make. So why is that interesting? It seems the began not as a “AAA” type organization, but was founded in the late 19th century as an exclusive gentleman’s fraternity of the highest order. With a legacy including ownership of historic castles and villas, and membership ranks of famous and eminent names, the ACF was not originally intended to be your french granny’s tow-truck broker. Oh, but they did pause from sniffing wine, defeating womens’ suffrage, and stuffing tasty baguettes long enough to organize and found a little race called The 24 Hours of LeMans. Oui! But even if today’s ACF has evolved to serve a broader, more watered-down clientele, was this the case 50 years ago? A century ago they may as well have been Free Masons. Even today, they maintain several exclusive clubs and properties. Not a mime-striped AAA, that much is for certain.
Sadly, the next (upper) two on the left side are a complete mystery. They’re just as illegibly faded as the ACF’s below, but dumb luck has not come to my rescue this time. Oh well, win some lose some… Who will step up to the plate? (Click the pic for a larger version…!)
Moving across to our final two in the center then…
Few things say “Norway” like “Kongelig Norsk Automobilklub“, and indeed, I found this club . Once again, my mono-linguistics fail me, but their apparent association with FiA (F1 and/or WRC anyone?) seems intriguing. Is it yet another general-interest AAA-type organization, or one with more noble and exclusive goals, like the ACF?
Finally, we get to what may be the most intriguing medal on the car. The “AIT” logo is still in use, unchanged, representing the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme. Now this is where it gets interesting. The is more of an international aggregate corporation that serves to “represent the interests of national automobile associations and touring clubs”. This includes each of the aforementioned European entities, the American AAA, and clubs throughout Asia, South America, and elsewhere. As such, AIT doesn’t solicit or endorse membership by individuals; people don’t join the AIT, auto clubs (and/or their combined management) do, to further their collective interests on a geopolitical scale. So it seems odd that an individual could obtain a badge from the AIT for an individual car. What would such a person be promoting? Why would the AIT seek to recognize such a person or vehicle? What prestige would adorning one’s car with figurehead initials afford?
And thus having concluded our brief tour of Europe, let us return to the car as it sits for just a moment. It has just a hair under a truly period-amazing 175,000 miles on the odometer – or 280,000 kilometers. That could have earned it a new-era 250,000 km medal, and is close to a possible 300,000 km one. The car was driven and cared for long enough to be retrofitted with an aftermarket CHMSL light in the back window. Now it’s easy to see this as a disgrace, but to put forth the effort at the time meant that you were of no small means or care when it came to keeping distracted teenagers from ramming your heck. Finally, someone went through the trouble to remove the model number from the trunk… yet left the rare chrome side trim, and Flava-Flav hood ornament, intact! Kind of an odd trophy to pilfer from a vet, don’t you think?
Yes, this car has an interesting history. Or so it would seem, if only we knew the truth.
So, what say you, esteemed readers, historians, jokers, and hoons? Did this car earn a reputation as a back-forth globetrotter of high pedigree? Or was it merely the conveyance of an owner with an eclectic taste for secondary honorifics? What are the three I couldn’t identify? Does the AIT badge mean anything, was the ACF medal from its secret society days, or would you yourself just try to “collect ’em all”, no matter the cost to pocketbook and dignity?
No matter the story, it’s an interesting find on the backlot of a shady dealer. Fare thee well, our elegant friend, on the visions of a road well traveled.