After World War II, Mercedes-Benz wanted to re-establish its position in the automotive hierarchy, to create a car that, in the words of the board chairman at the time, Wilhelm Haspel, “gold-plates the name Mercedes-Benz again.”
The brand’s place in the German market had been devastated by a long pause in vehicle development while it produced munitions for the Nazis, and by Allied bombing of its factories. Its place in the European market had been corroded by this wartime collusion, including its widespread use of conscripted labor from concentration camps. And it barely had a presence in North America.
It persevered through the late 1940s, like many global automakers, with slightly updated versions of prewar designs, in its case the 170, a rather unremarkable coupe with a small four-cylinder engine.
“This was a very basic model, the 170,” said Michael Kunz, the director of the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Irvine, Calif., a company subsidiary dedicated to the history, preservation and restoration of the brand’s vintage products, which date back to 1886. “Historically, we are not known as a basic-car company, so it was important to show a resurrection as a leading producer of luxury goods and highly engineered vehicles.”
Mercedes 300 sedan and convertible. Revealed at the Frankfurt Motor Show in the spring of 1951, the 300 sported a stately design, with a prominent chrome grille, a long formal hood, bulbous fenders that flowed into and out of the front and rear doors, a capacious cabin lined in quality materials, and a tapered rear. It was the largest and fastest production car in West Germany, known in Mercedes’s parlance as a “Representative Class” vehicle.
“These were typically cars that were driven and owned by captains of industry and heads of state,” Mr. Kunz said. “Absolutely the best of the best.”
Brian Rabold, vice president for valuation services at the classic vehicle insurer Hagerty, concurs. “These would have been comparable to a Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud or Bentley R-Type,” he said.
They could be had with radio telephones, dictation machines, writing desks, intercoms, partitions between driver and passengers, and custom trim finishes. “If the party ordering it wanted it, the factory would make every attempt to accommodate it,” Mr. Kunz said.
The pope was chauffeured in a specially constructed Landaulet version, with a retractable top over just the rear compartment — a space that contained a single thronelike seat.
300b of 1954 upped power to 125 horses. The 300c of 1955 offered the brand’s first automatic transmission, a must for introduction into the American marketplace.
And the 300d of 1957 added a more modern and rectilinear body that incorporated a nine-inch stretch, nearly half of which went to the rear passenger compartment. It also shed the side window pillars. This gave the car a grand and airy profile, enhanced by its new fuel-injected engine, which produced 160 horsepower.
“From a power perspective, they’re not sports cars,” Mr. Kunz said of the Adenauers, which weighed over two tons. He characterized them instead as ideal autobahn cruisers. “It takes a while to get there, but you can go 90 miles per hour no problem,” he said.
This is in part because the car’s engine, and other drivetrain bits, was shared with another stellar postwar Benz. “They provided much of the technology that was used to produce the 300 SL,” Mr. Kunz said, referring to the remarkably advanced Mercedes Gullwing racecar and coupe of the mid-1950s.