Summer is always a time when open-air motoring becomes more alluring. And once upon a time, i.e. before about 1940, phaetons, all-weather limousines and other four-door convertibles allowed for four or five fully-grown adults to enjoy the warmer months in comfort together in the same car. In the postwar era, this became increasingly difficult to achieve, save for owners of a ‘60s Lincoln or a VW Thing. Or the very lucky few who could order a Mercedes 300 Cabriolet D.
Seeing any Adenauer Benz is a pretty special event, but a curbside Cabriolet D is one for the books. Or for this website, at any rate. I won’t bother rewriting the history of the model (links to previous CC posts in below), but the production numbers speak for themselves: of the 8000-plus W186 chassis made from 1951 to 1957, only 642 were clad with the drop-top body.
Why were so few made? Well, even in the ‘50s, this body style was a bit of a throwback. Besides, they didn’t come cheap. One of these hand-made behemoths would have set you back about DM24,700 in 1955. That was just DM2500 more than the limo, but to get an idea of the scales we’re dealing with here, a deluxe VW Beetle “Export” cost DM4600 at the time.
All those Deutschmarks bought you a lot of car, including a 125PS 3-litre OHC straight-6, a giant horse hair-lined convertible top with functional landau bars, and a luxuriously-appointed cabin. Wood, chrome and leather aplenty, but the feel is decidedly not British.
The W186 has a definite prewar feel to it, especially in this body style, but the engine and drivetrain were arguably more modern than any comparable British or American aristocar of the ‘50s. For the 300b model (1954-55) seen here, Mercedes squeezed an extra 10hp of power, improved the brakes and added front window vents, but the big jump to fuel injection and a revamped body would only come with the 300d in 1957.
The original look of the 300 suits me fine, especially that bulbous tail that was echoed so well on the 300SL. A couple of decades ago, the whole car would have seemed almost oversized, with that giant tombstone of a grille and those chunky bits of brightwork. But given how massive cars have become nowadays, it would fit pretty well in present-day traffic. It’s still huge compared to JDM keis, but then most vehicles are.
The four-door convertible body style died out far too soon. Call me hopelessly old-fashioned, but I wish they could bring it back. I know, I know, it’d be prohibitively difficult given crash protection regulations in most markets, but one can dream. Imagine a roofless 2024 Tesla Model X or Bentley Mulsanne – you’d notice that going down the street. Just like this one still makes heads turn everywhere it wafts by.