Holiday reading reveals a Rolling Stones Merc mystery

10

Author: Martin BuckleyPublished:

I went on a half term break to Tenerife. Very little real life car excitement here. A huge number of W123 Mercedes variants survive in the warm and usually dry climate but other than a nice-looking 190 Fintail I saw nothing else lurking.

It gave me the opportunity to get stuck into the Keith Richards autobiography I gave up on months ago. To be honest there was not much else to do (except eat) because it was raining most of the time, although I was being entertained by the dramas in the life of a noisy American lady who would tell anyone who'd listen that her husband had run off because he’s decided he’s gay, only to then decide he’s not gay because he’s shacked up with another lady all of a sudden. Perhaps it’s a classic case of ‘helping them out when they’re busy’ rather than full time gay?

Who knows? Certainly Keith Richards was never confused and his book is actually rather good with plenty of automotive references.

Blue Lena his well loved S3 Flying Spur is very fondly recalled as a great car for ‘fast night driving’. It had a secret compartment for drug stashing (drugs figure a lot in the book as you might guess and if you are considering taking them up as a serious hobby a quick flick through it might put you off) and it is important in Keith’s life not least for the fact that its back seat was the spot he and future long-term partner Anita Pallenberg, on drive to Morocco, first had a coming together.

Must have been quite a trip that because Keith tells how at one point the poor Bentley got stoned by a mob and he ended up in front of a Moroccan judge. At the time Anita was still with Brian Jones who, the way Keith tells it was a major pain in the bum. He was also very short and needed to sit on a cushion to see over the steering wheel of his Humber Super Snipe.

The famous late-night meeting with the scenery on the way back from a gig at Knebworth sometime in the 1970s is written of, but what damage the car sustained is not related; only that his son – who was in the car Bentley at the time – left a bloody hand print on the dashboard.

One mystery is the Mercedes convertible Keith talks about rolling sometime in the late '60s. Apparently he lost control when all the power to the brakes and steering disappeared, which, if you think about it, must mean it was a 300 W111 cabriolet although I'm not certain brakes and steering ran off the same circuit as they did on the 600. In any case Mr Richards insists the car was built in 1947 'probably out of scrap panzers'. Anyone got any ideas what it was?

Comments

Chris Martin

In the late sixties I would have thought all Sir Keef was capable of rolling would have been a few Rizlas......and consequently probably not really sure if it was the steering or the brakes that had decided not to co-operate. But yes, if there was a top of the range convertible in the Mercedes line up suitable for pop royalty then it would have been the W111 300SE. Having not got around to one of those yet for myself I can't be sure, but a lot of the fiddly bits from the 600 may have been employed. Certainly they were in the 300SEL 6.3 monster, but then that was not available as a rag-top.
I will consult the Mercedes bookshelf in the morning (it's getting late here) and check on that.
Chris M.
ps, Doesn't it always rain in Tenerife?

 

Valve Bounce

I loved the car references I even started making notes after the drugs references started to get a bit tedious.

I thought the 1947 Mercedes cabriolet would have to be a 170V. He does say "a tank with a canvas roof" made of "Panzer parts and armoured steel, immediately postwar". Maybe he just lost the brakes.

The opening scene is also great; Keef and Ronnie in 1972 driving a bright yellow Chevrolet Impala across Arkansas and they very nearly get busted (note to police: the dope is in the doors).

Oh and at Nellcôte they had a 20 foot Riva mahogany speedboat (The "Mandrax 2" for quick trips to Italy) plus an E-Type, Pontiac Convertible and assorted motor bikes.

I loved the idea of Brian dumping the Humber and running around in a two-tone 'pimp style' Jaguar Mk10.

Valve Bounce

He's still got the Bentley BTW, C&SC need to get in touch with Keefs people. We need a feature on the most famous car in rock 'n' roll!

http://theaudioperv.com/2011/05/12/keith-richards-511-interview-with-jim...

See at 5:30.

hps

Maybe it was just a conventional car without power brakes nor power steering and there appeared a damage in the brake system. Thus the braking was only working on one side or wheel of the car, so Keith just lost control.
There are no Mercedes cabriolets models and also no Mercedes passenger car with power steering in 1947. In 1946 they started to build the pre-war 170 modell, but as cabriolet it was only available before the war. In the early 50s the 170 OTP "Offener Tourenwagen Polizei" (Open Touring Car Police) was built for police service.
Maybe it was a Mercedes 170 "Kuebelwagen" (1938-1942) which was converted for civil use in 1947.

Hans Peter

Zagato

I heard a great story about Keith on Radio 2 the other day. Apparently he was at the wheel on a long journey with Mick Jagger in the passenger seat and some other dudes in the back. He hadn't been talking much and after a long while he suddenly jerked upright and said: "Hey Mick, am I driving man?". No wonder he rolled his Merc...

Zagato

Don Callum

Read Keef's bio and thought is was pretty well done, far better than Clapton's who left out almost everything interesting. George Harrison has told better, more enlightening anecdotes about their relationship. George and Eric seemed to be more "car guys" than Keef ever was.
That side of those 2 famous friends would bear investigating in my humble opinion.

chipt33

"In the late sixties I would have thought all Sir Keef was capable of rolling would have been a few Rizlas......and consequently probably not really sure if it was the steering or the brakes that had decided not to co-operate". obviously you assume the effects that the drugs of the 'Richards" variety had were like bourbon or some other alchoholic beverage. as Keef will have most probably consumed a cocktail of various splendid consumables. there will be an awful lot of cross tolerances going on. so he would most probably know a damn sight more than you ever would be able to imagine

chipt33

"In the late sixties I would have thought all Sir Keef was capable of rolling would have been a few Rizlas......and consequently probably not really sure if it was the steering or the brakes that had decided not to co-operate".  obviously you assume the effects that the drugs of the 'Richards" variety had  were like bourbon or some other alchoholic beverage. as Keef will have most probably consumed a cocktail of various splendid consumables. there will be an awful lot of cross tolerances going on. so he would most probably  know a damn sight more than you ever would be able to imagine 

Chris Martin

Sorry if it wasn't clear that I was just joking about the Rizlas.

However, as my library consists of not only car related stuff and C&SC mag's I was able to check on other versions of the story.

On page 269 of 'Life' Keith says: "I watched that thing (the car) roll over in slow motion three times..." which is a common enough phenomenon when the adrenalin hits.

Bill Wyman's account in 'Rolling With The Stones' reads; "In the early hours of 7 June, on their way home to Redlands from Olympic, Keith and Anita crashed on a bend of the A286 near Chichester, eight miles from Redlands. The Mercedes was later written off, but Keith escaped unhurt. Anita broke her collarbone and was taken to the aptly named St Richard's hospital in Chichester."

A more lurid account from 'Old Gods Almost Dead' by Stephen Davis states; "One night she and Keith were driving down to Redlands at top speed in a huge Mercedes Keith had bought. Supposedly a Nazi staff car earlier in it's life, it had already been smashed and repaired once during Keith's brief ownership since he liked to drive after a snort of heroin and then would nod off at the wheel. He did it again that night. The speeding car missed the turn at a roundabout, hit the curb, skidded off the road and down an embankment. Covered in blood and glass, Keith hid the dope, dealt with the police, and later got Anita to hospital, where they found her collarbone broken. Soon Keith was back at the wheel of the Blue Lena."

For those under fifty and probably not familiar with Stones lore, Olympic refers to their preferred recording studio in Barnes, south west London, and Redlands is the name of Keith's home at West Wittering in Sussex.

Coincidentally June 7th was also the day I attended my first major rock concert, when Blind Faith played Hyde Park and I seem to remember it was a fine day, so rain probably played no part in the accident.
(My second, even bigger rock show would be at the same place a month later for the Stones!)

If the car in question was in fact built in 1947 Valve Bounce and Hans Peter have detailed the relevant models above, but either way it could not then have been a "Nazi staff car" if it was built two years after the war had ended. Also, the 170V was not a particularly high performance car of the type favoured by sixties pop stars, and it is quite possible in the context that Keith was having a joke himself, and it was actually a later model, but whatever the car, if one falls asleep at the wheel and hits roundabouts or curbs then yes it would be quite possible to lose either steering, brakes or both.

The Blue Lena seems to have survived several accidents, and even a spell as the Pink Lena following a repaint in the seventies, but it seems, it was later painted blue again. Valve Bounce has come up with a great idea there, and should be Martin's next mission; let's have the Blue Lena featured in C&SC - the whole story.

On the subject of pop stars accidents, a couple of years later George Harrison was driving near his home in Henley late one night, also in a Mercedes, and also ran over a roundabout, during an electrical black-out. He was discharged from hospital with stitches to a head wound, but Patti came off worse with broken ribs and concussion. I believe this was his white Mercedes 600; at that time they kept a pair of the 600 Pullman limo's at Savile Row, but George drove himself in one of the swb models.

Anyway, (and further to Don's remark above regarding George's and Eric's cars), I hope Martin doesn't mind but as the subject of pop stars and their cars should throw up many more tales I am copying this reply over to a new thread on the forum.

Chris M.

 

Valve Bounce

I knew my copy of the marvellous "Mercedes-Benz Parade and Staff Cars of The Third Reich" would come in useful one day!

Now I'm guessing, as Hans suggested, it was probably a recommissioned army staff car imported into the UK and registered in 1947. Maybe a Type 290 Staff Car from the late 30's (which had hydraulic brakes all round)? A 170 would be a bit utilitarian for Keith.
I've put a link on the Mercedes Club forum,l I'm sure someone there will know better.

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