Lot 185 - 1951 Mercedes-Benz 170S B Cabriolet
|Result||Sold - £86,240|
- Ex-MI6 owned in Berlin in 1951
- Links to George Blake double agent in the Cold War
- Concours condition and many awards given by Mercedes-Benz
The Mercedes-Benz W136 was one of a range of inline four-cylinder cars from the mid-1930s into the 1950s. The model 170V made its public debut as successor to the W15 Type 170 in February 1936 and between 1936 and 1939 it was Mercedes-Benz top selling model. During the war the plant suffered very severe bomb damage, the manufacturer nevertheless emerged from the trauma with a significant competitive advantage over many of its pre-war competitors. Enough of the W136's tooling survived the bombing during World War II (or could be recreated post-war) for it to serve as the foundation upon which the company could rebuild. By 1947 the model 170V had resumed its place as Mercedes-Benz top-seller, a position it held until 1953. Lacking a luxury car in its line-up, Mercedes-Benz sought to regain a niche in that market by introducing the upscale 170S version of the 170V in 1949. It was more luxurious, costlier and, when launched, slightly larger than the 170V, distinctions the company made an effort to emphasize. Although sometimes referred to today as the first S-Class Mercedes-Benz, that designation did not yet exist. For a brief period of time, it was also offered as a Convertible A and B, these were almost entirely hand assembled dream cars. Only 1,603 cars of the four-seater Convertible B were made which has turned it into a very sought after old-timer.
The car was used by the MI6 in Berlin during one of the most interesting periods of the Cold War in the 1950’s. The car was owned by a MI6 agent who worked with George Blake who turned out to be a Russian spy and it was registered at the same address as Blake during its time in Berlin. Imported to the UK in the late 50’s and after lying in decay for decades it was purchased by Kenneth Foat who restored it to Concours d'Elegance condition. The car has since won several awards, been on display at Mercedes-Benz World and featured in the Mercedes history movie. This superb concours and award-winning Mercedes-Benz is presented in two-tone blue with light grey leather interior. The full restoration by Kenneth Foat some years ago, as previously mentioned, has photographic evidence in history file and the result is stunning. Its black hood is in superb condition and folds back as it should, all wood is immaculate and the whole car remains in award winning condition. Aside from its condition, this absolute gem has as fascinating history! It was owned originally by MI6 in 1956 and used by the then MI6 agent, Howard Greville, his neighbour in Berlin at the time was none other than the infamous George Blake, the Soviet double agent/spy during the height of the Cold War period. The car was used daily by Howard in Berlin between 1955 and 1956 to get to work from his residence at Platanenallee 26 in Charlottenburg to the MI6 headquarter at the Olympic Games stadium and to various MI6 intelligence gathering operations. In a letter from Howard to the Foat family, he confirmed he was ‘living in the British occupied part of Berlin with the attention directed upon Stalin’. Also, in an interview with Howard on 4th July 2008 by the Herald newspaper, they disclosed that Howard was a MI6 spy working in Berlin gathering information on the Soviets and that his main duty was to recruit Germans to assist. The mileage obtained from the original German service books written in Howard’s handwriting demonstrates the daily commute from Platanenallee 26 Charlottenburg to the MI6 headquarters. It shows that between 7th February and 7th June 1955 the car travelled 715km (66,162km to 66,877km) and between 7th June and 22nd June 1955 the car travelled 173km, which sums up to the daily commute.
The secret MI6 operations that took place in Berlin at this precise moment was Operation Gold.
Operation Gold or otherwise named Operation Stopwatch began in late December 1954 (Bill Harvey US) and was in full motion in 1955. It was a joint initiative between CIA and MI6 to tap into the Soviet communications by digging a tunnel under Berlin. The tunnel was completed on 2nd April 1956, which is about the same time the car and Howard left Berlin. The dates and miles put on the car while stationed in Berlin during 1955 coincides with Operation Gold. Operation Gold was at the time top secret, but it is now widely documented. One interesting book reflecting the secret mission is Steve Vogel’s book on George Blake called ‘Betrayal in Berlin’. It is a very comprehensive book on the Berlin Tunnel and the greatest conspiracy of the Cold War. At the heart of this Cold War espionage was George Blake. There is no doubt George knew the Mercedes well, considering he and Howard worked together and lived at the same address, so it’s highly likely George sometimes took a ride with Howard to the MI6 headquarter at the Olympic Games stadium.
The incredible, true and fascination history together with the car’s superb condition, must surely make this one of the most desirable examples of this model to come to the market in years. This car was also displayed to the public at Mercedes-Benz World in Brooklands between 2008-2013.
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