A car’s provenance can be everything. At best it can increase its value tenfold (i.e. Steve McQueen’s Porsche 911S from the film Le Mans selling for $1.375M), but at the very least it immediately seems to increase an owner’s affinity for their classic. A car can still be wonderful without a noteworthy narrative, but when a car tells a good story it becomes much more than just a car; it becomes a part of our collective culture and history. This why we were markedly more excited than normal to hear about a 1965 Mercedes Cabriolet sitting in an old garage in Napa, CA. The car apparently had a ton of documentation with the rumor of some sort of celebrity ownership. We didn’t know much about it – the seller was apparently keeping mum – but it was enough to entice us to immediately hop on a plane and go find out. And we found that the car did have a story, and while it wasn’t one that dramatically increased its value, we certainly found it interesting enough to share in The Journal.
The car was originally purchased in Germany by Elliot Kastner through his company Wincast Film Productions, Ltd. Kastner was a notable American producer in the 1960’s and 70’s who centered his operations in Europe out of his Pinewood Studios offices on the outskirts of London. He also maintained a home on the French Riviera, which is where this car was originally kept and driven when Kastner was in residence.
In 1968 Kastner began pre-production on what would become 1969’s Where Eagles Dare, for which he’d been able to attach Richard Burton and an up and coming Clint Eastwood in the starring roles. A significant portion of the film was to be shot on location in Austria and Kastner had the car shipped there for his personal use during production. It was here where Eastwood first came into contact with the cabriolet and, already a significant automotive buff, he subsequently revealed to Kastner his admiration for the car.
Upon wrapping principal photography, Kastner invited much of the cast and crew back to the South of France, where he had a big surprise in store for Eastwood. Having developed a close relationship with the actor throughout the process, Kastner gave him the car just a few days before Eastwood was scheduled to leave.
No doubt delighted with the gift, Eastwood had the car shipped back to California, where it entered the Port of Long Beach on July 8th, 1968. He kept and used the car for a significant period of time, bringing it with him when he moved his primary residence from Los Angeles to Carmel By The Sea, near Monterey California. At some point in 1976, in trade for a new vehicle, Eastwood had a proxy turn the car in to a local dealership, Monterey Airport Motors, which is where the third owner, a Napa Valley attorney, purchased the car as a gift for his wife.
The attorney already had a W111 cabriolet, a 1969 280SE finished in the same colors. As such, before giving her the car, he ordered customized vanity license plates for both of the cars. His read “14HIM” (one for him), and, because the cars were essentially matching, her’s read “14HER2” (one for her, too). These blue and yellow plates still remain on the car today. The attorney and his wife kept the car for more than thirty years, deciding to sell it in 2007 due to her declining health. We were fortunate enough to come across the car through a mutual friend of the couple’s son and flew up to look at the car as soon as we heard about it.
As both his and (especially) her cabriolets were used as secondary weekend cars, the car had always been garaged and hardly driven throughout their ownership. Therefore, although somewhat weathered, we found the car in remarkably clean condition – and most notably, completely free of rust. Consequently, we set about bringing it back to its original grandeur – having it gone through mechanically, repairing and re-chroming the original bumpers and trim and removing and refinishing the gorgeous Makassar Ebony wood dash and window surrounds. I’m sure you’ll agree that the outcome is gorgeous, tastefully understated while simultaneously head-turning. And while we owned it, driving it was made all the more enjoyable for knowing that Clint had sat in that same plush leather seat, arm hanging out over the window sill, looking ceaselessly cool. I’m sure he was usually wearing his patented scowl, but when I was behind the wheel, I couldn’t help but smile.