A Grand Old Man’s Grand Old Merc

1967 Mercedes ‘Dictator Car’ limousine owned until 1993 by the first President of Ivory Coast to be auctioned after being restored at vast expense

Félix Houphouët-Boigny (whom claimed to be born in 1908, but was more likely born in 1905, and died in 1993) was known variously as ‘Papa Houphouët’ (‘The Old One’), the ‘Sage of Africa,’ the ‘Farmer President’ and the ‘Grand Old Man of Africa.’ Westerners, more simply called him: ‘HB.’


The first President of Ivory Coast and ruler from 1960 to 1963 was considered “politically moderate” and under him the country “prospered economically.” His tenure was referred to as the “Ivorian miracle” and with growth, this larger-than-life leader moved the capital from Abidjan to his hometown, Yamoussoukro, in 1983. There he built not only an international airport, but also, at an extraordinary cost of the equivalent of £629 million ($780 million, €713 million or درهم2.9 billion) today, the largest church in the world, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro.


“Well-loved first President of Ivory Coast” Félix Houphouët-Boigny (1905 or 1908 – 1993).
Félix Houphouët-Boigny travelling in one of his Mercedes-Benz ‘Dictator Cars’.

Aside from the usual ‘perks’ purchased by leaders of his time – including homes in France, Italy and Switzerland – Houphouët-Boigny was known for his love of shiny metals. In 1983, he declared: “People are surprised that I like gold. It’s just that I was born in it.” With his ‘Françafrique-style’ of diplomacy, Houphouët-Boigny liked to travel in style also and now one of his fleet of cars is to be sold at auction in June.


The car to be offered by RM Sotheby’s is a 1967 Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman with six-doors. It is one of five delivered to Ivory Coast at that time, unusually has no door handles on its middle doors and is fitted with air conditioning and an intercom also. Presented in its original colour combination of black lacquer with a natural coloured leather interior and brown carpets, the car left Africa after the death of Houphouët-Boigny in 1993. It was then exported to Germany and in the time since has been subject to restorative work costing some £88,000 ($109,000, €100,000 or درهم401,000) in 1994 and between 2013 and 2014 also. The auctioneers note that “the car is equipped with a replacement engine of the right type and that a second engine of the right type comes with the purchase.”


Twice married Houphouët-Boigny was said to be worth somewhere between the staggering sums of £5.7 billion and £8.9 billion ($7 billion and $11 billion, €6.4 billion and €10 billion or درهم25.7 billion and درهم40.4 billion) on his death. His funeral was attended by 7,000 people and subsequently Ivory Coast’s economy declined rapidly. A religiously grounded civil war followed and still today, what was previously a prosperous land remains “severely damaged.”


RM Sotheby’s will sell the ex-Félix Houphouët-Boigny Mercedes-Benz 600 Pullman at their Essen sale on behalf of its current owner, Dr Urich Speicher. The event runs from 24th to 27th June and an estimate of £220,000 to £247,000 ($273,000 to $306,000, €250,000 to €280,000 or درهم1 million to درهم1.1 million) has been set.


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