1966 Mercedes-Benz 600 sedan complete with ‘Jimmy Savile-esque’ fold-down bed to be auctioned; it was created for the eccentric Armenian oil magnate Nubar Gulbenkian
Santa Claus lookalike and all-round extravagant Nubar Gulbenkian (1896 – 1972) – his father sued him over him charging a single sandwich to petty cash and ended up with a legal bill equivalent to £4.7 million in costs in 1938 – was a man who liked, in fact, loved his cars.
London and South of France based Gulbenkian didn’t opt for just any kind of automobile; this thrice married son of “the then world’s richest man” Calouste Gulbenkian (1869 – 1955) – nicknamed ‘Mr Five Per Cent’ due to his policy of retaining 5% of the shares of the oil companies that he developed – insisted on cars that were made to reflect his truly whacky character.
Aside from bizarrely merging Austin taxi cabs with the bodies of horse-drawn Hackney cabs, Ottoman Empire born Gulbenkian personalised his many Rolls-Royces – one of which subsequently used as Uncle Monty’s car in the iconic film Withnail & I – with such things as speedometers in the rear compartment (so he could keep an eye on what speed his driver was motoring at) and snakeskin trimmings.
Bought at a cost of around £75,000 ($91,000, €82,000 or درهم335,000) and with a further £91,000 ($111,000, €100,000 or درهم408,000) supposedly spent on customisation, a 1966 Mercedes-Benz 600 sedan originally delivered new to Nubar Gulbenkian is to be sold at auction in September.
Gulbenkian supposedly initially approached Mercedes-Benz to build him a vehicle with a full glass roof and seats that would convert to a double bed so that he could lay down and look up at the sky. They allegedly refused this request – perhaps sensibly not wanting to have association with a concept that later was used by the paedophile Jimmy Savile in a “live-in” Range Rover in which he abused some of his many victims – so instead the Armenian purchased a standard 600 sedan under a fake name through a French dealer.
With a budget plainly of “no expenses spared,” the Mercedes was sent to the Parisian coachbuilder Henri Chapron for modifications. They included the aforementioned bed and roof and also hand held mirrors (to reflect the owner’s plain vanity), deflector frames of glass to regulate the flow of fresh air and to create minimal turbulence, a minibar and special tobacco pipe holders.
Gulbenkian monitored his driver’s performance from the rear with a speedometer and fuel guage he had fitted to the rear and as a “man obsessed with detail” had the typical wood lining replaced entirely with “sumptuous leather throughout.”
On the magnate’s death in 1972, the 600 was left to the gardener of his house in Cannes. It was shipped to his home in Portugal and left in storage for the next thirty years. Surprisingly, on being moved thereafter, it supposedly needed “only minimal servicing and a cleaning to bring it back to a usable condition.”
Owned subsequently by a Portuguese collector named José Mira since circa 2002 and part of the Sáragga Collection more recently, the 6.3-litre V8 sedan has “never been rolled into a restorer’s workshop” according to a January 2019 Petrolicious article by Robb Pritchard.
RM Sotheby’s will sell the former Nubar Gulbenkian 1966 Mercedes-Benz 600 sedan by Henri Chapron of Paris as part of the Sáragga Collection sale near the beach resort of Comporta in Portugal on the 21st September. They offer the car without reserve, but with an estimate of £274,000 to £365,000 ($333,000 to $444,000, €300,000 to €400,000 or درهم1.2 million to درهم1.6 million).
Of this historic vehicle, the auctioneers conclude: “Every Mercedes-Benz 600 is a special car, but this example is undoubtedly more special than most and warrants serious consideration from any Mercedes-Benz aficionado.”
The legacy of the Gulbenkian family lives on today through the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation – which was started with a donation of £58 million in 1902 or the equivalent of £7 billion today – and in January this year a fascinating analysis of the life of Calouste Gulbenkian was published also.
To buy a copy of ‘Mr Five Per Cent: The Many Lives of Calouste Gulbenkian, The World’s Richest Man’ by Jonathan Conlin click here.
Some quotes from and about Nubar Gulbenkian:
Of his fortune:
“I’ve been retired all my life, but I’ve also been working hard all my life. A fortune does not look after itself, after all.”
Of his schooling:
“At Harrow, I played no games and had an unpronounceable name and quite soon I was recognised as something of an oddity, but I was accepted on my own terms.”
Of his religious beliefs (and his somewhat whacky eyebrows):
“During Lent I brush my eyebrows down. It’s an oriental religious custom that you must show outward signs of your sorrow.”
Of taking England as his home:
“I get along very well with all honest people. England’s a very fine country, but it takes a long time to learn to take the English. I tell all my foreign friends the first forty years are the hardest.”
When asked to state his “position in life” on a market research form, his answer was:
Of his view of his own lifestyle:
“I believe in comfort. I enjoy myself. I enjoy life. I enjoy everything I do.”
“If something is too much of a bore to do thoroughly and with zest, then don’t bother to do it at all.”
When asked whether he preferred old brandy or young women, horses or Rolls‐Royces and city life over country life, he answered:
“I prefer everything.”
“I have all of it I could possibly desire.”
“My father always said oilmen are like cats. You can never tell whether they are fighting or making love.”
Asked about his hobbies, he invented a word (coined from Greek):
“Pan taraxia… Keeping people on their toes.”
The well-known gourmet on dinner parties:
“The best number for a dinner party is two – myself and a damn good head waiter.”
On food in general:
“Gastronomy is an art as difficult to master as music or painting, and, for me, much more rewarding. I certainly get more pleasure from working out a menu, discussing the pros and cons of each dish with a chef who knows his business than I do from listening to the best of Beethoven’s symphonies.”
“I never eat bad food. If you wander into any restaurant and want something quick, quick in ten minutes, you’ll get a bad meal and bloody well deserve it.”
Of his sartorial style:
“In England a man cannot be seen around horses without his gloves and hat. One never wears a gray bowler unless he is with horses. It wouldn’t do. It would shock people’s feelings.”
Of the only occasions he would not wear the trademark dark blue orchid that he sported daily:
“When I am in France, on board a French ship or airplane, or at a French Embassy. It is the French custom, in France, for those who have been granted the Legion of Honor to wear the insignia of the order in their buttonhole. I feel it only courteous, to show the respect for the country which granted me the honor, to wear mine instead of an orchid.”
Of how he made his orchid dark blue:
“I dip a white orchid into a mixture of Stephen’s Ink and water – I have got the mixture virtually right by now – let it dry, then shake it out gently – and I achieve a very adequate dark blue orchid.”
On suing his father in 1938 after the elder Gulbenkian upbraided him for having charged a meal of chicken in tarragon jelly with asparagus tips costing £1.80 to petty cash:
“That was surely the most expensive chicken in history.”
(The case was subsequently settled out of court, but the father had to pay £70,700 or the equivalent of £4.7 million today in court costs and lawyers’ fees).
Of his friendship with John Paul Getty:
“Have I got only one Rolls-Royce? Oh come now. I’m not so rich as Mr. Getty, but I not so poor as all that! Mr. Getty asks my wife and me down for a meal at his house, Sutton Place, from time to time. There is always plenty to eat and drink, it is all of good quality, but he does not take such an interest in gastronomy as I do. But then, few people do.”
On taking up hunting shortly after turning 65:
“I’m a huntin’ man,” he said. “Say ‘huntin’ man,’ not ‘hunter.’ A hunter is a horse, not a gentleman. ‘Fancy Nubar Gulbenkian dressing that way,’ they’d say. ‘He should know better.”
“It is more satisfying to be a bad player at golf. The worse you play, the better you remember the occasional good shot.”
On owning two remodeled Austin FX4 taxi cabs merged with the rear parts of horse-drawn Hackney carriages:
“I like to travel in a gold‐plated taxi that can turn on a sixpence – whatever that is!”
“I wanted my taxi dolled-up, more comfortable inside and more distinguished outside, without losing its mobility. People recognise it. After a party or an opening they come and tell me where it is and I don’t have to wait.”
On marriage in general:
“I’ve had good wives, as wives go, and as wives go, two of them went.”
Of his second wife, Dora Freeland (married 1928), he stated:
“I certainly cannot blame Doré for our marriage breaking down. It was entirely my fault that it failed. Being younger and more virile than I am now, I succumbed to other charms.”
His third wife, Marie Berthe Edmée de Ayala (married 1948), on their union:
“Of course, he’s a very difficult man to live with, but it’s worthwhile. Don’t you think that all the most amusing, intelligent men would be difficult to live with? Heaven forbid that I should have married a mollusk.”
When a friend from his Cambridge University days, George Ansley, was asked about Gulbenkian, he answered:
“Nubar is so tough that every day he tires out three stockbrokers, three horses and three women.”