An auction listing appeared in my inbox this morning, offering for sale a letter written by 007 creator Ian Fleming in August, 1959, asking a friend’s help in finding a new car. Fleming was considering a W111 generation Mercedes 220SE, appreciating its cutting edge tech (fuel injection) but hoping the factory would soon produce a sportier version. It may have been written 58 years ago, but it reads just like a slew of similar letters I get from Roadshow readers every month!
At the time of this letter, Fleming was driving a black 1955 Thunderbird with a 3-speed manual “and as few power assists as possible.” He bought the car new with proceeds from selling the film rights to his first novel, Casino Royale, for a paltry $6,000.
He said his Thunderbird “was by far the best car I have ever possessed” but the bug for a new car had bitten him. The W111 220SE Fleming inquired about represented a fresh new generation of Mercedes, replacing a predecessor that hailed from the 1930s and looked a bit like a bowler hat on wheels. The new version’s vertical headlight enclosure, trimmer creased waist, and American-style tailfins helped make it a sensation that kicked off Mercedes’ golden era of the 1960s.
But it was only available as a 4-door sedan initially so Fleming asked his friend Antony Terry to nose around for any indication Mercedes might add a convertible (cabriolet) or sports (coupe) version. Had he waited a year or so, he could have had either: Both body styles arrived in 1960, taking the W111 from elegant car to collectible classic in its own time. But, by then, Fleming had already proven he was a bit of a Ford man and bought a new 1959 Thunderbird, which was soon joined by a rare 1962 AC Aceca Coupe, which I think he barely drove, and finally a 1963 supercharged Studebaker Avanti which he says was able to “cut a good deal of time off the run between London and Sandwich”.
The auction for Fleming’s car shopping memo takes place on August 16th. Let me know if you happen to win it.