One of the rarer options from Mercedes-Benz is fitted luggage. We’ve all seen the pair of imposing, large suit cases strapped into the shelf behind the seats in 300SL Coupés exhibited at car shows. As special as they are, even rarer today is the fitted luggage made in those years for other models. Not many pieces were sold and even less (than for the 300SL) have been saved or recreated. There has not been much written on this subject so visiting the Mercedes-Benz Heritage Information Center in last July I asked Dr. Nils Beckman, What is available in Stuttgart’s archives?
The evolution of car trunks, as most car components, has continued for most of a century. Satisfying the ‘carriage trade” has required elegant transport of everything from tuxedos to golf clubs and everything in between. Possibly the oddest piece of luggage in auto-motive history is the container for golf clubs designed by Mercedes-Benz in the 1950s with the 300SL Coupés in mind.
For today’s owners concerned with authenticity, details are everything. The two longest-term Mercedes-Benz endorsed fabricators were Baish and Hapco. Finding correct sets for a specific model that are not damaged is the holy grail. Typically one or two pieces have been used more than the others in the set… leaving them with moth eaten linings, soiled and lost keys. A skilled luggage restorer can usually repair or replace everything except the pattern of the interior lining, often a distinctive plaid. This doesn’t stop owners of high value models. Every few years someone commissions new bolts of the correct pattern and sells the extra material to fellow owners (or makes shirts, ties and picnic kits with the remainders).
Hinges, locks and handles must be as original. Standard, hard-shelled cases had vinyl exterior walls with pig skin leather edging held by hundreds of distinctive, round headed rivets. Full leather cases matching one’s interior were an option. Handles were laminations of leather with the top piece of leather folded over the edge of the other layers to the bottom and all stitched together. Inside Baish proudly planted their name plate.
Values, Then and Now: A Set of two fitted leather 300SL Gullwing cases covered in black leather, found on a December 1956 new car invoice cost $140 in 1956 (588 DM then). The same invoice charged $143 for full leather seats, and $200 for a Becker Mexico radio with electric antenna.
Today, the same original set, found with mildly stained interior and a few scuffs outside, will bring $6,000 to $8,000+ at auction. Reconditioning will cost another $1,000+. Sets for other models can command similar amounts if the owner seeks concours wins. Alternatively, accurate replica sets will cost $4,000 to $6,500.