- One of the sportiest body designs on the 500 K chassis
- Recorded as originally delivered to Colombo, in modern-day Sri Lanka
- Formerly owned by noted enthusiast Helen Lee Kennard
- Featured in an episode of the classic television series The Avengers
- The first recipient of the Mercedes-Benz Trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance
- Wears a well-preserved restoration
While the Special Roadster claims high esteem among enthusiasts of the supercharged Mercedes-Benz, it was not the Stuttgart firm’s only roadster of its era. The existence of a Special model indicated that there must be a normal version, as well, and that was literally what the other model was called: the Normal Roadster. Its rather uninspired name belied the sleek beauty of its lines. Whereas the Special Roadster was curvaceous, the Normal Roadster was taut, with a slightly higher beltline that flowed up and around a rounded rear deck, tucked around the rear fenders, and of course a fabric top that folded flush with the body. In no other body style of this generation of Mercedes-Benz is the resemblance to the earlier, revered SSK more pronounced, and few others pack such visual power. Normal? Hardly!
More pointedly, the Normal Roadster was and is a great rarity, even more so than the Special Roadster. It was produced solely on the 500 K chassis, and only a handful were built. Five of these have survived, many of them preserved in private collections and trading infrequently thus, the opportunity to acquire one is thus a very special occasion.
PROPERTY OF A LADY: THE LEE KENNARD 500 K
Mercedes-Benz factory records note that the car offered here, chassis number 123692, was ordered under Kommission number 205281 and originally delivered to Colombo, capital of Ceylon, now modern-day Sri Lanka. However, other records on file indicate otherwise, with the British chassis listings published by Michael Frostick in The Mighty Mercedes noting delivery to a Mr. Beaumont of London. Interestingly, a British firm known as the Beaumont Tea Company and its successor Beaumont Group were major forces in Ceylonese tea production for many years, so it is likely that the order was placed through the British Mercedes-Benz agency for delivery to Colombo, as the notes of Mercedes-Benz historian Ronald Johnson indicates that the original owner imported it to Great Britain around 1954 or 1955. It was registered “NTR164,” a number which it retained for much of its life.
Beginning in 1956, the car was owned by the late Helen Lee Kennard, a prominent lady enthusiast whose well-chosen collection included this car, an SS, and an SSK Mercedes-Benz, all of which she used enthusiastically in vintage racing and rallies. Lee Kennard, as she was known, was pictured at the wheel of her 500 K in the second volume of Jan Melin’s well-known work, Mercedes-Benz: The Supercharged 8-Cylinder Cars of the 1930s. In this era, the car was also prominently featured in a 1968 episode of the classic British television series, The Avengers, “They Keep Killing Steed,” in which it was driven by guest star Ian Ogilvy. Kennard maintained the car for over two decades, and wrote of it fondly in her biography, Of Cars & Ships & Poetry & Cats & Other Things.
The Normal Roadster was finally offered for sale at a British auction, possibly by Lee Kennard herself, in July 1976, and was later exported to the United States. Subsequently restored in bright scarlet, as was the style at the time, it appeared at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1987, shown by Frank Cherry, and was the very first recipient of the Mercedes-Benz Trophy. Thereafter it was acquired for the present collection.
Overall the restoration still shows well, with the paintwork and chrome trim both remaining in good condition. The interior is finished in a dark maroon leather, a pleasant change from the more typical tan or brown shades frequently seen on 500 Ks, and is still very attractive, exhibiting only minor age and stretching. The mother of pearl dashboard serves as a beautiful accent and cradles crisp, clear instruments, while the steering wheel exhibits some cracking. Under the hood, the original engine is still fitted, with its number stamping matching the chassis number stamping. Significantly for a 500 K, the car’s restoration has in fact preserved some desirable original features, most prominently the floorboards stamped “401”—indicative of how well-preserved the car was prior to its restoration.
This is an especially attractive example of a scarce and desirable 500 K style, and with its fine history and presentation, would be well-suited to mechanical freshening and passionate motoring in the Lee Kennard mold—or as the best possible basis for a fresh restoration and further concours awards. Long since absent from that scene, it will be warmly welcomed by all who appreciate the scintillating banshee wail and feline curves of a supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz.