The Car That Hope Rode In, Yet Met With A Tragic End

Images: Makarand Baokar

With the devastation of WWII, the middle-of-the-road model, the Mercedes-Benz 170 V proved to be the saviour for Daimler-Benz, as through 1947–49 the company managed to make and sell some 23,000 cars and 11,000 trucks, almost all of which were based on the surviving toolings of the 170 V.

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The flagship of the Mercedes-Benz range during the 1950s

At the same time, Daimler-Benz hadn’t forgotten the prestige end. In 1951, Mercedes-Benz launched the 300 family. Powered by a 2996cc straight-six, the 300 was conventional and used parts and components from pre-war Mercedes-Benzes. But they were lavishly appointed with superb quality and finish. Of the several variants, the rarest by far was the two-door cabriolet version.

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Perfect proportions even with the top up…

The 1956 Mercedes-Benz 300Sc, featured here, is a superb example of one of the most exclusive and expensive cars of the 1950s. A part of the late Pranlal Bhogilal collection, and now on display at the Auto World Vintage Car Museum near Ahmedabad, this 300Sc from 1956 was the favourite of Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last Chogyal, or king, of Sikkim.

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…as much as with the top down

The kingdom of Sikkim became a part of India in as late as 1975—until then, it was a protectorate of India. And before 1949, Sikkim was a protectorate of the British, a situation it was in since 1890. Sikkim, as an independent state came into being in 1642, when Phuntsog Namgyal was consecrated as the first Chogyal or king of Sikkim, by three venerated Buddhist Lamas who came from the north, west and south, marking the beginning of the monarchy. Palden Thondup Namgyal was the 12th Chogyal since Phuntsog Namgyal.

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Interesting location for the indicators

At the time the Mercedes was acquired, Palden Thondup’s father Sir Tashi Namgyal was the Chogyal, but Palden Thondup was very much involved with matters of the state, serving as an adviser for internal affairs, for his father. He also led the negotiating team which established Sikkim's relationship to India after its independence in 1949. He married Sangey Deki in 1950, a daughter of an important Tibetan family, but Sangey died in 1957.

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The discreet 300S badge on the boot at the rear identifies the model

Then in 1963 Palden Thondup Namgyal met a very pretty 22-year-old American socialite, Hope Cooke. A whirlwind romance later the two were married, and the marriage brought worldwide media attention to Sikkim.

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Typical sturdy A-pillar, a hallmark of a Daimler-Benz construction 

Shortly after their marriage, his father died and Namgyal was crowned the new Chogyal on an astrologically favourable date in 1965. Unfortunately for Palden Thondup, due to serious differences which ensued with the demand of a re-poll in one of the polling booths, the Chogyal had to face the people’s wrath in 1973. This snowballed into a political situation that gave the Indian Prime Minister then, Indira Gandhi, an excuse to send in troops, forcing Sikkim to join the Union of India as its 22nd state in 1975.

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Elegant, yet luxurious interiors for the Mercedes-Benz 300Sc

After Sikkim became an integral part of India, Palden Thondup Namgyal became an ordinary citizen of India, and the three-hundred-year-old monarchy came to an end. A few years later he became estranged with his wife Hope. And then in 1977, his eldest son Tenzing died in a car accident. Palden Thondup Namgyal died of cancer in 1982, a heartbroken lonely man.

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Thick leather-clad seats, also typical of Mercedes-Benz from then

But the Chogyal’s 300Sc found an affectionate new home, that of Pranlal Bhogilal’s. The Sc model launched in late 1955 as a 1956 model-year car was different from the earlier S in featuring fuel injection, developing 175bhp. Popular with the Hollywood set (Clark Gable had one and it was his favourite car) the 300Sc, at $12,000, was significantly more expensive than Mercedes’ supercar then, the 300SL!

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A narrow rear bench could seat children or provide space for luggage

Reason enough why just 49 were made between 1956 and 1958, when the production of the 300Sc came to an end. Most of the 49 seem to have survived…Bhogilal’s being one of them.

Incidentally for those who didn’t want toys but instead something stately, Mercedes-Benz had on offer the 300 as a four-door limousine or a four-door convertible. The Chogyal had also opted for a four-door limousine 300 to go with his Sc in 1957, and this car is currently with collector KC Anand, in Delhi.

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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