Destined To Shine

Gilded lilies, like most things in life are relative. The Golden Angel Wing however, out-guilds most.

A regular Mercedes (Ponton) 220S. Image: wallpaperup

Like us poor scribes, the brains behind the processes of car making spend countless hours honing and perfecting, improving and re-checking to ascertain the best that is possible at a given moment in time. Midnight oil is a precious resource which, dependant on the individual, can prove somewhat finite, with unfortunate consequences lingering by.

Concerning cars, now factor in updates, facelifts, upgrades – call them what you will – they must be considered. The 1953 Mercedes-Benz W120 (or Ponton as it was better known) was a plain but honest, safe yet somewhat bland quality conveyance. Built primarily in Stuttgart, these one eighties (as they were badged) made impacts the world over.

Emanating from the minds and pens of Fritz Nallinger, Karl Wilfert, along with in-built safety king-pin, Béla Barényi (who is often sadly overlooked by history), the Ponton bore all those time-honoured Mercedes traits of conservatism. Barényi’s dedication to safety was exemplary – his experiments astounding for this period in time – the ramifications of his work ripple through every single vehicle produced today. They also made MB’s research and development budget skyrocket.

The ADAC conducted laboratory impact tests on a Ponton and found the car’s safety cell “extremely safe” when tested ten years ago. Not bad for a sixty year old design.

In 1954, the four-cylinder W120 Ponton was joined by a larger six-cylinder version, dubbed internally W180. The six cylinder M180 engine had a capacity of 2.2 litres, upping performance from its sibling model’s 1.8 litre four cylinder. The cars dimensions were enlarged too, from a 104 inch wheelbase to that of 111 inches. Still some distance away from sporting but the clientele noticed and enjoyed the improvements.

But where most customers are content to drive the car as is, perhaps lavishing some TLC to the bodywork and treating the car to a regular service, there will always be those who take matters further. The ones who alter, customise, worship even.

The Golden Angel Wing in all its glory. Image: reinaintlauto

The Ponton in question however, received perhaps the ultimate makeover. Mystery surrounds this particular W180 though. The story goes that a prominent royal family took ownership of the car (originally a 1959 220S) and chose to lavish largesse as opposed to a chamois leather and the odd gob of car polish. Purchased sometime during the 1980s, this example took on a whole new persona that I’m fairly certain Nallinger et al would never have seen coming – even given a crystal ball, or paying to hear Phyllis the All Seeing One fortune teller at a local fair.

Money does not always ascribe to taste so your thoughts and comments on this shining beacon are most welcome. This heavily customised Ponton reputedly went to auction in the United States in 2014, although its whereabouts now are unknown. Valued at $1.5m by dealership owner Phil Waterford of California for a TV show; an estimation at best but consider as to the why’s. Those upgrades include gold, mink, diamonds. Throw in a few rubies, emeralds and sapphires, well why dontcha? Then christen the car The Golden Angel Wing. Surely enough chattels for you there? 

From the Middle East, this bejewelled Ponton was brought to the United States and gifted to a certain Muhammad Ali. Aside from pugilism, politics and some splendid anecdotal comebacks, the former heavyweight Boxing champion did like his cars. When not being chauffeur driven in the Golden Angel Wing, a car he kept for two years, allegedly, Ali could be found behind the wheel of a Rolls-Royce or an Alfa Romeo, amongst others.

Returning to the bejewelled Ponton: far be it from me to denigrate such opulence. Should one want to adorn ones vehicle with the fluffy dice, the abusive an kleber or indeed vast amounts of precious metals inside or out, go ahead. It’s yours, do as you wish. Just don’t expect everyone to fawn upon it. The surprise, for me at least, being the choice of car; you could reasonably expect a Rolls-Royce or a W126 to be enhanced by this course of treatment. But a humble Ponton

Image: benzinsider

I suppose once in Ali’s strong paws, few would argue with its new owner. It would be a braver man than I to take umbrage over his manner of parking or how the car was driven. Be it the hatch markings outside schools, by the bank or the 7-11 – no problem, Mr Ali. Leave it there, by all means and could I have an autograph (the old fashioned way to glean a selfie), please?

And for the cleaning of such a fragile creature? The typical ’80s car wash would rip out those diamonds faster than one of Ali’s right hooks. You could hardly trust a hand wash with the car being so valuable. Would the cheeky ruffian with sponge in hand be tempted to prize off a ruby, oblivious to the retribution that would be as brutal and swift in its arrival? This Ponton would also be most difficult to thieve away; unless you were to hide it forever in some dismal lock up or an air conditioned garage. Either way, it could not shine.

And that shine has faded for it is not certain if the car actually sold under the gavel at all. Rumours from six years ago have lost momentum but someone must know the Wing’s whereabouts. Next time you clear your garage, shed or barn, have a look under that old curtain or bedsheet. You may just get a shiny surprise.

Author: Andrew Miles

Beyond hope there lie dreams; after those, custard creams?

13 thoughts on “Destined To Shine”

  1. Here´s another time capsule from the nearly distant past, the beginning of the Wirstschaftwunderyears. Speaking from the safe vantage point of 2020 and another country, I find the atmosphere of post-war Germany fascinating to meditate on. It´s a testament to human ingenuity that both the UK and Germany, and I suppose, Italy and France, picked themselves up and began throwing energy into these remarkable machines.
    One interesting point is this word “conservatism”. Like the word “fat” it´s overworked. In a political sense, it can mean respectable caution (as per Adenauer) or resistance to necessary change. All through the 80s I recall the car writers actively or passively criticising Mercedes conservatism and never understood why this was such a problem. Their approach worked for them and if one wanted non-conservative design there were many other intensities of radicalism on sale elsewhere. And these days Mercedes is caught between one sort of conservatism (they won´t change back to what they did best) and another (their cars lack the visual distinction). Mercedes then had a *distinct* conservatism, whether in its baroque Bracq phase or carefully-managed Sacco phase. These days the visual seriousness of old MB´s only found in a few small redoubts (Ford´s Focus Mk2, Ford Fusion the present Volvo S90…. I am racking my brains for more recent examples of design austerity). You´d imagine MB could see an open goal there should they wish to come back home to their core values).

  2. Wow, each to their own I suppose. However, it’s nice to see something a little different, especially on a Ponton. I hope it still exists somewhere and is being cared for. I’ve just had a look in my garage, and sadly it’s not there.

  3. Good morning Andrew. When I looked at the first photo of the risibly named Golden Angel Wing, I thought it was a very dilapidated example with rusty bumpers, peeling paint on the bonnet and a bodged accident repair along the flanks. So much effort and expense to create something that looks incomparably worse than the standard car. Still, Kahn and Mansory make good money doing exactly that, so good luck to them.

    Regarding Richard’s question concerning current examples of austere design, I would offer this:

    I would argue that the 2010 Ghost fits the bill because it doesn’t have a single unnecessary feature line or stylistic flourish. Less really is more here. (The grille is ‘essential’ because it’s an integral part of the marque’s DNA.)

    1. That´s a good example. It was a bit rarified for me to think of it. Of course, Audi pursued sober for decades until recently.

    2. Indeed, the original A6’s visual design actually deserves the description ‘radically simple’. One of the entries on my (very) shortlist of modern cars that deserve to become classics. Every generation since has been a regression.

    3. Yes: the A6 is a very rigorously designed car. The rear lamps shocked me into a rage (hard to believe). Today, I consider it flawless. I mean C5 1997 car though the preceding 100 still looks excellent too. Today´s A6 is getting on for baroque. The front is where the offence starts (enough detailing for two cars) and then continues around the side with the daft sculpting.

    4. I spotted a pair of these yesterday (the first I’ve ever seen ‘in the metal’) on the outskirts of Derby, in use as wedding transport. It grieves me to admit that they do, indeed, have an air of understated elegance. However, one strange feature stood out: they have a remarkably down-at-the-rear stance, almost as if the boot is full of gold bullion…..

    5. By ‘these’, I obviously mean Ghosts and not Audis of any description!

  4. If Mercedes-Benz did want to return to its more sober design era, it could do worse than take a look at these Photoshopped images of the new W223 S-Class:

    I think these are a huge improvement over the production design.

  5. An excellent and interesting article again Andrew so many thanks for posting. I prefer the appearance of the original no matter how much money was spent creating the alternative.

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