Monthly Archives: February 2022


Conversations With People We Value #32

Tomorrow will commence my Charles Kuralt blue highways, back roads tribute tour. As such, I am yet to have exciting tales hand-picked from road side discoveries to be served up like farm fresh delicacies for your personal consumption.

If one can will the future though, I would love nothing better than to manifest glorious surprises. As my mind wanders I imagine stumbling upon a shabby yet substantial barn nestled in a wooded expanse “out back” of a weathered farm house. Parting the barn’s feeble creaking doors reveals it to be chockablock with classic contents, each resides under a blanket of fine dust that speaks to a rich past like tree rings. All possess histories of once being driven by mid-century Hollywood royalty. It would be enough to make Tom Cotter cry. Hey, you have your fantasies, I’ll have mine.

However, while organizing my back country journey I did come across a fascinating stolen car story with its roots in the closing days of WWII and its resolution well into the next century with a conclusion worthy of O’Henry.

The following offers what I believe to be the best multiple decade stolen car story with an “I did not see that coming” conclusion.

Return of the Zipper King



Threads that interweave to create the fabric of this 21st century ownership puzzle are many and involved. It all began at the 1935 Berlin Motor Show. Heroically displayed as the centerpiece of the Mercedes-Benz exhibit and indeed of the whole event, stood the gleaming

1935 Berlin Motor Show

Mercedes-Benz 500K Special Roadster, chassis number 105380. Built in 1935 during the 1934 and 1936 model run, it shone as a gleaming jewel of advanced engineering and design. Recognized as one of the greatest performance automobiles of the pre-war era, Mercedes-Benz produced a total of 342 500Ks with only 29 being Special Roadsters. Its supercharged (thus the “K” designation) 5.0-liter inline-8 cylinder produce 160 horsepower. Blazing fast in the context of the time, it could easily top 100 miles per hour. The 500K’s advanced engineering extended to the chassis which featured a sophisticated 4-wheel independent suspension with double wishbones at the front, a double-joint swing axle in the rear as well as coil springs and dampers.

As The Autocar wrote in 1936: “This is a master car for the very few. The sheer insolence of its power affords an experience on its own.”

Everybody loved it. However, a precious few could afford it with its 1935 selling price of 28,000 Reichsmark ($11,200). One person who did love it and could afford it was industrialist Hanz Prym. He purchased the car new after the Berlin Motor Show in 1936.

Hanz Prym

Prym known as the “Zipper King,” lead the oldest family-owned business in Germany. For 12 generations the Prym family specialized in the manufacture of haberdashery and copper and brass products such as zippers and buttons. During the war Prym industries supplied the war effort with turbine blades as well as buttons and zippers. It should be noted that while a German industrialist and briefly imprisoned by the allies in 1945, Prym held no sympathies for the Nazi’s. He supported the Weimar Republic and actually advocated for the return of the monarchy.

When World War II came, Prym retreated to his estate in Stolberg Germany taking the 500K with him and secreting it away on the estate grounds. The 500K quietly resided in its sanctuary while the war raged until late fall of 1944 when the collapsing German war effort saw allied troops in the form of the 3rd Armored Division (known as the Spearhead because they always like to be out in front) cross the Siegfried Line and set of camp in Stolberg at the Prym estate mansion.

First hand commentary by soldiers in the 3rd Armored Division confirmed Spearhead occupation of the Prym estate.

“The division ensconced its headquarters in the plush luxury of the Prym Mansion, just south  and east of Stolberg. The rainy winter weather soon turned the entire Division area into a sea of mud.  There were daily skirmishes and firefights, and at night patrols probed for information. Artillery  action was continuous. The men were tired and the machines needed maintenance in the worst way. Shellfire was the bane of  existence  at Stolberg and in the surrounding towns. German guns located in the Duren area constantly shelled “Spearhead” positions.”

Bivouac style encampment on Hanz Prym’s estate September 1944

During this time the car disappeared from its hiding place on Prym’s estate. Early versions of what happened told of the 500K being sold to an American soldier. Once released by  the allies after a short detention, it is said that Prym, who died in 1990, was furious upon learning that his prized Mercedes was gone. The Prym family vehemently rejected the story of the car being sold as an outright lie. The version that subsequently gained traction and stuck described the car as being spirited away by a U.S. Army Colonel and shipped to the United States while Hanz Prym was being held in the custody of Allied forces. Regardless of the reason, the 500K had vanished. Decades would pass until in 1976 when it appeared in the collection of Russell Strauch in Toledo, Ohio. From that time until 2011, Prym’s 500K changed hands with some regularity. During that period in the early 1990’s it underwent a complete restoration.

2011 RM Auctions

Then, in 2011 it starred center stage at the 2011 RM Monterey auction. There it changed hands for the princely sum of $3.7 million gleefully spent by Dutch classic car aficionado Frans van Haren. Joyfully, van Haren prepared to share his magnificent acquisition with the automotive world on Europe’s biggest stage. He intended to ship his prize to Techno Classica in Essen Germany in 2012. And he did. And that is when the Scheisse hit the fan.

Beautifully bathed in photogenic light for all to see, just not for long. Within a few hours the German authorities set eyes on the gleaming 500K and summarily seized it. Frans van Haren had been accused by the descendants of Hanz Prym of possessing stolen property. Their property. By bringing Prym’s 500K back to Germany van Haren had subjected his prized possession to German law, law that could only be enforced if the car was in Germany.

With frenzied bewilderment thick in the air along with $3.7 million disappearing into thin air, fingers seeking targets to blame flashed about pointing in all directions. At this point it would seem timely to mention that, at auction, RM Auctions stated, “Interim history is unknown.” More than 20 years of history resided in darkness and, oh yes, there was no title involved in this or any of the earlier transactions. Game on.

By the end of 2012 a German court in Hamburg ruled that the allied soldier did not have the right to take possession of the car. The 500K Special Roadster belonged to the Prym heirs not van Haren. As to what satisfaction van Haren can get from those who sold him the car, that is a story for another day.

As to the Prym progeny, in 2016 Bonhams auctioned the Prym family’s Berlin Motor Show 500K Special Roadster at the Bonham’s Chateau de Chantilly auction. It sold for $5.29 million.

As to any complaints van Haren may have, the Prym family says, “zip it.”

By |2022-02-17T04:02:02+00:00February 17th, 2022|6 Comments

Roads We Remember #9

 “Road Trip!” when spoken like a call to arms, sets the heart a flutter. The mind races with thoughts of new horizons, awaiting adventures and the freedom of the open road. Yes, all true… however. And there always seems to be a “however.” In the case of road trips, the “however,” takes shape courtesy of the  seemingly endless miles of endless miles to be covered on the way to the new horizon, miles devoid of any type of adventure or, if left unaddressed, any mental stimulation at all as a driver teeters on the threshold of white line hypnosis.

Such sleep provoking and mind numbing monotony has served as the desperate progenitor of games, distractions and challenges designed to spare drivers of the narcoleptic terror born of endless corn fields, soulless interstates, pitch black back roads illuminated only by the eye fatiguing glare of oncoming high beams and the kind of dull roads ideal for filming commercials for hands free driving features.

Now adding to the long list of keep awake tricks comes Elon Musk’s latest Tesla accessory, the TeslaMic car karaoke microphone set.

Karaoke, Elon Musk’s new weapon to fight driving doldrums.


Last Friday Tesla released its new TeslaMic. Wildly popular, it sold out in less than an hour in China, the only market where the product is presently available. Offered as a set of wireless microphones, TeslaMic basically turns the car into a personal karaoke booth. Designed to function only when the car is stopped, the microphones pair with newly released Tesla in-car karaoke software that includes audio tracks and videos.

Last year, an estimated 500 million people used online karaoke services in China. Prior to Covid, individualized karaoke booths rapidly sprang up like proverbial mushrooms throughout malls, airports and other public places across China. Now, the top Musketeer with his TeslaMic looks to tap into the immense popularity of these individual karaoke booths. Using technology that transforms the Tesla owner’s car into a private karaoke booth, it allows one or two people to sing their hearts out without being heard by anyone else. It seems only a matter of time before the market savvy Musk adapts the TeslaMic as a shower accessory.

Made even more attractive considering Corona virus fears, the ability to transform an owner’s Tesla into a personal karaoke booth offers great appeal. Representative of the typical car karaoke aficionado in China, one man quoted in the press said, “It’s quite a way to alleviate boredom during a trip.”

Not surprisingly, karaoke booths can now be seen in America popping up in public places such as Mall of America and being available to rent for wedding receptions, bar/bat mitzvahs, corporate events and birthday parties. Clearly the Chinese karaoke booth concept has infected our culture with a strong likelihood of rapidly spreading. Why does that have a familiar ring to it? Anyway…

In this age of high tech hacking where some bright lad can remotely disable an automobile’s braking technology or a bank’s security system does it seem beyond belief that another bright lad could bypass the “only operates when stationary” function?

Now, instead of merely clapping hands, which are rapidly being reduced to vestigial appendages by our Tesla’s hands free self driving features, drivers can attend to the dashboard display as it guides them through a spirited personal interpretation of Jan and Dean’s “Dead Man’s Curve” or Pearl Jam’s cover of “Last Kiss.”

Call me old school but 20th century remedies for drowsy driving displayed a great deal more character, individual inventiveness and personal involvement.

Cranking up Cousin Brucie and rolling down the windows, time honored efforts to keep 20th century minds alert have evolved over the ensuing years. As we progressed into the 21st century the radio as entertainment and distraction experienced a reconfiguring and to a significant degree a supplanting by digital technology. Interestingly, the point of the digital spear, the cellular phone offered both greater connectivity and greater distraction. Today, some say driving while texting or speaking on a cell phone has produced more fatalities that driving under the influence of alcohol.

With the expansion of platforms born of digital technology and the power to personalize content choice the technological beat goes no yet it cannot supplant the priceless value of a trusted driving companion willing even eager to compete, collaborate or confound all in the name of staying alert. Old school solutions existed aplenty.

While driving

Warplane – (Can be played by one or more) Best played by those with a theatrical bent, Warplane requires creative skills and relaxed neck muscles. Equally applicable for bomber or fighter scenarios, Warplane requires the driver to roll his head to the left as if looking out the side of a warplane’s canopy. Then to create a story line calls out what he or she makes believe has been observed. For example “We are passing over the enemy power plant. Yes, there it is. The dam is directly ahead. The flack will be heavy. Bouncing these bombs across the water is the only way we can destroy this dam.” The extent of the dramatic scenario with all occupants contributing can be a function of the time required to revive the driver.

Rhyme – One person picks a word and everyone has to go around saying a word that rhymes with it. The first person to be stumped or to repeat a word loses.

The Movie Game. One person says the name of an actor and the next person must name a movie that actor has been in. The next player must name another actor who starred in that same movie. The next player must say another movie that actor was in, and so on.

Name the artist – With any music source that does not display the artist, when a new song comes on the first person to name the artist or group performing it wins.

Alphabet I.D. – Starting with the letter “A” the first person to see the letter as the first letter on a sign, vehicle or building. Go up through the alphabet. The person with t he most correct answers wins.

21 question naked challenge – A high stakes, bare knuckles and more, nuclear option for staying alert, it is only for those possessing a hardy spirit of adventure accompanied by a significant other cut of the same cloth. After a coin flip the winner thinks of something or someone. The other person then has 21 questions to identify the person or thing. The first question is often “is it a person, place or thing?” If the person exhausts their 21 questions without a correct answer they must remove one piece of clothing. This can require pulling over to a stop. First person naked loses. Dark roads and desolate highways in the southwest usually have preference over the West Side Highway and toll roads.

When stopped

It is recognized that regardless of the century, the greatest response when one feels sleep overtaking consciousness will always be to pull over.

Physical activity – Exiting the comfort of the vehicle in itself can revitalize a driver. Combined with physical activity such as jumping jacks, running in place and pushups against the front fender further reenergizes the mind and body.

As an activity when pulling over, Musk’s TeslaMic in its intended use does promotes mental and physical stimulation that can benefit a drowsy driver. But it is not the only one. A losing streak in 21 questions can do the same.


By |2022-02-03T12:44:09+00:00February 3rd, 2022|Comments Off on Roads We Remember #9