Mercedes Benz

THE CRAYFORD MERCEDES BENZ

 

CONVERTIBLES

Over the decades, from humble Mini beginnings, Crayford progressed up market through BMC, Ford and Audi. Then they reached a peak in their conversion skills when they started a long association with Mercedes Benz, although it did not start well. Mercedes were very protective of their brand and were uncooperative at first, even hostile to the point that they tried to legally stop the first Crayford conversion from being shown in the London Motor Show at Earls Court. They also opposed Crayford’s use of the MB 3 pointed star logo on Crayford brochures and paperwork. Eventually though, Crayford won around Mercedes with the fine quality and demand for their conversions. Mercedes even began endorsing the conversions and allowed full warranties to be honoured on Crayfords work.

Crayford’s best seller was the convertible 280CE called the ‘St Tropez’ based on the compact W123, it was the first affordable convertible available (excluding RR) in the UK with a power operated hood since Ford dropped the Mk.2 Zephyr/Zodiac range. The hoods were made using the best German mohair, the electrically operated hood frame and rams were aquired from second hand Pony cars bought in American scrap yards and adapted to fit. The cars where very exclusive and very low volume production – a property magnet in Wales ordered two! Today, only one car is known to the club. New in 1976 the conversion cost £11, 932

Crayford also built a one-off W116 S Class, four door convertible, for a head of state in Kuwait. It was damaged during shipment to Crayford, by Kuwaiti Dockers. A letter to Crayford from the Royal office threatened that the offenders, if found, would pay with a hand.

Crayford then went on to build a Mercedes 600 Pullman convertible, not a Crayford design, it was built in several counties by different coachbuilders, you could apply to MB in Stuttgart for a set of plans. Crayford spent a year jigging the car before the roof was cut, it took up half the factory floor space for two years, they where glad to see it go. Dictators like Idi Amin in Uganda loved these monster convertibles. The Crayford one was recently for sale at £250,0000 dollars.

Crayford also became involved in the development of bullet proofing Mercedes Benz cars. This was new territory for everyone in the industry. It took Crayford into some uncomfortable areas, and shady characters with go betweens. One client wanted to machine gun his car with the designer inside it. If a car or windscreen was test fired the client paid twice, before and after, for the replacement. Crayford did not stay in the bullet proofing business for long, selling spare stocks of Kevlar in the Exchange & Mart.

 

ESTATES

Crayford fared much better selling Mercedes Estate conversions of the W108, 114, 116 and S Class cars.

 

 

THE CRAYFORD MERCEDES BENZ 114 LWB DACHSHUND

The most unusual of the many varied 114 estates converted had to be the extra long wheelbase 114 stretched estate, aptly it was named "The Dachshund" but Mercedes Benz took exception to one of its cars being named a dog, and started sabre rattling. They also wanted Crayford to refrain from putting the Mercedes loggo on its brochures despite giving full Mercedes warranty to the Crayford conversion. Crayford agreed not to print any more, but it had already printed all the brochures it needed. The Crayford Dachshund could accommodate 9 or 12 people (three children facing rearward) plus luggage. The only example sold, It cost £6,991 when new and still survives today with a club member in Oxford.

 

THE CRAYFORD MERCEDES BENZ 'S' CLASS ESTATE

Mercedes had caught on and produced its own estate based on the compact W123, but when it launched the all new 'S' class in 1974 it left a niche that Crayford would fill, there was no estate car. Crayford had done a few of the of the outgoing pre-1974 stacked headlight 'S' class, including a hugely expensive 6.3 V8, 300 SEL Estate. The all new 1974 'S' Class and the Crayford sibling "s" Estate were very advanced cars and the Crayford was retrimmed with Mercedes Benz materials to the point that you could not tell them apart. It was expensive, and sold to the rich and famous. Sophia Loren ordered one with a custom built, hinged dog guard in the rear so she could carry all her Poodles in safety. A base 280 E Estate cost £9,900, but a fully loaded 350 SE or 450 SE Estate could double this. Fifteen are thought to have been made from orders taken at its show launch.

The Crayford 'S' type used the rear of the current Ford Mk.1 Granada estate, for shape, side glass, and the top half of the Ford tailgate welded to the donor saloons original boot and boot lock. Previous 114 Mercedes estates, and the 3 Ltr estate, had used the top half of the British Layland Maxi to make the new Crayford tailgates, but this was of course to narrow for the 'S' class Mercedes.

The Granada rear end had been discovered after Crayford director David Mc.Mullan had sent his wife Maureen to nearby Gatwick airport car parks with a pad and tape measure, and told her to measure every estate car rear she could find. Later in February 1975 Crayford Licensed respected U.S.A coachbuilders, Harper of Detroit, to build the latest 'S' type Crayford in America. The conversions they built were spoilt somewhat by the use off american spec cars with four round headlights and huge impact absorbing rubber bumpers that added another three inches back and front to the cars length. Today they are vary rear and only two are known in the U.K and one in the U.S.A. In 2001 there was still no factory "S" class estate.

  

THE CRAYFORD MERCEDES BENZ 'CONDOR' SPORTS ESTATE 

One of the stars of the 1980 Motor Show at the N.E.C was the latest and, as it turned out, the last estate conversion Crayford would produce. It was based on a Mercedes Benz 450 SLC two door sports car, and unlike most Crayford projects, there was no order for the car or a commission for the project from a dealer. But as the Crayford director David McMullan said, you can occasionally go out on a limb and produce a one off special, take it to a Motor Show for ten days, and someone with a blank cheque will always walk up and buy it. Crayford took the 450 SLC 2-door sports car and removed the roof to produce a unique one off 3-door sportswagen in the mode of the Scimitar GTE and Volvo P1800 Estate. The name "Condor" came from the large wing like profile of the open tailgate. It was shown at the Oct 1980 Motor Show on the Crayford stand alongside two other commissions, a open mini beach car for the villa of the head of Bristol St Motors, and an open VW Sirocco with a power hood called "TheTempest", which was commissioned by the VW dealer, Wolfe Garage in Westerham. The main feature of the Condor was its huge one piece glass rear tailgate that also contained a rear washer and wiper arm, gold heating elements, roof hinges, and a boot handle, very much like the glass door fitted to the Volvo P1800 Sportswagen. The car was bought at the Motor Show by a famous heart surgeon who lived in Spain. The car cost £32,000 in 1980, the glass was manufactured by Triplex and was reputed to have cost £10,000 alone.

The Spanish surgeon drove his car around the mountains of Spain with such abandon he crashed the car twice. The first time he fell asleep at the wheel and left the road on a mountain pass, landing up in the top of a tree, the car was returned to Crayfords in England, rebuilt and resprayed in its original metallic green, and a spare glass tailgate fitted. 'We didn't charge him for the glass, how could we', said director David McMullan. 'He had bought the car at the show, paid us to rebuild it and we had the only spare glass for it in the world – Triplex had cast three, two for us and one they kept. The glass cost £10,000 for 3 units.

The owner crashed the car a second time in 1987 just as Crayford director David McMullan was about to sell the company in the wake of his partner, Jeff Smiths death in a road accident. The new owner elect, David Butlion, fell for the wreck and did a deal with its owner, who no doubt sold it spurred on by the fact Crayford had approached The Heritage Museum. They had the one off Motor Show Ogle Triplex GTE Princess, a leyland Princess that was virtually all glass from the waist up, and yes, it used the third condor glass tailgate, and no, Crayford could not borrow it!

So David Butlion, who had come from Bedford trucks at Luton and had Vauxhall dealerships in his portfolio, had the Condor rebuilt around the tailgait of the current 1987 Vauxhall Cavalier. The car still survives today.

 

THE CRAYFORD MERCEDES BENZ 114 (COMPACT) ESTATE

This would be the big one for Crayford as they moved into the Seventies. All through the sixties and the B.M.C era Crayford had a three fold problem, models became obsolete and only just repaid development costs before new models were introduced. Secondly, quality problems with B.M.C products were legendary, bad fit, poor paint and rust in new cars, were normal, thirdly their had not been much profit in converting B.M.C's bread and butter cars, the mini convertible and 1100 estate conversions sold at under £100.

A major shift up-market to Mercedes Benz solved all these problems, there was no estate in the Mercedes 114 line up, a long production run was assured and there was no question of poor quality from Mercedes. Moving up market also meant the conversions would bear a better profit per car. By the 1974 Motor Show where an all Crayford Mercedes estate stand was assembled, (no convertibles were shown that year) the Crayford company had spent two years turning around a hostile Mercedes Benz. They had at first got a court injunction to ban Crayford showing the model at Earls Court, but by 1974 the cars came with full Mercedes approval and warranty. A first outside Germany.

Sargeant & Collins of Sussex, and later on Woking Motors, set up a dealer network and the 114 sold so well. Crayford had a regular run to deliver 4 cars at a time, not bad for a company with a staff of twenty people at Westerham. FLM were again building the cars under licence at Fulham. The 114 was popular with affluent farmers and landowners and would soon find the same admirers overseas. Cooper & Cooper of Johannesburg in S.Africa were the first of several overseas plants to assemble Crayford estates under license.

Eventually Mercedes Benz caught on, when the small generation 114 model was eventually replaced by the new generation W123 model range, there was a Mercedes factory estate, and the estate model of all future Mercedes products would just grow and grow in stature, year on year. Crayford did not find the time or space to build a 114 convertible but they rectified this later with the 'ST Tropez' W123 Crayford with power hood, a first for Crayford.

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