Elvis Presley’s 1969 Mercedes-Benz 600 Was a Complicated Chapter in The King’s Car History
Elvis eventually gave the car to a member of his pack, but the story doesn't stop there.
While Elvis Presley has been gone since his passing in 1977, he and his likeness are still worth a pretty penny. I'm not talking about the countless infomercial trinkets bearing a shoddy resemblance of the pop culture icon—I'm talking about an otherwise ordinary Mercedes-Benz that seems to have fetched an extra $144,888 simply because it was owned by The King.
Last week a 1969 Mercedes-Benz 600 sold on Bring a Trailer for $288,888. A similar 1971 Mercedes 600 with 37,000 miles was the next highest-priced Mercedes 600 sold, for $140,000 last July, of the dozen such cars the website has handled.
The difference? The 1969 Mercedes was once owned by Elvis. As was his propensity, he gave it away. He usually gave away Cadillacs, but he also gave Beale Street clothier-to-the-stars Bernard Lansky a tiny three-wheeled Messerschmitt. He did give another Mercedes to Shelby County Sheriff Bill Morris, back in the days when you could do things like that without ending up on 60 Minutes. Morris repaid the favor by deputizing Elvis and giving him and several of his Memphis Mafia members badges.
As every young person who grew up in Memphis knew—me included—Elvis was a night owl who would often travel in a convoy during the wee hours. Traffic signals were merely advisory. No doubt having a badge was helpful, but do you think there was any police officer in West Tennessee who would arrest Elvis? Not after he would regularly dole out $100 bills to the officers who worked near Graceland.
For a busy man like Elvis with minimal patience, the confounding complexity of the 300-horsepower Mercedes 600—a car whose hydraulic windows alone likely put multiple mechanics’ children through college—was too much. No worry, though, as he gave it to an honorary member of his pack. Jimmy Velvet was not as tight with Elvis as Sonny and Red and the rest of the storied entourage, but Velvet was a nice man who had a recording career of his own.
Actually, that bears explanation. In the early 1960s, Velvet, whose real name was Jimmy Tennant, worked as the manager of similarly minor recording star James Mullins, who sung under the name of Jimmy Velvit.
According to a Music Journal, “Mullins [Velvit] started everything by recording 'We Belong Together' in Texas in 1961. He was noticed and became part of a tour with Chuck Berry. When [Dick Clark’s] American Bandstand tried to find him they couldn’t locate him. Tennant then took his place, using the name Jimmy Velvet. From there Tennant (Velvet) became the celebrity, and Mullins (Velvit) faded.” It did not help that there was also Motown singer from Detroit recording under the name James Velvet.
Anyhow, Jimmy Velvet with an “e” was indeed acquainted with Elvis, and did indeed own the Mercedes, given to him shortly before Elvis died. After the King's death, their past friendship became a cottage industry for Velvet, who amassed a huge amount of Presley memorabilia and photos, opening the Elvis Presley Museum where the Mercedes sat front and center.
Then, according to the Bring a Trailer listing, “It was later owned by the CEO of Dollar General and received a $36,000 refresh of the braking, air suspension, and exhaust systems in the 1990s, before being acquired by the seller in 2002.” It sold last week for charity for the aforementioned $288,888, and it came with documentation, photos, and a bust of Elvis Presley. It also came with a copy of the original 1970 bill of sale from Mercedes-Benz of Hollywood listing a sale price of $15,500 with a down payment of $5,500 and monthly payments of $344.44.
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