A diplomat, a race-car driver, a pilot, a polo champion, an alleged assassin, and a notorious ladies’ man, Porfirio Rubirosa is believed by many to have been Ian Fleming’s inspiration for James Bond. Over in Germany at the celebrated HK-Engineering, there rests a car with a special connection to the Dominican mystery man.
Images Courtesy of HK Engineering
Ian Fleming’s legendary spy James Bond was mostly inspired by, or even based on, a Dominican diplomat, socialite, and Casanova by the name Porfirio Rubirosa.
Back in 2016, Lawyer and Forensic Historian, Daniel J. Voelker, published a deep-dive article titled “Will the Real James Bond Please Stand Up?” which set imaginations running and tongues wagging. In it, Voelker asserts that Ian Fleming’s legendary spy James Bond was mostly inspired by, or even based on, a Dominican diplomat, socialite, and Casanova by the name Porfirio Rubirosa.
Voelker was by no means the first person to make this claim. Though a whole host of real-life characters, as well as the author’s own life experiences, have been credited as the inspiration for Bond, Rubirosa’s name has been floated time and time again.
However, Voelker was most certainly the first to investigate the theory in such depth. In his article, he tugs at the thread of rumour, exploring the lives and movements of both Rubirosa and Fleming, and dredging up times, places and mutual friendships through which they crossed paths. Through cultural icons like Erroly Flynn, Noel Coward, Eva Peron, and Rita Hayworth, and sun-dappled destinations in Jamaica, Haiti, Cuba, and California, and the French Riviera, Voelker digs up clue after clue that the man known to his friends and fans and “Rubi”, is the most likely candidate for the real-life Bond.
Alas, potential issues with libel and rather sickeningly, race and ethnicity (Rubirosa was Afro Latino), may well have prevented Fleming from ever revealing the identity of his muse.
Of course, the jury is still out. In truth, we’ll never know for sure, but Voelker’s is a fascinating case, and well worth a read. Whether it’s true matters not for the purpose of our story, for Rubirosa led a colourful life filled with adventure, potential espionage, parties, women, affairs, and cars.
One car in particular demands our attention, the absolutely gorgeous Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe, which takes pride of place amidst the fantastic works of HK-Engineering in Germany.
But before we head to present-day Europe, let’s first rewind to the Caribbean in 1909.
The Adventures, Affairs & End of Porfirio Rubirosa
“The only things that interested me were sports, girls, adventures, celebrities. In short – life.”
– Porfirio Rubirosa
Born in San Francisco de Macorís, Dominican Republic, in 1909 to an upper-middle class family, Porfirio Rubirosa’s father, Don Pedro, was also a notorious womaniser, and had served as the General of a government-backed militia who held sway in the Cibao region. Over time, Don Pedro rose to a Diplomatic role, and became chief of the Dominican Embassy in Paris in 1915. Thus, Rubirosa lived in Paris from the age of five, returning to the Dominican Republic as a Law Student when he was 17. The young Rubirosa soon decided that academia wasn’t for him however, and joined the military instead.
In 1930, Rafael Trujillo became President of the Dominican Republic. A Dictator who stayed in power until his assassination in 1961, Trujillo saw something that caught his attention about the engaging young Rubirosa when they met during a Polo match a country club in 1931, and soon asked him to join the Presidential Guard.
Before long, Rubirosa would be married to Trujillo’s eldest daughter, Flor de Oro Trujillo. According to some records, this was something of a forced marriage after a secret romantic encounter. Faced with death at the hands of the dictator’s regime or marriage, Rubirosa chose life. Alas, Rubirosa’s serial adultery led to a divorce in 1937.
Even so, the dictator kept him hired as a diplomat, aiming to leverage his charm, smooth talk, and frankly, ability to lie, to his country’s advantage. “He is good at his job, because women like him and he is a wonderful liar,” quipped Trujillo, knowing full well the damage he’d done to his daughter.
It was during these “diplomatic” years that Rubirosa’s fame, or infamy, really took off. Between serving in Embassies in Berlin, Buenos Aires, Rome, and Havana (during the Cuban Revolution, no less), “Rubi” came to be known as the womaniser who would be married four more times, to French actresses Danielle Darrieux and Odile Rodin, and American Heiresses Barbara Hutton and Doris Duke, who was that time the richest woman on earth thanks to her father, James Buchanan, owner of American Tobacco and the inventor of the mass-produced cigarette.
Due to his many, many affairs, his wives were so keen to divorce him that Rubirosa accrued fortunes in settlements and alimony – not just cash either, but a mansion, a Dominican coffee plantation, a fishing fleet in Africa, and even a pair of B-25 Bomber planes.
As for those extra-marital affairs and/or close relationships with other women, some of the most famous names of the mid 20th century – Zsa Zsa Gabor, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Veronica Lake, Judy Garland, and Eva Peron – were linked to Rubi.
Over time Rubirosa rose from simply a diplomat to an official with a curious title: “Inspector of Embassies”. Free to travel the world at his dictator’s orders, dark rumours circulated about Rubi’s actions, darker than sins like adultery, lust, and glutton. Though he was never charged for the crime, he was questioned regarding the “disappearances” of Trujillo’s political adversaries Sergio Bencosme (1935) and Jesus Galíndez (1956) by the New York District Attorney in 1962. This line of questioning came after Rubi had fallen on harder times. Stripped of his suspicious “Inspector of Embassies” privilege after the 1961 assassination of Rafael Trujillo and subsequent fall of the government, it felt like time was running out for the infamous lover and liar.
Indeed, Rubirosa met his end three years later in 1965. Then living in Paris, albeit in less opulent surroundings, and living out his passion for car racing and polo, Rubirosa was celebrating late into the night having won the Polo Coupe de France on July 4.
Early the next morning, after a sleepless night, Rubi jumped in his Ferrari 250 GT cabriolet into a tree, dying on impact. A fitting end for a man who loved to live fast.
“You feel like this man is breaking through walls, tearing down
mountains, and turning the world upside down to conquer you. He
is wild, impatient, with a stormy temper. But he lays his heart at
your feet when he desires you, and he desires you unceasingly. He
is the best gift a woman can give herself.”
- Zsa Zsa Gabor on Rubirosa
Porforio Rubirosa’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe
A life-long lover of the finer things, it stood to reason that Rubi was a collector of high end cars, and as one of the most gorgeous, sophisticated cars of the last century, the Mercedes-Benz 300 – known by many as “The Gullwing” – fit his wishes perfectly.
The car’s development began in 1951 with Rudolf Uhlenhaut’s Mercedes-Benz 300 SL racing sports car. The SL’s six-cylinder engine wouldn’t be enough to make it competitive, so the design team focused on reduced drag and weight. Hence, an aluminium body was forged, along with those now iconic top-hinged “gullwing” doors. With these improvements came racing honours in 1952 – 2nd and 4th at the Mille Miglia, three victories at the Swiss GP in Bern, two at the Le Mans 24 Hours, four wins at the German GP at the Nürburgring, and two more at Carrera Panamericana in Mexico.
Not yet satisfied with its performance, 1953 saw the 300 SL upgraded further with a Bosch direct injection system. The Gullwing had arrived.
1954 saw the 300 SL made available to the public, making its debut on the commercial scene at the International Motor Sports Show in New York, where its racing calibre, sleek and unique design, and best of all, those unforgettable doors, caught the imagination of car aficionados around the world. Though capable of reaching 250 km/h with its 215 hp engine, direct steering, four speed, short shift transmission, the car was also well suited to everyday or weekend driving at more sensible speeds. However, only 1,500 were built and production ceased in 1957, as Mercedes-Benz replaced it with the more comfortable, though still sensational 300 SL Roadster.
Naturally, our protagonist Porfirio Rubirosa – a man known for knowing what he wanted and getting it – wanted his very own 300 SL Gullwing. In 1955, the 87th 300 SL ever built came into his ownership at the company’s Wiesbaden branch, then transferred to Rubi’s home in Paris, and registered under the licence plate number CD 75 IT 5348.
Rubirosa would keep the car until his death in 1965. From there, it changed owner five more times before eventually being sourced and purchased by a certain Hans Kleissl in 2000. The founder of famed HK-Engineering in Germany.
The Story Continues Today at HK-Engineering
The company is celebrated worldwide for its expert restoration, preservation, and careful maintenance of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. Though they’ve branched out to other models in recent years, the 300 SL is their forte.
Not just known for restoring cars to “good as new”, HK-Engineering is celebrated for their ability to preserve, treat with care, and maintain the personality of the vehicles which pass through their hands.
As such, Rubirosa’s 300 SL remains as close to the original as possible. Though it had been painted after Rubi’s death by a subsequent owner, the team at HK-Engineering restored it to the original matte silver, while preserving the original interior, rim paints and chromed features.
Indeed, the company’s work on the car won them the “Specialist of the Year” awards at International Historic Motoring Awards in London in 2014. Needless to say, this is HK-Engineering’s prize possession. Even today, it can be seen at high-profile races and events such as the Mille Miglia.
People will stop and admire the beauty no doubt, but one wonders, will they know the full story of that car and its first owner? It’s one worth knowing.
Porfirio Rubirosa Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Coupe
Chassis number: 198.040-4500087
Engine number: 198.980-4500100
Body number: 198.040-4500088
1) Porfirio RUBIROSA, diplomat, from 03 February 1956.
Registered licence plate: CD 75 IT 53 48 (CD stands for “corps diplomatique”)
2) Jean HEBERT, engineer, from 09 October 1958
PARIS - Registered number: 300 HK 75
3) Roger BUSSY, from 23 October 1959.
LEVALLOIS - Registered number: 300 HK 75
4) Yves LAPLANCHE, film producer, from 09 November 1960
PARIS - Registered number: 300 HK 75.
5) Georges LAFOND, entrepreneur, from 31 December 1963.
PARIS - Registered number: 300 HK 75
6) Claudine CHERIF HAMDI, from 23 March 1966.
PARIS - Registered number: 300 HK 75
7) Hans KLEISSL, from 2000.
Germany - Registered number: WM SL 30H
To learn more about HK-Engineering, click here to visit the website.
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