By Michel Cousins.
Tripoli, 1 September 2013:
Mercedes Benz cars are not a common sight on Libya’s streets, unlike in the rest of . . .[restrict]North Africa and the Middle East, But it was not always so. Before Qaddafi seized power exactly forty-four years ago they were everywhere. Even the taxis were Mercedes. The reason they disappeared was that they were one of Qaddafi’s pet hates, of which he had many. He associated them with businessmen – another hate.
Mercedes now plans a major comeback in the country. But one very special Mercedes, although not exactly new, has already arrived.
In a garage in a Tripoli suburb sits a very grand, gleaming black Mercedes 220S. In superb condition, it was first bought in 1957 in Rome. The man who bought it was Mahmoud Muntasser, Libya’s ambassador in Italy and the country’s first prime minister following independence.
Muntasser used it as his official car until he retuned to Libya in 1962. Later, both as Prime Minister for a second time between 1964 and 1965 and thereafter as head of the Royal Court, he regularly used it instead of an official vehicle.
When Qaddafi seized power, Muntasser was arrested and died a year later while still in prison. For the next two years the car remained off the road, unused. But then in 1972, Muntasser’s sons, Belgassem and Omar, started occasionally taking it out and driving it again.
But the vehicle attracted unwonted attention. While being driven through Tripoli, another vehicle rammed into it in what appeared a deliberate attack. It happened more than once. It became clear that someone with power and influence wanted the car smashed. So it was decided in 1982 to send it to Italy for safekeeping, to another Munstasser son, Abdul Salam, then living in Milan.
There it remained until he tragically died in 1991. The family then sold it to another Libyan, a businessman, based in Italy. When he died a year ago, his wife decided to sell it. She got in contact with Belgassem Muntasser and asked if he wanted to buy it back. “I immediately said ‘Yes’”, Belgassem says.
The homecoming was a couple of weeks ago when it was shipped to Khoms.
Belgassem Muntasser is clearly very proud that his father’s Mercedes 220S is back in Libya – a Libya that is now reconnecting with its past. He is putting the car on display at the Classic Car show in Tripoli on 5 September. [/restrict]