The Story Behind Walt Disney's Last Ride: A 1965 Mercedes 230SL

A better name for Walt Disney might be World Wide Walt. The man's name is known around the planet for his legacy — the likes of which very few can compare. Disney is the man behind some of the most iconic cartoon characters and animated films ever created and the mastermind who conceptualized and built the magical Disney theme parks, visited by billions of people across multiple generations. 

Today, The Walt Disney Company is one of the biggest mass media juggernauts on the planet, owning everything from ESPN, Hulu, and ABC to Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm. It is the quintessential definition of an entertainment empire.

Walter Elias Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois, on December 5, 1901, but his family moved to Marceline, Missouri, while he was a baby. It's here where his midwestern values were forged. To the public, Disney came across as a gentle, good-natured figure, likeable by everyone of all ages. Behind the scenes, however, he was a driven entrepreneur who smoked, drank, and according to some, held darker beliefs and values that belied those midwestern charms.

Despite his imperfections, he was very frugal when lavishing himself with the spoils of success. Instead, he was constantly reinvesting money back into his company to drive it forward. So, when he did buy a Mercedes-Benz 230SL in 1964 — his last car — it came as quite a shock. And, like most other things associated with man, it comes with a good story.

Walt and the Convertible Benz

Enter Dean Jones, a mild-mannered actor who, by 1964, had appeared in several television shows. According to the Walt Disney Archives, Disney saw Jones on one of them ("Ensign O'Toole") and cast him in the lead role for a film they were about to make called "That Darn Cat!" By then, Disney had become a household name, with some estimates putting his net worth at some $20 million.  As Jones tells it, while he and Walt were strolling down the streets of Los Angeles one day, they happened upon a Mercedes-Benz dealership. Disney glanced through the window and saw the convertible two-seat 230SL sitting on the showroom floor. In vintage Walt form, he immediately said, "I can't afford that," and the two kept walking.

A few steps later, the magical kingdom magnate suddenly realized that he actually could afford it, turned around, entered the dealership, and wrote a check for $3,000. The handwritten notes on the check say the amount was for a down payment and indicated that there was still a balance of $5,500.00. While on the set of "That Darn Cat!" Jones saw Disney's Mercedes being used in the film. Always the businessman, Disney thought renting it out to the studio for $100 a day was a good way to get his money's worth. Disney died in December of 1966, while Jones went on to appear in eleven movies for the company, becoming "the embodiment of Disney films" until the mid-1970s.