Ronin: De Niro’s Leather Jacket and Mercedes-Benz

Robert De Niro as Sam in Ronin (1998), firing an FN Minimi in front of the gang's brown Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 sedan.

Robert De Niro as Sam in Ronin (1998), firing an FN Minimi in front of the gang’s brown Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 sedan.

Vitals

Robert De Niro as Sam, professional mercenary thief and ex-CIA operative

Nice to Paris, France, December 1997

Film: Ronin
Release Date: September 25, 1998
Director: John Frankenheimer
Costume Designer: May Routh

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!

Background

Several BAMF Style readers have requested to see Robert De Niro’s style from Ronin, the sensational and fast-paced thriller that follows a team of mercenaries carrying out a high-profile robbery in France. The film has been particularly singled out for its realistic car chases, filmed across stunning French settings by cinematographer Robert Fraisse as De Niro et al pursue their prey in European luxury sedans from more modern Audis and BMWs to a classic Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 performance sedan.

Shortly before Christmas, the mercenaries carry out their heist, ambushing a well-armed convoy in La Turbie and absconding with the film’s MacGuffin. A running gun battle and car chase ensues as the mercenaries pursue the surviving convoy to the port of Nice. The convoy is exterminated, but mercenaries Sam (De Niro) and Vincent (Jean Reno) then realize that they’ve been double-crossed by a deceptive confederate.

What’d He Wear?

On the day of the robbery, Sam dresses for action but with a low-key approach that allows him to blend in with the civilians and tourists without looking like he’s part of a professional robbery crew.

Sam’s Jacket

Sam wears a black leather jacket, custom made and tailored for De Niro, with some design inspiration from classic American flight jackets. The fit is a bit large, a concession to mid-to-late 1990s fashion though it also serves to conceal the fact that Sam has a semi-automatic pistol holstered under his jacket.

Sam’s jacket has a large shirt-style collar and a brass zipper up the front. The zipper begins a few inches above the bottom of the jacket. The jacket has a horizontal shoulder yokes on the front and across the back with a seam running down the center of his back. The set-in sleeves have a single-button half-tab on each cuff.

Sam allows himself to blend in with the holiday tourists of La Turbie.

Sam allows himself to blend in with the holiday tourists of La Turbie.

The jacket has a vertical welt pocket on each hip. The bottom hem is adjustable with buckle-tabs on each side, similar to the classic Type 440 flight jacket issued to U.S. Navy aviators in the 1930s, although the adjustable side-tabs on Sam’s jacket are located right on the hem rather than a few inches above it at the waist line.

There are several ways to experience the French Riviera... the more traditional tourism or the considerably less traditional post-heist car chase and gunfight. (Check out the plaid lining inside Sam's jacket.)

There are several ways to experience the French Riviera… the more traditional tourism or the considerably less traditional post-heist car chase and gunfight.
(Check out the plaid lining inside Sam’s jacket.)

The jacket has a distinctive satin lining in alternating columns of maroon and orange plaid and blue and green plaid. One of the screen-worn jackets is currently in the collection of the Harry Ransom Center in the University of Texas at Austin, keeper of many of Robert De Niro’s film costumes. The center posted an interesting article in October 2013 addressing the issues of archiving a “bloodstained” film costume like De Niro’s jacket in Ronin and including interesting images of the jacket as it looks 15 years after the movie was released.

Sam’s Shirts

Sam dresses on the day of the heist in non-descript clothing. His gray washed cotton shirt is typical of the late ’90s and has a button-down collar, single-button cuffs, and a front placket stitched very close to the edges in the American tradition. All buttons on the shirt are mixed brown plastic. He wears a plain white cotton crew-neck undershirt.

That evening in Nice, when the gang is treating a wounded comrade, he dons a black flannel flat cap to better conceal his face while obtaining first aid supplies.

Sam, incognito.

Sam, incognito.

The next day, which takes Sam and Vincent to the Arles Amphitheatre, Sam wears a subdued flannel shirt in charcoal gray with a simple beige windowpane overcheck. The shirt has a plain front, breast pocket, and rounded single-button cuffs.

Newly attired in a charcoal windowpane flannel shirt, Sam meets with a shadowy contact in Nice.

Newly attired in a charcoal windowpane flannel shirt, Sam meets with a shadowy contact in Nice.

This outfit was included in a “Profiles in History” auction with the jacket and jeans, identifying the heather gray short-sleeve crew-neck T-shirt worn underneath as a Calvin Klein brand.

Not included in the auction was the olive drab bulletproof vest that Sam evidently wore between his charcoal button-up shirt and the gray undershirt. The simple vest has black straps over the shoulders and black straps at each side that fasten it around his waist.

Vincent helps Sam out of his bulletproof vest after an incident at the Arles Amphitheatre.

Vincent helps Sam out of his bulletproof vest after an incident at the Arles Amphitheatre.

After getting patched up and cleaned up, Sam heads to Paris the following day with Vincent, now wearing his slickest outfit yet – a maroon turtleneck and black jeans. The turtleneck jumper is lightweight, possibly merino wool or a cashmere blend, with long sleeves elasticized at the cuffs.

Sam, looking sleek and stylish in a maroon turtleneck jumper and black leather jacket with Vincent at his side.

Sam, looking sleek and stylish in a maroon turtleneck jumper and black leather jacket with Vincent at his side.

Below the Jacket

Our all-American mercenary hero sports a pair of Levi’s 505 Straight Fit jeans in medium blue denim for most the film, until they become stained with blood. Continually produced by Levi’s since 1967 and touted as their original zip fly jeans, you can still pick up a pair of 505s from Amazon or Levi’s.

One of Sam's most badass moments finds him laying and bleeding on an operating table, calmly instructing his associate Vincent on what needs to be done to extract the bullet from his side.

One of Sam’s most badass moments finds him laying and bleeding on an operating table, calmly instructing his associate Vincent on what needs to be done to extract the bullet from his side.

Sam’s belt is black leather with a squared polished steel single-prong buckle. He wears a black holster fastened to the back of his belt when carrying his SIG-Sauer P228 pistol.

Sam's Calvin Klein t-shirt, torn and bloodied in the gunfight at Arles, is put out of its misery.

Sam’s Calvin Klein t-shirt, torn and bloodied in the gunfight at Arles, is put out of its misery.

Since his blue Levi’s were ruined by blood, Sam switches to a pair of black jeans for the film’s climactic finale in Paris. They appear to have a similar fit to his 505s, and the tan back patch over his right back pocket suggests that they may also be Levi’s. (Levi’s continues to offer the 505 Regular Fit jeans in black denim, available from Amazon.)

Sam takes a tumble in Paris after disarming Deirdre of her Jericho 941FB Compact pistol. Clipped to the back right of his belt (and thus concealing what may be a Levi's logo patch) is the holster for his own SIG-Sauer P228.

Sam takes a tumble in Paris after disarming Deirdre of her Jericho 941FB Compact pistol. Clipped to the back right of his belt (and thus concealing what may be a Levi’s logo patch) is the holster for his own SIG-Sauer P228.

The unpredictable nature of heist life makes Sam’s brown moc-toe work boots a very practical choice for his line of work. These boots have thick soles and dark chocolate brown laces.

Vincent and Sam, guns drawn in Paris.

Vincent and Sam, guns drawn in Paris.

If you’re looking for a pair of Sam-style boots, the Rockport Boat Builder (available here from L.L. Bean) looks like a close match with its wide, stitched moc-toe and other consistent details.

Sam’s Watch

Sam’s wristwatch has been identified as a vintage Jardur chronograph by The Watch Spot, a site dedicated to the restoration and repair of classic watches. The Watch Spot identified De Niro’s watch as the earliest Jardur Bezelmeter model, a Bezelmeter 950, “recognizable by the oval pushers and cathedral hands.” The watch has a stainless case, black dial, and is worn on a black leather strap with off-white stitched edges.

Sam takes aim with his SIG SG 551 rifle, offering audiences a fine glimpse of his vintage Jardur chronograph wristwatch.

Sam takes aim with his SIG SG 551 rifle, offering audiences a fine glimpse of his vintage Jardur chronograph wristwatch.

According to the site, the watch was sourced from a Parisian watch dealer when production began in France. De Niro supposedly liked his character’s vintage Jardur so much that he kept it as a souvenir of the production.

How to Get the Look

Sam, the consummate professional with a gift for blending in, adopts a non-descript American casual outfit of a dark leather flight jacket, utilitarian shirt layered over a T-shirt, and jeans.

  • Black leather jacket with shirt-style collar, brass zip front, set-in sleeves with single-button half-tab cuffs, adjustable side-tabs with buckles, and vertical welted hip pockets
  • Gray cotton button-up shirt
  • White or heather gray cotton short-sleeve crew-neck T-shirt
  • Levi’s 505 Regular Fit jeans in medium blue denim
  • Black leather belt with squared polished steel single-prong buckle
  • Black belt holster
  • Brown moc-toe work boots with chocolate brown laces and heavy soles
  • Jardur Bezelmeter 950 vintage chronograph with stainless steel case, black dial (with 3 sub-dials), on black leather strap

The Car

For the major heist in Ronin, Vincent and Sam make their getaway in a brown 1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9. Described by Car and Driver‘s David E. Davis Jr.’s as “the most uncompromisingly spartan luxury car,” the legendary 450SEL 6.9 forewent Mercedes-Benz’s usual luxury touches in favor of raw performance, making it the ideal set of wheels for our well-armed protagonists.

Vincent's Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 proves its performance virtues during a chase along the French coastline.

Vincent’s Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9 proves its performance virtues during a chase along the French coastline.

To understand the impact of the 450SEL 6.9 on the motoring world, one should look back to the early 1970s when the energy crisis held much of the world hostage. OPEC restrictions crippled drivers in the United States where lines at fuel pumps snaked around corners just so that drivers could pay up to 42% more for their allotment of gasoline. The powerful muscle car era died a quick death as Detroit reconfigured its automotive product lines to make way for a new generation of downsized cars with anemic but more gas-efficient engines.

And yet, in the midst of all this, Mercedes-Benz sends its powerhouse 450SEL 6.9 barreling onto the scene. Mercedes-Benz had already proven its willingness to compete with Detroit’s muscle car dominance of the late 1960s with the development of the marque’s first high-performance sedan, the 300SEL 6.3. Produced from 1968 through 1972, the 300SEL 6.3 simply dropped Mercedes-Benz’s powerful V8 engine from the 600 limousine and placed it into a W109 model sedan as an upgrade to the S-Class’s standard six-cylinder power plants.

The 300SEL 6.3 ceased production after the 1972 model year, but Mercedes-Benz was just getting started. The 450SEL 6.9, built on the long wheelbase W116 chassis, was unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show in 1974 as an unapologetically badass yet sophisticated successor with a bigger engine and more power.

In addition to being the then-fastest production sedan in the world, the 450SEL 6.9 also had the distinction of offering the largest engine in a non-American car produced after World War II with its 6834 cc Mercedes-Benz M100 engine. Though still a luxury sedan, splendor was discarded in favor of strength and speed with a maximum over 140 mph.

The 450SEL 6.9 was introduced to the North American market in 1977 and, though slightly de-powered for the U.S. with a 36 horsepower reduction due to emissions standards, it remained a taunting challenge to a Detroit whose Chargers and Firebirds had been replaced by the anemic likes of the Chevette and the Cimarron.

In its half-decade of production, the 450SEL 6.9 proved to be more than just a raw performer, innovating the car world as one of the first to offer an electronically controlled anti-lock brake system. The W116 chassis was discontinued after the 1980 model year and with it went the groundbreaking 450SEL 6.9 with a production total of only 7,380.

1976 Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9

Body Style: 4-door full-size luxury sedan

Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)

Engine: 6834 cc (6.9 L) Mercedes-Benz M100 V8

Power: XX hp (210 kW; 286 PS) @ 4250 rpm

Torque: 405 lb·ft (549 N·m) @ 3000 rpm

Transmission: 3-speed automatic with torque converter

Wheelbase: 116.5 inches (2960 mm)

Length: 199.2 inches (5060 mm)

Width: 73.6 inches (1870 mm)

Height: 56.3 inches (1430 mm)

To truly appreciate the 450SEL 6.9, I direct you to the aforementioned contemporary review that David E. Davis Jr. penned for Car and Driver in July 1977.

The Guns

Sam and his crew are armed to the proverbial teeth with mostly European weapons appropriate to the film’s setting.

Sam is armed with five weapons for the heist alone, beginning with a Heckler & Koch HK69A1 grenade launcher that he uses to take out the first vehicle in the target convoy. This break-action “Granatpistole” was introduced in 1979 as a standalone weapon after initial development and design through the 1960s had called for a weapon that would be fitted under the barrel of a G3A3 rifle. It fires a single low-velocity 40x46mm grenade at an effective firing range of up to 350 meters.

Sam takes aim with his HK69A1 grenade launcher. Clearly not messing around.

Sam takes aim with his HK69A1 grenade launcher. Clearly not messing around.

After destroying the first vehicle in the convoy, Sam switches to a SIG SG 551 assault rifle to engage and take out the convoy guards. Developed from the full-size SIG SG 550, the more compact SG 551 has a folding stock and a shorter, 14.3″-long barrel as well as a slightly reduced muzzle velocity of 850 m/s.

All variants of the SIG SG 550, including the super-compact SG 552 Commando, fire 5.56x45mm NATO rifle ammunition.

Same firing position, different weapon. Sam aims his SIG SG 551 rifle.

Same firing position, different weapon. Sam aims his SIG SG 551 rifle.

Once the heist team takes to the road, Sam graduates to an unidentified rocket launcher that IMFDB suggests is a mock-up designed to resemble the classic M72 LAW used by the U.S. military in Vietnam (and by Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in The Enforcer.)

There's badass... and then there's Robert De Niro firing a rocket launcher from the open sunroof of a speeding Mercedes.

There’s badass… and then there’s Robert De Niro firing a rocket launcher from the open sunroof of a speeding Mercedes.

Upon reaching Nice, Sam straps an FN Minimi Para Mk 2 light machine gun to his shoulder for a frighteningly effective combat weapon against the well-armed convoy. This open-bolt machine gun was introduced by the Belgian firm Fabrique Nationale (FN) in the 1970s and was adopted by the U.S. military as the M249. Like the SIG SG 551 rifle used in La Turbie, the FN Minimi fires 5.56x45mm NATO ammunition; the “Maximi” is a variant chambered for the larger 7.62x51mm NATO rounds… as its name would suggest.

The “Para” variant of the FN Minimi was developed for paratroopers with a shortened barrel and collapsible stock. Sam fires from the right side of his body, and he is seen wisely fitting a white earplug in his right ear to protect it from the deafening sound of his machine gun’s rapid rate of fire.

More heavy firepower in the form of a military-grade light machine gun.

More heavy firepower in the form of a military-grade light machine gun.

It isn’t until the next day at the Arles Amphitheatre that Sam has an opportunity to prominently use his sidearm, a SIG-Sauer P228 semi-automatic pistol. This pistol – a personal favorite of mine – was developed in the late 1980s as a compact variant of the venerable P226 pistol, though the P228 is only chambered for 9x19mm Parabellum as opposed to the wider range of calibers available in the P226.

The SIG-Sauer P228 was soon adopted as a secondary sidearm by the U.S. military as the M11 as served as the U.S. Secret Service’s issued handgun through the 1990s until it was replaced by SIG-Sauer’s P229.

Sam fires his SIG-Sauer P228 during a confrontation at the Arles Amphitheatre.

Sam fires his SIG-Sauer P228 during a confrontation at the Arles Amphitheatre.

Interestingly, Sam had earlier used a Colt M1991A1 Series 80 pistol and was a vocal proponent of what Spence (Sean Bean) had called an “old gun”, but he never actually uses it during the heist or its aftermath, perhaps favoring the 13-round magazine capacity of the P228 to the seven of most 1911 pistols.

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt.

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