5,315cc T-Head 4-Cylinder Engine
Single Carburetor, 32hp at 1,200rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission, Chain Drive
4-Wheel Semi-Elliptic Leaf Springs with Live Rear Axle
Rear Drum Brakes
*A unrepeatable opportunity to acquire one of the best automobiles of its day
*Known history from new
*Frequent London to Brighton competitor
*Fast, usable pre-1905 automobile
*65mph plus performance!
"The Mercedes made all existing cars look out of date" – John Bolster, The Upper Crust.
While the start of the legendary Daimler-Benz story can be charted back to the Patent Motorwagen of 1886, universally accepted as the 'birth of the automobile', the connotations of refinement, quality and luxury that we associate with the brand today can better be traced to the introduction of Daimler's 'Mercedes' product in 1901. This remarkable automobile heralds from that early generation of what quickly became the finest automobile that could be bought anywhere in the world.
As the automobile industry developed, frequently manufacturers, like internet 'startups' today would have their moment in the sun, before someone else took the limelight. And so it was not long before the Patent Motorwagen looked dated alongside the Panhard et Levassors of France, who would dominate the early motor racing scene.
Daimler needed to combat this. It wasn't entirely easy, as a rush of ideas and concepts including the first mass-produced four-cylinder engine and an inline eight-cylinder consumed his capital, forcing him to accept investors. They quickly clashed with engineer Wilhelm Maybach who soon left. Within a year even Daimler abandoned his eponymous company but the two were persuaded to return three years later, along with Paul and Adolf Daimler, Gottlieb's sons, who gradually took over his responsibilities. Maybach continued to be the designer and innovator, solving problems of carburetion, ignition system, cooling, gearbox and suspension.
Of course, the tale of the name Mercedes has been repeated many times, but in presenting an example of their production, this is an entirely justifiable occasion for its recounting. The story is traced to another important character in the growth of the company, Emil Jellinek, the hugely influential agent for the southern region of France. Jellinek understood how to sell cars and what his clientele wanted, he was also a keen promoter of their automobiles. At Nice on the Cote d'Azur he wished to present a new Cannstatt built Daimler, but owing to the battles over the licensing of the Daimler-Phenix engine in France, he effectively had to present it under a pseudonym. The name he chose was that of his daughter, Mercedes...
So, there in Nice in March 1901 a new automobile, built to Jellinek's exacting requirements made its debut, to universal acclaim. The order book surged immediately, Jellinek's judgment of the market being very astute. Only a year later the prolific Maybach introduced a redesigned series of Mercedes cars which were named Mercedes-Simplex to highlight their improvements, primarily much lighter engine weight and improved cooling performance which also reduced weight and complexity. The Mercedes-Simplex models were a great success, bringing renewed visibility to the company, quite simply there wasn't anything that could touch the new car.
In the United States no less a personage than William Kissam Vanderbilt whose first Daimler ("White Ghost") was followed by a Mercedes-Simplex ("Red Devil") both of which were notorious on the roads of Long Island, Newport and Massachusetts. Willie K. continued his Mercedes-Simplex exploits in Europe.
As Willie K. Vanderbilt's experience shows there were those in America to whom nothing less than the largest, fastest, most luxurious automobile was sufficient and the list of American Mercedes owners began to read like the social register. The Vanderbilts numbered at least two in addition to Willie K. Other owners – Bernard Baruch, Henry Clay Frick, Isaac Guggenheim, Harry Payne Whitney, Colonel John Jacob Astor – are still instantly recognized today, a hundred years later. By 1906 Mercedes had its own showroom in Times Square where it was represented by the company's longtime agent, William Steinway of the piano-making family.
There were five models, ranging from 18/22hp to a massive 60hp behemoth. The cars were built of the finest materials. Maybach recognized that weight was the enemy of performance and succeeded in designing automobiles that despite their huge engines were for the time remarkably light. This, in turn, made their performance superior to their more obese competitors, further enhancing the Mercedes reputation among potential clients.
Powered by four-cylinder T-head engines with 4-speed manual transmissions in unit with the differential on the cross-shaft to the double rear wheel drive chains, the Mercedes-Simplexes were machines of quality, distinction and performance. As the marque's competition activities and success demonstrate, performance was often as important to prospective customers as luxury. Automobiles were accessible only to the wealthy and a lightweight, sparsely bodied high performance car was as distinctive and desirable then as it is today. In order to get the maximum benefit from the weight advantage conferred by Mercedes' quality materials and thoughtful design they were frequently fitted with sparse but still luxurious coachwork.
As ever, the best did not come cheap, a car such as that offered here was priced at more than 20,000 marks in Germany, which equated then to roughly $7,500, a sum which would have bought you 8 Cadillacs at that time, or 3 Packards or Wintons! Regardless, there were plenty of takers, more than 1500 Mercedes-Simplexes being sold in this era, yet time was not kind to them and those that are left are a precious few. The International authority that has charted cars of this era since before the war, is the Veteran Car Club of Great Britain, today their records list only 20 surviving pre-1905 Mercedes of all models, just 6 of which are of this larger model size.
THE MOTORCAR OFFERED
As we have come to expect from Mercedes, their records are impeccable and so for this reason we know precisely the early history of this 112 year old motorcar. In keeping with their practices of the day it was commissioned by Emil Jellinek on July 24, 1903 for delivery to the noted British Agency J.E. Hutton Ltd on London's Shaftesbury Avenue. Huttons generally specialized in the upper echelons of the market supplying Panhards, Mercedes and generally large horsepower cars to the wealthiest car buyers of the day.
Their client on this occasion was Richard Bayly, a wealthy timber merchant based in Plymouth in the Southwest of England. Testament to the stature of these automobiles, the car was used as a subject of a 5 page report in one of the best contemporary publications of its day, The Automotor Journal, detailing the improvements of the model over even its predecessors.
The article states "The chassis... is, we believe, the first of this type to arrive in this country, and it is to the owner - Mr. Richard Bayly of Plymouth – that we are indebted for having permitted us to make a thorough examination of its construction. It is at present being fitted with a special body by Messrs. Thrupp & Maberly"
In copious detail, the full workings of the car are described and illustrated numerous times, a fascinating piece of historical documentation which very few cars of any era can claim to have.
From this period its history is known to this day. It was registered new with the local Devon County Council licence plate 'T 136', as the 136th car registered in that area. It is understood that the Bayly family kept the car until 1908, and that by the outset of the war it was out of use and was donated to the War Department for military use. It was by no means uncommon for cars such as these, or larger horsepower cars like Silver Ghosts, which remained usable, reliable and were no less powerful than any of their contemporaries more than a decade after their construction to have more than one 'life', often with more commercial coachwork applied. After the Great War of 1914-18, it is believed to have been returned from the Western Front in France to one of a series of vehicle depositories, this one not far from its early existence in Plymouth. There it was sold by the War Disposals Board to a local farmer, granting its third 'life' in farm service.
A chance discussion by a Veteran Car enthusiast with another farmer many years later, led the car to be discovered there in the 1970s. While it had certainly seen better days, remarkably its commission plate remained on the dash toe-board, enabling its age to be easily verified, and as such was a true 'Holy Grail' discovery for cars of this era. Its discoverer, Oliver Gray acquired the car at this point and set about restoring the Mercedes.
Alongside the car, Mr. Gray had also elected to restore a large watermill property and together the two projects advanced slowly over the course of the next decade. With much careful research to its detail, Mr. Gray carefully constructed a new four/five seater body of the type frequently fitted to these cars. It was not until 1983 some 80 years after its original commission that the Mercedes was 'fired-up' and returned to the road.
From that point on it was regularly campaigned by Mr. Gray, competing on many London to Brighton Veteran Car Runs and always completing the event, according to his family he literally toured the length and breadth of the UK, driving the car everywhere rather than ever trailing it. In the late 1990s with his age advancing and still working on his watermill, Mr. Gray made the decision to part with the Mercedes. It was presented at a Brooks (Bonhams) auction in April 1999 when it passed to noted long term car collectors and connoisseurs the Corner Family.
In their ownership, the car received much refurbishment once again and was exercised frequently, attending London to Brightons and other events associated with the marque as its Centenary and other anniversaries for the brand took place in this era.
In the last few years it passed to the present custodian. With the intention of using it regularly it was subjected to a full mechanical refreshing, engine work including the fitment of new pistons being entrusted to noted engineering experts Crosthwaite and Gardiner in the UK, and the brakes were refurbished to provide meaningful stopping power - a sensible precaution given its comfortable performance of more than 65mph!
It has continued to be used and cherished. Events have included a handful of London to Brighton Veteran Car Runs (today sponsored by Bonhams), two Gordon Bennett renactment runs and other 'Brass Era' car events.
Its cosmetics have been completely redone also. Now liveried in a rich Royal Blue contrasting with deep red button back leather upholstery, and complemented with large brass accoutrements it is exceedingly handsome and has incredible presence.
All those who have experienced one of these legendary sporting Mercedes automobiles attest to their quality, refinement, ease of use and speed. It is without doubt that the reputation of the brand as we know it was built upon the foundations created by Daimler, Maybach and Jellinek with these incredible cars. Owing to their sheer performance, apart from being able to whistle through the pack of a London to Brighton field at comparative 'break-neck' speed, these cars are eminently usable and competitive in any form of historic event for cars up to the 1920s.
To put their rarity in context it is a full decade since the last one changed hands publicly, and that was only on the passing of its owner Otis Chandler. Careful analysis of the existing roll call of owners suggests that it is unlikely that another might appear for some considerable time. In that context it makes this an exceptional opportunity for a true connoisseur to join a very exclusive club and savor what is arguably the first icon of the motor industry.