Type '35-R' has been produced to meet the growing demand for a high-speed, high-grade, moderate priced racing car, which a private individual may take out on the road, and safely and consistently drive at a speed between 70 and 80 miles an hour, from the 1911 Mercer Sales Catalogue.
FORMERLY THE PROPERTY OF MRS. JOHN GRAY, HERBERT ROYSTON and PHIL HILL
1913 MERCER TYPE 35 J RACEABOUT
Chassis No. 1285
Engine No. 35 J 1010
Canary Yellow with black striping and black leather upholstery
Engine: four cylinder T-head, dry sump lubrication, 300ci, (5 litre), 60hp at 1,900rpm; Gearbox: four speeds forward plus reverse; Suspension: semi-elliptic leaf springs front and rear with Hartford friction shock absorbers; Brakes: two wheel drum and a contracting shoe on the drive shaft. Right hand drive.
The legendary T-Head Mercer Raceabout was one of the most significant cars produced during the glorious Brass Age. The enthusiasm shared by those fortunate few owners and admirers who have experienced the thrill of a Raceabout has elevated these pioneering sports cars to mythical status.
Following the instructions of the young Washington A. Roebling II, one of the Mercer Company's founders, chief engineer Finley Robertson Porter created the greatest sports car of the Edwardian Era. When one takes into consideration the pool of knowledge and technology available in 1910, Porter's design is remarkable. Although he did not incorporate the newest and most advanced ideas, he combined and utilized each element of his design to maximum effect so that the overall package was a near-perfect design for its time.
The 300 cubic inch four cylinder engine had massive 2.25 inch valves, high lift cams, high compression ratio and generous and efficient intake/exhaust manifolding. This was mated to a beautifully engineered Brown & Lipe gearbox, in three speed form for 1911 and 1912, and four speed for 1913 and 1914, with a multiple disc clutch. The drive unit was set down in a sub frame to lower the center of gravity on the already low slung chassis, which was clothed in long swooping fenders, raked cowl, steering column and twin rear spare tires. Is there a better example of form following function?
The T-Head Mercer Raceabout was the first mass produced dual purpose sports and racing car - and indeed, many Mercers were taken right off the showroom floor to a race track where, with their fenders, running boards and lighting equipment quickly removed (this takes about 15 minutes), they would frequently set lap records, defeating cars with much larger engines. As Finley R. Porter recalled in an interview with Henry Austin Clark in the 1950s, We sold racing cars to the public.
The best drivers always gravitate to the best cars and Mercer was no exception: Ralph DePalma, Spencer Wishart, Caleb Bragg, Eddie Pullen, Hughie Hughes and Barney Oldfield were a few of the stars of the era - not to mention the many private amateur sportsmen who were victorious behind the wheel of Mercers. As noted historian and collector George F. Wingard states in his authoritative book Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, Mercer dominated the American racing scene for five years from 1911 through 1915. They made cars that beat the dual overhead cam Peugeots, considered by some to be one of the best race cars of all time. In 1914 Mercer became the first American manufactured car to win the American Grand Prix. They won the AAA stock car championship of 1911. They took third place at the Indianapolis 500 in 1912 and second in 1913 running against cars with engines twice their size. They won at Elgin, Tacoma, Santa Monica, Trenton, Bakersfield, St. Louis, Washington D.C., Sioux City, Phoenix, Springfield, Mass., and Brighton Beach just to name a few. In every major race from 1911 to 1916 a Mercer was usually a major contender.
If the phenomenal race record of the Mercer was not enough proof of its worth, consider the list of respected collectors who have chosen to own a T-Head Raceabout: Bill Harrah, Henry Austin Clark, Alec Ulmann, Sam Scher, Peter Helck, James Melton, Ralph Buckley, Ken Purdy, Herb Royston, Miles Collier, David Uihlein, Fred Hoch, George Wingard, Phil Hill, Roger Ellis, and Briggs Cunningham - many of them owning more than one example. Ken Purdy aptly described in The Kings of the Road, Although driving a Mercer may have a high per-mile cost, nothing the writer ever sat in offered as much sheer enjoyment. The enormous attraction of the Mercer derives from its starkness. There are no useless gadgets. Everything on the car contributes to something. Visibility? You can see the ground under the right front wheel. You can gauge a corner literally to one inch, and the merest twitch of the steering wheel will pull you around the car ahead of you.
When you sit behind the wheel of a T-Head Raceabout, you are immediately aware of its brilliant purposeful design; despite its stark exposed features, you have a sense of security and stability. The left foot naturally extends straight out in front to the clutch and the right foot falls comfortably outside the 'bodywork', nestled into a brass stirrup and resting on the accelerator. The steering wheel rests in your lap and its response is both delightfully light and direct at speed. To shift, the driver moves his arm slightly to the right at the gearlever and a gear can be selected up or down with lightning speed. A Raceabout inspires confident driving. Once familiar, you can approach a corner at a normally alarming speed, partially retard the hand brake, down shift and release the brake - a quick and natural movement - while simultaneously drifting the car if you so choose. Such technique was not possible in most sports cars until the late 1920s and even then the steering and gearbox were not as inspiring. On a recent Colorado Grand, the owner of a Ferrari 250 Tour de France followed a 1913 Raceabout on a tight winding road and was amazed at its advanced handling characteristics. On that same event, the owners of a 1938 BMW 328 and a Riley Sportscar were even more astonished to be passed by the same Raceabout when their speedometers registered over 85mph!
Chassis no. 1285 is one of the most original and best preserved Mercer Raceabouts in existence. It is also one of the very few highly desireable 'four speed' cars, and it is one of the few examples that has a history known from new. Mr. and Mrs. John F. Gray were residents of New York who shared a taste for fine, high powered machinery with their two sons, John and Coleman Gray. Their stable of motor cars included a 30-60 Stearns Roadster and a 50 horsepower Kissel, but Mrs. Gray wanted something more sporting, and in the spring of 1913 she placed an order for a new Raceabout, paying $2,600 with a deposit of $500 at the N.Y. Mercer agency, Whiting Motor Co.
Mrs. Gray and her two sons were invited by Finley R. Porter to the factory in nearby Trenton to watch the progress of their car and see the engine, number 35J 1010, being run in. The new Raceabout was completed for delivery by the summer of 1913 and used by the Gray family for high speed stints along the Long Island Motor Parkway. During the winter months, the Grays traveled south and Mrs. Gray considered bringing the Mercer along to race on Ormond Beach. Apparently, Finley Porter offered to specially tune the engine, but she decided instead to leave the Mercer in New York for the winter. By the spring of 1914, Mrs. Gray and the family had become more confident with the Mercer and spent the summer challenging other high horsepower cars - particularly the big chain-drive Simplex cars which were tested along the Long Island Parkway. Although this thoroughly amused Mrs. Gray, it must have been somewhat annoying for the proud men at Simplex to be regularly taunted by the lady in the bright yellow little Mercer! In the autumn of 1914, the Gray family moved to Del Mar, California near San Diego and their stable of cars followed them. Sometime in 1915, one of the Gray sons was using the Mercer to chase an Army Jenny airplane that had been lost in the clouds above Southern California. His lengthy high speed pursuit resulted in a seized piston and the Grays took the Mercer to one Harry A. Miller of Venice, California who was quickly gaining a reputation for his brillance with racing machines. Under Miller's care, the Mercer was installed with a new set of racing alloy pistons. Miller recognized one of the Mercer's weak links, namely its lack of a pressure lubrication system. As George F. Wingard notes in Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, With all of this wonderful engineering, it is a mystery to me why Finley Robertson Porter, the engine's designer, settled on a lubrication system that would be more at home irrigating a rice paddy. It seems Miller had a similar viewpoint and therefore installed a dry sump lubrication system in the Raceabout. The car remained in Del Mar and saw less use over the years as Mrs. Gray grew older.
Eventually the Mercer was put into permanent storage and the tires were removed and donated to the rubber drive at the outset of World War II. Mercer enthusiast Herbert Royston of Los Angeles had heard of the Mercer's whereabouts and frequently corresponded with the Gray family. For quite some time they insisted that the Mercer was not for sale, but they reluctantly decided to sell the car when they moved to a ranch in Palomar, California - they were nervous about leaving the Raceabout behind, unguarded, in a barn. When Royston saw the car for the first time, he was astonished to find it in such beautifully preserved condition. He recalled in a July 1962 article for the Horseless Carriage Gazzette, Paint on the fenders was original as fenders were hardly ever used in California. The body got a coat of color varnish and duplicated black striping about 1923. Leather upholstery now is original [it has since been replaced]. This Mercer probably rode the first black, or cord, tires seen in this country, on anything but foreign cars. Mrs. Gray liked the look of the rubber on the Sunbeams and Peugeots at Indianapolis in 1913, and had Whiting, the New York Mercer agent, get a set of British Palmer Cords for the Mercer through the Vauxhall agent in London.
Royston and fellow collector Art Austria towed the Raceabout to Royston's home in Los Angeles on December 26, 1943. The Mercer was thoroughly examined and recommissioned where necessary. Unfortunately, at some point in the car's life the original Flechter carburetor was removed and a later Stromberg unit, that it still carries, was fitted. New paint was applied throughout and a monocle windshield and spotlight were mounted. The Raceabout was the centerpiece of the Royston collection which included an L-Head Mercer Raceabout and Marmon Speedster, and the car frequently participated in Horseless Carriage Club Tours during the 1950s. The Mercer remained in Mr. Royston's collection until it was sold at an auction of his estate in the mid 1970s. Former World Championship driver Phil Hill purchased chassis 1285 and it remained in his ownership for a short while before being sold to a dealer in the mid-west.
Ray Brown owned two L-head Raceabouts (lots XXX & YYY ), but he had always wanted a T-Head, and when he heard that the ex-Royston car might be available, he decided that he would do whatever it took to acquire the car. Eventually a deal was struck and he traded his beloved Auburn Boattail Speedster plus cash for the Mercer in June of 1975.
Hardly anything had been done to the Raceabout since its re-paint in the late 1940s. Mr. Brown had a great appreciation and sympathy for the car's remarkable orginality, and the Mercer was his pride and joy over the next 23 years of ownership. Mr. Brown would on occasion take the family out for blasts along the Maryland highway and delighted in passing modern cars. The Mercer participated on a few Glidden Tours and was also displayed on occasion at the Hershey, Pennsylvania Car Show - one time receiving a Historical Preservation Award of Excellence from the Antique Automobile Club of America. The car was also maintained by the premier Mercer authority, Mr. Fred Hoch of Schaffer & Long Restorations in Magnolia, New Jersey.
There are approximately 17 genuine T-head Raceabouts in existence - that is, Raceabouts which are considered to have left the factory in Raceabout form. Chassis no. 1285 is one of the most original examples extant and is one of the coveted four speed cars. This Raceabout's preserved state is something to behold; the number stampings on the chassis, hood and all four fenders are clearly evident - all panels are completely original, the running boards still retain the original white pyramid rubber from 1913 and the correct and hard-to-find oil cups remain intact throughout the chassis. The original Rushmore 806 head lamps and Dietz Dainty tail lamp remain and the factory original canary yellow paint can clearly be seen on a number of places on the Mercer frame. The Harry Miller installed dry sump lubrication system is also still intact.
The Mercer is eligible for a growing number of events including the many Horseless Carrriage Club and Veteran Motor Car Club tours, and is a welcome entry at many vintage race events and long distance Touring events such as the Colorado Grand. Christie's is honored to offer one of the finest examples of these legendary pioneering sports cars.