The Property of a Lady, one family owned from new
1928 MERCEDES-BENZ 26/120/180 TYP S TORPEDO ROADSTER
COACHWORK BY SAOUTCHIK
Commission No. 40156
Engine No. 72151
Cream with red leather upholstery and tan cloth top
Engine: six cylinder, in-line, single overhead camshaft, supercharged with dual carburetors, 6,789cc, 120/180bhp; Gearbox: four speed manual; Suspension: live axles with semi-elliptic leaf springs; Brakes: four wheel mechanical drum. Left hand drive.
The premise for the merger of Daimler Motoren Gesellshaft and Benz & Cie. in 1926 was standard management logic. Both companies were on the ropes following Germany's post-World War I depression and desperately needed to rationalize models and manufacturing. That was the logic, but the Daimler-Benz merger worked because it resulted in some of the most exciting, famous and successful automobiles ever built.
Gottlieb Daimler had experimented with supercharging before the turn of the century. His son Paul, Chief Engineer at Daimler after the war, brought supercharging's first practical automobile application in the single overhead camshaft 2.6 liter four cylinder 10/40/65 (the numbers designate the engine's taxable/naturally aspirated/supercharged horsepower ratings) in 1922. Development was cut short when Paul Daimler left the company in late 1922 but resumed when Dr. Ferdinand Porsche arrived in Untertürkheim in April 1923 from Austro-Daimler. Porsche applied his skills to developing a replacement for the single overhead camshaft six cylinder 28/95, a 7 liter giant derived from Paul Daimler's DF80 aircraft engine.
Porsche's first effort displaced only 3,920cc, the 15/70/100. The masterpiece, however, was the replacement for the 28/95. Displacing 6,246cc, it was designated the 24/100/140 and has become known as the Mercedes model K. The powerful engine exposed the existing Mercedes chassis' shortcomings in both handling and brakes, and Dr. Porsche turned his attention to remedying these in the next, short wheelbase (134 inch), model K.
With the merger completed between Daimler and Benz, a process begun in 1925 and formally consummated on June 26, 1926, the joined companies' product lines, manufacturing and management were integrated and rationalized under the leadership of Wilhelm Kissel, a Benz executive. Most importantly the marques' competition in racing ended and the combined companies' performance-development efforts were placed squarely behind the Mercedes.
The immediate result of the renewed focus and the concentration of the engineering talents of Dr. Porsche, Hans Nibel and Fritz Nallinger was the Mercedes-Benz Typ S, an automobile that would forever establish the credentials of Mercedes-Benz at the pinnacle of high performance luxury automobiles.
The post-war recession evaporated, succeeded by an era of prosperity and a new social freedom, the Jazz Age. The Typ S, vigorous, powerful, vibrant and purposeful, became its signature, the pinnacle of aspirations that in the Twenties seemed accessible to all.
The Typ S engine was all new. Now larger (6,789cc), it had larger valves, dual carburetors, a modestly increased compression ratio and a larger supercharger that delivered 7psi boost when engaged. Rated 26/120/180 horsepower, it owed little more than its single overhead camshaft and six cylinders to the earlier K and its predecessors. The design ingeniously deals with one of the major problems of Twenties automobiles, flexible chassis. For the S the Mercedes team designed a 'unit' engine and transmission, complete from the radiator mountings to the back of the transmission with torque tube drive to the rear axle. The massive powerplant contributed its own rigidity to the chassis structure, which itself was completely revised. The frame rails now kicked up over both the front and rear axles, with semi-elliptical leaf springs at all corners. The radiator was lowered to barely higher than the massive engine which itself was moved a foot to the rear for better weight distribution. Despite the refined, massive construction, the Typ S rolling chassis was 510 pounds lighter than the K.
The Typ S with its 7-tier radiator gave a 3 1/2 inch lower hood and much more sleek profile than the later Typ SS model which used the higher 8-tier radiator.
The S was, in its time, the ultimate supercar. Fitted with streamlined, lightweight two- and four-seat open coachwork from Sindelfingen and Europe's finest coachbuilders it was a sportwagon for select, successful owners who prized quality, flair and performance above all else.
It also was exclusive, with only 124 Typ S and 114 Typ SS built. Barney Oldfield drove a Mercedes-Benz Typ S. So did Zeppo Marx, Ralph De Palma, Al Jolson, Andre Dubonnet and Harold Vanderbilt.
One of them was ordered from Mercedes-Benz, Inc., the factory branch in New York, in 1928 by Mrs. Charles Levine. Mrs. Levine - who must have been particularly worldly and sophisticated - specified two seat Torpedo Roadster coachwork by Saoutchik in Paris. The transaction, however, was for reason or reasons unknown not consummated when it arrived in New York. The spectacular one-off, low windshield Saoutchik-bodied Mercedes-Benz Typ S remained on the showroom floor, attracting showroom traffic but doing nothing for the branch's profitability.
The salesmen got on the phones and one of them eventually contacted Frederick Henry Bedford, Jr., a young but successful prospect who numbered a Mercedes among his possessions and a directorship of the Rockefellers' Standard Oil among his accomplishments.
That car is still owned by his direct descendant, and is offered here today.
Family history has it that Mr. Bedford was somewhat put off by the price quoted by Mercedes-Benz, Inc., but upon seeing the car and contemplating the generous discount offered to take it from the dealer's stock, was persuaded of its value and took it home in early 1929 to Greens Farms, Connecticut, an exclusive enclave on the shores of the Long Island Sound within yacht-commuting distance from Wall Street. Just down the street there lived another young sportsman, Briggs Swift Cunningham, who later that year would marry Frederick Bedford's cousin, Lucie. Briggs and Lucie Bedford Cunningham honeymooned in Europe where Briggs bought his own Mercedes-Benz SS four-seat phaeton, the show car on the Mercedes-Benz stand at the London Motor Show. It was personally delivered to him and his bride at their hotel in Paris by Rudolf Caracciola, the Mercedes-Benz factory's racing driver. After their tour of France, during which Lucie Cunningham and the SS won a Concours d'Elegance Prize at Cannes, their car was shipped back to their new home in Greens Farms.
Frederick Bedford also succumbed to the allure of the Typ S, at one point driving it as far as Pittsburgh where he met a young lady at a party at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier. Mr. Bedford, perhaps aided by the charm of his sleek, fast Mercedes-Benz Typ S Saoutchik Torpedo Roadster, made an impression on Margaret Stewart. She abandoned her date and accepted his offer of a ride home that evening in his Mercedes-Benz. She later accepted his offer to be his bride.
The three remained together until Mr. Bedford's untimely death in 1952. The Mercedes-Benz was put on blocks in the family garage where it stayed for nearly thirty years until Mrs. Bedford's interest in it was renewed by her granddaughter's thoughtfulness on the occasion of her 75th birthday. The catalyst was a birthday cake, carefully crafted in the image of the cream Mercedes-Benz, and a poem about the car. It precipitated Mrs. Bedford's restoration of the car by Gus and Rich Reuter, who had been maintaining exotic European automobiles since 1929.
Two years later the Bedfords' Mercedes-Benz Typ S emerged from the Reuters' shop, carefully restored and presented in its original livery of cream with dark red frame and suspension, red leather interior and tan cloth top. The only departures from its original presentation were substituting leather for the original reptile-skin upholstery and leaving off the discs which covered the original wire wheels.
Saoutchik's coachwork for this Mercedes-Benz Typ S emphasized, without excess, the stunning long hood-short deck proportions of the S chassis. Sweeping front fenders crown at the level of the hood side break and combine with the low, slightly raked and veed windshield and delicate chrome fender edge moldings to complement the dramatic, low hood of the 7-tier radiator Typ S. The low Typ S chassis allowed Saoutchik to do away with running boards while the massive side-mounted spare wheels and tires add a purposeful, masculine element highlighted by a row of louvers tapering along the top of the hood, breaking up while still accenting the hood's length.
Saoutchik was a master of folding top mechanisms and the top of the Mercedes-Benz Typ S Torpedo Roadster folds completely out of view under the rear deck. With the top down, the clean profile and short vee windshield highlights the sporting character of the chassis, ameliorated by Saoutchik's chrome fender edge trim and a complementary chrome accent which curves up from the bottom of the cowl to the windshield post and along the body break to the tail. Carl Zeiss headlamps nestle in body color housings between the front fenders just forward of the vee-shaped Mercedes-Benz radiator which is tucked, in Dr. Porsche's radiator/engine/transmission unit, behind the front wheels' center line.
The interior is equally enthralling. Dominated by the giant four-spoke wood-rimmed Mercedes-Benz steering wheel, it has a beautifully finished wood dashboard and door cappings. While described by Saoutchik and Mercedes-Benz as a Torpedo Roadster, the body has roll-up windows for comfort and security from the weather. As restored, it also includes a tonneau cover. A true two-seater, the body's rear deck opens to reveal room for luggage as well as for the tools and tire-changing equipment which Twenties motoring required.
Following restoration in 1982 the Bedfords' 1928 Mercedes-Benz Typ S Torpedo Roadster was shown once at an AACA (Antique Automobile Club of America) concours where it was awarded a National First Prize. It was subsequently given to Mrs. Bedford's granddaughter and was later selected by Mercedes-Benz to be a featured car during its Centennial celebration in 1986. There it was spotted by James Rockefeller, one of the founders of the Owls Head Transportation Museum, who recognized its connection with his family and it was then loaned to Owls Head where it has been ever since. Located near Rockport, Maine, Owls Head has featured the Mercedes-Benz as one of its prize exhibits, giving it regular care, occasional exercise and continuous mechanical and cosmetic attention along with the other exceptional automobiles and airplanes in its world-class display. Only once has it been outside the Owls Head Museum, for a special exhibit at the Portland, Maine Museum of Art in the early '90s. Christie's is especially privileged to offer this exceptional example of one of the world's most important and desirable automobiles. Still owned by the original purchaser's family and exactly as it was restored for Margaret Stewart Bedford a quarter century ago, its odometer shows only 31,550 miles. A classic of impeccable history, breeding and provenance, its style, rarity and brutal supercharged performance combine to make this a once in a lifetime opportunity to acquire a one family owned, Mercedes-Benz 26/120/180 Typ S with sensuous, striking coachwork by Saoutchik.