1903 Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges,’ “The Harmsworth 60,” Comes Fresh to Market from 121 Years of Continuous Family Ownership; Will Be Displayed at Upcoming Salon Rétromobile
Image: 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges’ (Estimate: In Excess of $10,000,000)
Photo copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Image by Mathieu Heurtault.
The 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges’ comes to auction from 121 years of single family ownership; to be showcased at Gooding & Company’s stand at Salon Rétromobile in Paris.
Global auction house Gooding & Company has the unique privilege of presenting a 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges’ as the headlining car of its upcoming Amelia Island Auctions this March. The Mercedes 60 HP, ordered new by British publishing tycoon Alfred Harmsworth, Viscount Northcliffe, is being offered from 121 years of ownership within the same family. Displayed at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, England for over six decades, this incredibly historic Mercedes comes to market for the first time as one of just four 60 HPs in private ownership.
Before it takes the auction stage at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island Auctions, taking place on Thursday, February 29, and Friday, March 1, the Mercedes will be displayed at Salon Rétromobile, alongside a 1957 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Roadster. Attendees, media members, and collectors are encouraged to visit Gooding & Company at stand no. 1 K 080 at the Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles from Wednesday, January 31 to Sunday, February 4. Individuals interested in inspecting these vehicles for auction purposes, or media members interested in booking interviews with Gooding & Company Specialists, are encouraged to reach out and schedule appointments ahead of Salon Rétromobile.
“This Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP is one of the most significant early cars that has ever been brought to market, and its presentation for public sale heralds a truly historic moment for the collector car world,” said Gooding & Company President and Co-Founder, David Gooding. “We have never before offered a car that has remained in single family ownership as long as this Mercedes has, and that it is one of the cornerstones of the entire Mercedes marque makes this an incredibly important occasion. We are incredibly honored to present this influential car, first at Salon Rétromobile in Paris, and then, as the headlining car of our Amelia Island sale.”
To put it simply, the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP was the blueprint for all of the automobiles that would follow. It is considered the very first supercar, the car by which all others were measured against, for years to come. Its design was so ahead of its time that it redefined performance capabilities, serving as the basis of Mercedes cutting-edge technology in their winning Grand Prix cars even as late as 1908. Manufacturers throughout the world would boast in their advertisements that their cars were built “in the style of Mercedes,” as these were the cars everyone wanted to make, drive, and own. Its importance, influence, and indelible legacy cannot be overstated.
Designed by Wilhelm Maybach and produced by Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) at the behest of Emil Jellinek, the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP is widely regarded as the first modern, high-performance automobile. Powered by a 9.25-liter F-head inline four-cylinder engine, which produced an ample 60 HP, the Mercedes was capable of reaching speeds topping 80 mph, making it the fastest production car in the world at the turn of the 20th century. The Mercedes-Simplex featured many of the mechanical and technical advances of its time, including a state-of-the-art chassis with a low center of gravity, a gated H-pattern four-speed gearbox, smooth scroll-type clutch, dual-chain drive, and honeycomb radiator. Between 1903 and 1905, the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP dominated the world of racing, winning countless speed trials, hill climbs, and circuit races. Its unparalleled performance capabilities were most prominently displayed at the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup in Ireland, where Belgian racing driver Camille Jenatzy won the race outright, defeating purpose-built racing machines in what was a stock production car delivered to a private customer.
The model’s success in racing, coupled with its technical advances and extraordinarily high-quality construction and overall beauty, cemented the reputation of the Mercedes marque, laying the groundwork for the continued legacy of automotive excellence for decades to come. Naturally, the Mercedes-Simplex was sought out by some of the most prominent industrialists, magnates, and collectors of the day, including William K. Vanderbilt, Clarence Gray Dinsmore, Baron de Caters, Count Zborowski, and of course, Alfred Harmsworth, the original owner of this car. Harmsworth, also known as Viscount Northcliffe, was one of the greatest publishing tycoons of his era, and among the most successful newspaper publishers of all time. He founded The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, and went on to incorporate The Times into his publishing empire, revolutionizing the way the people of Great Britain, and effectively, the whole world, consumed their media.
Harmsworth was also a leading proponent of the automobile and a patron of the Royal Automobile Club, supporting early efforts to improve and expand all things motoring. His fortunes as a publisher afforded him a fantastic stable of important early motorcars, and he even published his own book on the topic of motoring. Harmsworth was among the very first to place an order for the new 60 HP model upon introduction, and this 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges’ was a mainstay in his impressive stable.
It was delivered new to Nice, France in April, 1903, where it was driven to a new speed record by German racing driver Hermann Braun. It was then sent to Ireland as a reserve team car for the Gordon Bennett Cup. The Mercedes again proved its mettle by winning the Ballybannon Hillclimb in Castlewellan with E. Campbell Muir at the wheel. Details of the Harmsworth 60’s technical specifications and racing exploits were featured in popular magazines of the day, including Autocar and The Car.
After these outings, the Mercedes-Simplex was fitted with the beautiful ‘Roi des Belges’ body it still wears today, built by the prestigious coachworking firm J. Rothschild et Fils. Engine no. 2924 served as one of Harmsworth’s preferred personal cars for the next decade, and was used to frequently tour Britain and Europe. After Harmsworth’s passing, ownership was transferred to his son, Alfred John Francis Alexander Harmsworth, also a car enthusiast who owned an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and a Mercedes-Benz SSK. The car was well maintained by the family, and soon after Lord Montagu opened the Beaulieu Motor Museum in the mid-1950s, the Mercedes was taken there and put on display. For nearly seven decades, from 1956 to 2023, the Mercedes stood as a featured display at Beaulieu. It was also featured at the Brussels World Fair in 1958, and completed several editions of the VCC’s annual London-to-Brighton run, driven by Lord Montagu and other automotive luminaries, such as racing driver Jim Clark and journalist Bill Boddy.
Today, the car remains in highly original condition, with its fabulous Rothschild bodywork still retaining much of its original leather upholstery. This car is one of only four remaining examples in private ownership, with a fifth example, a Long-Wheelbase Omnibus, at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. Further, the Harmsworth Mercedes is one of only two such cars with original coachwork still intact. Remarkably, this car has never changed hands, remaining as an heirloom within the Harmsworth family for over 120 years. However, what is most important is that this is the only Mercedes 60 HP that has a known racing pedigree, and a winning one, at that! It is being offered for sale for the very first time in its history, and is among the most significant cars to ever come to public auction. Gooding & Company has never before offered a car from such long-standing single family ownership, and is honored to present one of the most valuable antique-era cars in existence.
Presented from the family of one of England’s most influential figures of the modern era, with documented period competition history, this Mercedes-Simplex comes to market as one of the most historic, important, and groundbreaking automobiles from the dawn of motoring – setting the stage for a historic moment ready to unfold in front of the world at the upcoming Amelia Island Auctions this March.
Salon Rétromobile 2024
Dates: Wednesday, January 31 to Sunday, February 4
Location: Stand no. 1 K 080 at the Paris Expo, Porte de Versailles
Tickets and More Information: https://www.retromobile.com/
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Amelia Island Auctions
Dates: Thursday, February 29 at 3 p.m. EST, and Friday, March 1 at 11 a.m. EST
Location: Racquet Park, Omni Amelia Island Resort
Public Preview: Wednesday, February 28 through Friday, March 1
Auction Catalogue: $120, includes admission for two to the viewing and the auctions
General Admission: $50, includes admission for one to the viewing and the auctions
Bidder Registration: www.goodingco.com/register
Live Auction Broadcast: www.goodingco.com
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