Mercedes-Simplex on offer @ Goodings wins Preservation Award at Rétromobile

Mercedes-Simplex on offer @ Goodings wins Preservation Award at Rétromobile

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1903 MERCEDES-SIMPLEX 60 HP 'ROI DES BELGES' @ AMELIA ISLAND AUCTIONS

Coachwork by J. Rothschild et Fils

Estimate In excess of $10,000,000

Engine 2924

Among the Finest and Most Significant of All Antique Automobiles
One of Only Five Original 60 HP Mercedes Known to Survive
Built for British Publishing Magnate and Motoring Pioneer Alfred Harmsworth
Set the Fastest Times at Nice Speed Week and Castlewellan Hill Climb in 1903
Exhibited at Beaulieu for More than Six Decades; Multiple London-to-Brighton Run Veteran
Offered from 121 Years of Single Family Ownership

Technical Specs
9,236 CC F-Head Inline 4-Cylinder Engine
Single Zenith Carburetor
60 HP at 1,100 RPM
4-Speed Manual Transaxle with Dual-Chain Drive
2-Wheel Mechanical Drum Brakes with Transmission Brake
Front Beam Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs
Rear Live Axle with Semi-Elliptical Leaf Springs


In 1890, after parting ways with Deutz AG, Gottleib Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach established their own firm, Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) in Cannstatt, Germany. Among the leading innovators at the dawn of motoring, DMG revolutionized the design and manufacture of the internal combustion engine, inventing the world’s first four-stroke petrol engine and float-feed carburetor.

 

Despite their groundbreaking developments, Daimler and Maybach initially attracted little interest for their products in Germany. In the late 1800s, Paris was the cradle of the burgeoning automotive industry, and so DMG found its earliest success selling manufacturing rights for its V-twin engine to the leading French manufacturers of the day – Panhard et Levassor and Peugeot.

 

In 1898, the enterprising Viennese-born Consul General for Austria-Hungary, Emil Jellinek, established himself as the official agent for DMG in Nice, France, selling new Phoenix Daimler motor cars to wealthy residents of the French Riviera – at the time, the world’s second-largest market after Paris for automobiles.

 

While they were large, powerful, and relatively fast, the Phoenix Daimlers were ungainly in appearance and challenging to operate. Frustrated by their aesthetic and mechanical compromises, Jellinek demanded that DMG develop

 

an all-new motorcar – “comparable to no other” – and financed the project, agreeing to buy the first 36 examples built. He planned to name these new automobiles after his young daughter – Mercédès – believing it would hold greater international appeal, particularly in France, where memories of the Franco-Prussian War had left lingering resentment toward the Germans.

 

Unveiled in December 1900, the striking new DMG-built Mercedes 35 HP, designed by Wilhelm Maybach, established a pattern that would be followed for decades. Widely regarded as the first truly modern motorcar, the 35 HP Mercedes boasted several revolutionary features: a low, pressed-steel chassis, honeycomb radiator, low-tension ignition, scroll clutch, water-cooled drum brakes, and an H-pattern, four-speed gearbox with dual-chain drive.

 

After witnessing the dominating performance of the new Mercedes cars at the Nice Speed Week in Spring 1901, Paul Meyan, General Secretary of the Automobile Club de France, declared: “We have entered the Mercedes era.”

 

The following year, DMG returned to Nice with the improved Mercedes- Simplex 40 HP, a refined and simplified version of the original 35 HP model. As a result of their extraordinary performance, quality construction, and ease of use, Mercedes quickly became the car du jour among well-heeled motoring enthusiasts in France, England, and the US, building the marque’s international reputation.

 

Developed throughout 1902 and debuted in 1903, the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP followed in the innovative footsteps of its forebears while offering an entirely new standard of performance. At the heart of the new 60 HP model was a high-output, four-cylinder engine, which featured a 140 mm bore and 150 mm stroke, resulting in a 9.25-liter displacement. Although it was significantly larger than its predecessors, the key to the success of the “Sixty” lay in the overhead design of its intake valves. This F-head layout, as it is now known, gave the 60 HP Mercedes the greatest volumetric efficiency of any engine of its day.

 

Capable of 80 mph flat-out and easy to handle, thanks to its relatively long wheelbase and low center of gravity, the new Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP was the first true dual-purpose automobile – a powerful, reliable touring car that could also win races. While most race cars of the era were purpose-built monsters with virtually no relation to production cars sold to the public, the Sixty could be transformed into a competitive racing machine by removing its rear seats and fenders and fitting a lightweight two-seat body.

 

Between 1903 and 1905, the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP convincingly cemented its status as the finest, fastest production car in the world, winning countless speed trials, hill climbs, and circuit races. The most famous display of its abilities took place in July 1903 at the Gordon Bennett Cup in Ireland, where Camille Jenatzy drove a standard, customer-supplied Sixty to an outright win, averaging an astonishing 49.2 mph over 327.5 miles of public roads.

 

All told, the DMG works in Cannstatt built 102 examples of the Mercedes- Simplex 60 HP between late 1902 and 1905. Through Emil Jellinek in Nice and Charles Lehmann’s C.L. Charley dealership in Paris, these magnificent automobiles were sold to an elite clientele that included American millionaires William K. Vanderbilt and Clarence Gray Dinsmore, as well as aristocratic European enthusiasts such as Baron de Caters, Baron Henri de Rothschild, and Count Zborowski.

 

Among the lucky few who could both admire and afford a new Mercedes Sixty was British publishing magnate Alfred C.W. Harmsworth.

 


Born in Ireland in 1865, Mr. Harmsworth is one of the most important figures in the history of modern media. After beginning his career as a freelance journalist, Harmsworth established his first newspaper, Answers to Correspondents, in 1888. With an innate sense for public interest and demand, Mr. Harmsworth started several inexpensive journals and revived moribund newspapers, integrating them into what would eventually become the largest periodical publishing company in the world: Amalgamated Press.

 

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Mr. Harmsworth began publishing the London Daily Mail, the Sunday Dispatch, and The Daily Mirror, setting new records for circulation and significantly enhancing his political reach. Consequently, Mr. Harmsworth was created a Baronet in 1904 and, at the request of King Edward VII, was raised to the peerage as Baron Northcliffe in 1905.

 

By the outbreak of WWI, Mr. Harmsworth’s publishing empire controlled much of the newspaper circulation in Britain and held a tremendous influence over both “the classes and the masses” in an era before radio and television. Through his newspapers, he championed charitable causes and promoted his own passions, such as exploratory expeditions and modern technology, including advances in aviation. Above all, however, Mr. Harmsworth was an early and proselytizing devotee of the motorcar.

 

In 1900, when the motorcar was still in its infancy, he was instrumental in supporting the Royal Automobile Club’s 1,000 Miles Trial. The RAC’s secretary, Claude Johnson, wrote of Harmsworth: “He at once put his purse at the club’s disposal and he gave the scheme the utmost possible support in his papers at a time when other journals were scoffing at the automobile as being a disagreeable and unnecessary plaything of a few cranks.”

 

In 1902, Mr. Harmsworth edited the book Motors And Motor-Driving, which contained a collection of essays on various aspects of motoring. Contributors were a veritable “who’s who” of early automobile enthusiasts, such as John Scott-Montagu, Charles S. Rolls, R.J. McRedy, S.F. Edge, and Charles Jarrott. Included was Mr. Harmsworth’s own article, “The Choice of a Motor,” extolling his opinions on various automobiles as well as practical advice on ownership issues that remain relevant today including touring, maintenance, and acquisitions.

 

Early in this piece, Mr. Harmsworth makes his preference clear: “To-day my own experience teaches me that in the year 1902 a good petrol engine is infinitely the best for all-around work. That is to say, if one intends to own a single motor-car only, and desires occasionally to travel for long journeys there can in my judgement be no doubt that a petrol engine, with a Daimler or some similar type of motor, is the wisest purchase.”

 

On June 14, 1902, Harper’s Weekly published the article, “Mr. Alfred Harmsworth on the Choice of an Automobile,” which featured excerpts from Motors And Motor-Driving as well as a briefing of its author’s credentials:

 

"Mr. Harmsworth, in the midst of his enormous business duties, which involve the running of nearly twoscore periodicals, has from the first introduction of automobiles found time to tour over most of England and France and large parts of Italy and Germany. He already owns something like fifteen automobiles, and though he modestly writes that his experience is not nearly so extensive as certain veteran chauffeurs, the fact is that with his many different carriages and his varied uses of them he is perhaps the best authority on the subject, from the private owner’s point of view. He is one of the four men who own the most recent Mercedes machines of 60 horse-power with a capacity of eighty miles an hour in speed. He has touring-coaches, racing-machines, town cabs, station omnibuses, tricycles, and automobiles that he has had built after his own designs for various purposes and his stable is the most complete private motor-house in England."

 

Indeed, Mr. Harmsworth maintained a fantastic collection of automobiles at Sutton Place, the Tudor mansion where he resided between 1899 and 1917. There, his coach houses contained a selection of the finest cars of the day. As early as 1902, the garage included several Gardner-Serpollet steam cars, a Locomobile, a Daimler, single-cylinder Renault, 12 hp Panhard, and a Mercedes-Simplex 40 HP, believed to be the first Mercedes car sold in England.

 

As one of the earliest and most devoted patrons of the Mercedes marque, it was only natural that Alfred Harmsworth was among the first to place an order for the latest 60 HP machine. His Sixty, the car presented here, was among the Mercedes that debuted at the annual Nice Speed Week on the French Riviera.

 

After being prepared in garages behind Villa Mercedes, Emil Jellinek’s private home in Nice, Harmsworth’s Sixty was raced on the Promenade des Anglais, setting a record in the mile-long speed trial. As The Autocar reported in April 1903, “Mr. Alfred Harmsworth’s 60 h.p. Mercedes, which made the fastest time at Nice, was driven by Braun, an exceedingly clever, though modest, driver.”

 

The Car also covered the happenings at Nice, claiming that: "The record for the standing mile was easily lowered by several of these cars in turn for Nice week. They are undoubtedly the fastest cars ever built... In addition, the new record gained by Mr. Alfred Harmsworth’s car in the mile race at Nice last week, when a new world’s record was established, adds to the previous achievements made by the Cannstatt Daimler Company."

 

Following its successful debut outing on the French Riviera, Mr. Harmsworth immediately dispatched the Sixty home so that, as his own newspaper quoted him, “details [of it] should be made as widely known as possible to the English automobile constructors.” E. Campbell Muir, a friend of Harmsworth’s who was often called on to race the baron's cars and powerboats, collected the Mercedes in Cannstatt and drove it home to England.

 

On May 16, 1903, The Autocar published “The 60 h.p. Mercedes,” providing a detailed written and photographic survey of the Harmsworth and Higginbotham Sixties, the first two such examples to arrive in the UK. Clearly impressed by the advanced, high-quality engineering of these machines, the magazine stated:

 

"The general adoption by the leading French firms of the chief features of the 1902 Mercedes design bears out the opinion we expressed twelve months ago, that it represented the highest development in autocar construction at the time. The advent of the 1903 Mercedes-Simplex car was looked for with a good deal of interest by all users of motor vehicles, and no doubt with considerable anxiety by those manufacturers who had followed the 1902 model."

 

In June 1903, Mr. Harmsworth sent his Sixty to Ireland to serve as a reserve entry for the Mercedes team’s assault on the Gordon Bennett Cup. Ultimately, his car was not used in the race, and the attention turned to a series of regional speed trials and hill climbs that made up the Irish Speed Fortnight. Mr. Harmsworth entered his Mercedes in the Ballybannon Hillclimb at Castlewellan, where it was entrusted to E. Campbell Muir. There, Harmsworth’s Sixty recorded a time of 32.4 seconds, defeating both C.S. Rolls’ Mors and Dinsmore’s 60 HP Mercedes to win the Henry Edmonds Hill-Climbing Trophy.

 

Following its successful competition outings in early 1903, Harmsworth had his Sixty fitted with elaborate “Roi des Belges” coachwork by the prestigious Parisian atelier J. Rothschild et Fils. Of particular note is the car’s registration number – A 740 – among the earliest issued by the London City Council, which began supplying registrations in 1903 with “A 1.”

 

In the years prior to WWI, Harmsworth made regular use of his prized Mercedes, demonstrating its incredible performance to friends and touring with it throughout the UK and the continent. His private correspondences include many fond references to the “Old Sixty” and, upon his death in August 1922, the Mercedes was willed to his 12-year-old son, Alfred John Francis Alexander Harmsworth.

 

An automotive enthusiast in his own right with a stable that included an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and a Mercedes-Benz SSK, John Harmsworth eventually brought the Sixty to his residence in the New Forest region of England. When Lord Montagu heard about the Mercedes in 1954, it was towed to Beaulieu, where it was cosmetically restored and put on display in the new motor museum he had established.

 

In 1956, the Mercedes was reunited with Alfred Harmsworth’s chauffeur George Pine on the London-to-Brighton Veteran Car Run. In subsequent years, Lord Montagu and John Harmsworth entered the Sixty in multiple editions of the Brighton run, allowing automotive luminaries such as Jim Clark and Bill Boddy the opportunity to drive the famous antique. In 1958, the Mercedes was shipped to Belgium to take part in the veteran car parade at Expo 58, the Brussels World’s Fair.

 

In the 1960s, in deference to its historic nature and ever-increasing value, the Harmsworth Sixty was prepared for long-term static storage and kept as a fixture at the Beaulieu Motor Museum. It would be exhibited there continuously for more than six decades.

 

Unquestionably the finest motor car of its day, the Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP has been admired and sought after since the earliest years of the collector-car hobby. Exclusive, technically advanced, and universally regarded as the model that established the legendary racing heritage of the Mercedes marque, the Sixty has always appealed to connoisseurs.

 

In 1956, S.C.H. Davis wrote, “If one were to be known and recognized as an enthusiast, one just had to have a Mercedes Sixty as a hallmark of status. Such a car was the envy of all, and stood out as a craftsman’s job; neater, more finished, and far superior to rival machines.”

 


In his 1994 book Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing, George F. Wingard opines on the unique qualities of the Sixty: "How is it possible that a car could be so good and be 90 years old? It can keep up with and surpass modern traffic. It races today with sports and race cars 30 years younger and beats most. It is great because it has the “just right” combination of elements, bore, stroke, valve size and design, along with chassis length, track, and light weight. It was indeed a stroke of genius by Wilhelm Maybach, who was responsible for the design and engineering of the Mercedes 60. Truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the 60-hp Mercedes gets my vote for being the greatest ‘stock’ car of all time."


Considering their revered reputation and enduring influence, it is remarkable that only five 60 HP Mercedes have survived. Included in this count is Emil Jellinek’s own Touring Limousine, now owned by the factory and displayed at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

 


Since its delivery to Nice in Spring 1903, this remarkable Mercedes has been cherished, preserved, and passed down among three generations of the Harmsworth family. It is not only the sole example of the model that remains in single family ownership, but also the lone surviving 60 HP Mercedes that claims a documented, in-period competition history. Above all, the Harmsworth Sixty is a genuine and exceptionally well-documented motorcar, possessing its original chassis, engine, and magnificent Rothschild “Roi des Belges” coachwork.

 


An irreplaceable heirloom, treasured by one of Britain’s most prominent families for 121 years, this Mercedes 60 HP is surely among the most important and historically significant antique automobiles ever presented at public auction. Gooding & Company is honored to have been chosen to find a new home for the Harmsworth Sixty, knowing that its second owner will be acquiring one of the truly great motorcars of all time.

 

Text & Image: Gooding & Co


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