Ex-Edwin L. Griffin of the Pacific Northwest based Griffin Fuel Company
1922 Mercer Series 5 Sporting
Chassis no. 16210
Engine no. 6815
298.2ci L-head side-valve inline four-cylinder engine
Single updraft carburetor
70bhp at 2,800rpm
Solid front axle with leaf springs and live rear axle with leaf springs
Rear-wheel mechanically drum brakes
-Highly original exmaple
-Four cylinder Mercer
-Iconic American brand
The Series 5 Sporting
If ever there was object, irrefutable proof that the concept of the sports car originated in the United States it is the Mercer Raceabout. First built in 1911, Mercer's Raceabout, with its thundering T-head four-cylinder engine, standard exhaust cutout, round bolster tank, monocle windshield and rudimentary seating for only a driver and a brave passenger, was the first automobile successfully built in series for the sole purpose of going fast and winning races.
Between 1911 and 1915 the Roebling brothers (whose father had designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge) and their engineer Finley Robertson Porter built some 800 Raceabouts which their customers could take straight from the factory to the race track with a good chance of winning and an even better chance of finishing well. Barney Oldfield and Ralph de Palma raced Mercers. Spencer Wishart bought one, drove it right to a dirt track in Columbus, Ohio and won the 200 mile feature. He set four dirt track records in the process.
Mercer continued to build T-head, four-cylinder cars through 1914, then introduced a new line of L-head fours designed by Eric H. Deiling. When the Roeblings died within a year of eachother, ownership of the company passed to a New York investment syndicate which put Emlen Hare, former manager of Packard's New York branch, in charge. Hare proceeded to add Locomobile and Simplex-Crane to the company which, in the post WWI recession, proved to be more distraction than his management skills could handle. By 1921 control of Mercer was back in the hands of the founding families.
Through it all Mercer continued to build high quality, fast cars in its Trenton, New Jersey factory (in Mercer County, from which it took its name). Production estimates vary, but none exceed 1,000 per year and some sources believe fewer than 5,000 Mercers in all were built between its inception in 1911 and the end of production in 1924.
The Deiling-designed Mercers introduced in 1915 were powered by a 298 cubic inch side-valve four-cylinder engine with single ignition and drove through a 4-speed transmission. The 3 3/4" bore engine was rated 22.5 NACC horsepower and its earliest versions were said to make 70 brake horsepower. Later Mercers made 80bhp. Brakes were installed only on the rear wheels. Suspension employed live axles at both ends, suspended from semi-elliptical leaf springs. Deiling was one of the first American designers to add Houdaille lever action friction shock absorbers to the suspension, a feature that vividly illustrates his desire to enhance Mercers' ride, comfort and handling.
The new Raceabout body also gave its occupants more protection from the elements and the vicissitudes of the generally marginal roads of the time. The body now had sides protecting the driver's and passenger's legs although the seat back still formed the back of the passenger compartment and the fuel still rode on the rear deck in a round bolster tank. Fenders were enclosed to the frame to keep stones and dust from being kicked up onto the bodywork and occupants and a full-width flat glass windshield gave added protection, although it folded down for high speed runs. In effect, the Model 22-70 Mercer Raceabout was refined, improved, more comfortable and easier to own and drive, applying the lessons learned in five years of production of the Mercer Type 35.
Alongside the 1920s generation of Mercer Raceabouts, Mercer coachwork options included one of the most elegant sports touring cars of its day, which they termed simply the 'Sporting'. Its design was typically advanced, with lightly barrel sided body perfectly extending the line of its hood and radiator, bringing with it both aesthetic and aerodynamic benefits.
The Motorcar Offered
Rarely do Mercers of any form arrive on the market, which makes us especially proud to present one in 'time capsule' original order. To our knowledge this is the first time that the car has ever been offered publicly. It is clearly a car that has been well hidden from the light of day, which has ensured that details such as its original deep grained leather upholstery and top remain intact in almost their entirety and in remarkably good order given its 90 year age.
According to the Mercer Roster produced in The Antique Automobile in the 1950s, 16210 was then the property of Edwin L. Griffin and is listed as having engine number 6177. Edwin Griffin was the President of the Tacoma Griffin Fuel Company, a concern established by his father, then taken over by him and expanded considerably. Mr. Griffin had great foresight in the potential of the fuel oil business for domestic heating and developed this extensively. By the early 1950s he had initiated pioneering day or night services of fuel oil, and his business was the largest of its kind in the Pacific North West. He was clearly a pioneer in the field of collecting automobiles, owning a Model J Duesenberg, 1908 Palmer-Singer, Stanley Steamer and Locomobile among others and was also a good friend of Ab Jenkins, and there are a number of contemporary images of them sharing their interest in historic automobiles.
On his death, the Mercer was advertised by Griffin's wife in the Horseless Carriage Gazette, and described as being in "first class shape. Upholstery and aluminum in excellent shape. Complete with original tools, nuts and bolts, and booklets." By first class, we imagine this meant as new, since the car has clearly not been restored. Its earlier and subsequent history is not known at this time, although it is now offered from a private collection on the West Coast where it is understood to have resided for many years. The car emerged from long term storage last year and has been lightly re-commissioned and exercised. It is suggested that for more regular use this may now require additional sympathetic sorting, specifically with regard to the brakes.
At some point in its life it has received a light blow over of paint in a primrose hue, but this aside the car appears to be an entirely unmolested, correct and original automobile which is deserving of close inspection.
- Please note that the title for this vehicle is in transit