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The Audrain Concours Auction / 1920 Mercer Model 22-70 Series 5 Raceabout Conversion Chassis no. 5092 Engine no. 4658A

Lot 114
1920 Mercer Model 22-70 Series 5 "Raceabout" Conversion
30 September 2022, 16:00 EDT
Newport, Rhode Island, International Tennis Hall of Fame

Lot to be sold without reserve

US$200,000 - US$325,000

Ask about this lot

1920 Mercer Model 22-70 Series 5 "Raceabout" Conversion
Chassis no. 5092
Engine no. 4658A

298 cu. ins, Inline 4-Cylinder Engine
Single Carburetor
Approximately 80bhp at 4,750rpm
4-Speed Manual Transmission
Semi-Elliptic Leaf Springs Front and Rear
2-Wheel Drum Brakes

*America's first sportscar brand
*Definitive specification Series 5 Mercer
*Professionally converted in 1940s to Raceabout format
*Remarkably preserved in succession of important collections
*Formerly owned by Bill Harrah and Al Ferrara
*CCCA Full Classic®


MERCER

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 each other 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.

As well as the iconic Raceabouts, a handful of coachwork guises were offered a more luxurious Runabout, touring cars were named Sporting, but there were also a Coupe and a formal car too.
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 80 bhp. 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.

THE MOTORCAR OFFERED

According to Mercer Registrar, Stan Smith, Mercer chassis 5092 can trace a history back to the 1940s, when it is known to have been converted by an aircraft company from a Sporting model to the Raceabout format that it remains today 80 years later. Already, such was the aura of the marque and model it is not at all surprising that such conversions were taking place in this time, the basis clearly having been a good original car judging from the fact that the technical side is all Mercer. Just after the war it is listed on Herbert Royston's 1951 Roster of surviving Mercers as being a Raceabout. Its custodian at that point was a Dr. Paul W. Morgan, although it is not known how long he had owned the car or kept it.

By December 1963 it was the property of Mrs. William Hoffman of West Islip, New York, we know this, since it was at that point that it was acquired for William Harrah's burgeoning collection. On their records the car is described as being a '5A' condition, of a possible 6 and gained their tag '98'. Recently retrieved from the archives at the National Automobile Museum are a host of letters between Mrs. Hoffman as she haggled with the Harrah acquisitions team, all of which make fascinating reading. Additionally, she notes that the car had been restored in 1953, with assistance from luminaries of the day including Joe Murchio, Vince Galloni and Ralph Buckley, and that the owner prior to her husband acquiring the car had been Les Taylor of Hartford, Connecticut.

For the next 22 years the Mercer resided in the Harrah Collection, it would have been displayed for it retains its black and white descriptive specifications plate. Notes from the Harrah days confirm various details that they attended to, including dying the red upholstery from red to black. There are also numerous photos from the Hoffman and Harrah ownerships in their early days. In the mid-1980s, when Holiday Inn decided to disperse the collection, this car was included in the second of a series of auctions, taking place in 1985. The buyer on that day was Al Ferrara, noted and esteemed Ohio collector who's world class collection included no less than the Clark Gable Duesenberg SSJ among others of its breed.

The present owner's family being close to Ferrara's would periodically make entrees to acquire the car from him. Chipping away gently, in 2009 ownership finally became a reality and the Mercer changed hands for only the 2nd time in 50 years. Since then, the car has continued to be prized in this current owner's hands, being shown periodically including at the Mercer Reunion in 2009.

Today, the Mercer has gained a consistent and very appealing patina throughout its finishes. Its 1950s upholstery is nicely bedded in, and in places what was likely the original primrose yellow color shows through the red paintwork.

But more than the looks and condition, it is the driving experience that the car offers which is key to its appeal. By the nature of its torquey 298 cubic inch four-cylinder power unit, coupled to the luxury for its day of four speeds which were not at all common on American automobiles of this era, this combination allows for full enjoyment of the road. Furthermore, when it comes to this specific car, it has that wonderful feel of a car which it seems has never been fully torn down and subjected to the whims of multiple engineers and is a joy to drive because of that fact.

The epitome of a sports car of its day, it is easy to see why even in the 1940s people were repurposing Mercers to this iconic Raceabout form. With great looks and an illustrious provenance, this offers a great way to experience the performance of this legendary sports brand.


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