Veteran Types 111.-A 60 H.P. 4 -CYLINDER MERCEDES OF 1903
A noble ancestor of the “38-250 –the early “Mere,” with its owner, Mr. Martin at the wheel.
IN 1902, as all the world knows, S. F. Edge won the Gordon Bennett Cup on a Napier, and for the first time in its history, France lost possession of the Trophy. Thus it was that in 1903 the R.A.C. was entrusted with the organization of the event, and as permission to hold the race in England could not be obtained, a course was finally found in Ireland, and that country thus saw the one and only Gordon Bennett race ever run on British soil. It saw also Jenatzy, the “Red Devil,” driving, as if possessed, to win the cup and outdistancing the champions of England and France; and it saw his 60 h.p, Mercedes thundering round the course, going perhaps as no car had ever gone before. Small wonder therefore if there was enthusiasm in Ireland in 1903 for the giant car from Cannstadt.
At any rate, one ” Sixty ” found its way there, in due course was one of the first cars registered in Dublin, and astonished the countryside with its thunderous progress. I do not know very much about the earlier history of this particular car, except that I believe that on one occasion it scored a memorable victory in a hillclimb over Lee Guinness’ 100 h.p. Darracq ; and it was only during the summer of 1930 that I heard that an enthusiast had discovered it in the wilds of Ireland, and was bringing it to England.
Excavated from its lair, the mighty veteran was towed on its perished and unstable tyres as far as Dublin, and embarked upon a ship which carried it to London Docks. There it was awaited by its new owner, and still in tow, proceeded to its new home at Old Windsor.
The low tension magneto was then remagnetised, and rewired. Part of the scroll clutch was missing, but application to Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft of Stuttgart produced a blue print, entitled (if a little too literally translated), “Diagram of the coupling of the elongated 60 h.p. Wagon.” With the aid of this the missing parts of the clutch were manufactured and fitted. The next problem was tyres, for while those at the back were of a standard size, the front ones caused a great deal of trouble before any which would fit could be discovered.
At last however, the motor was completed, and it was decided to see if it would start. Petrol was injected into the cylinders through the compression taps, the controls were set correctly, and one swung. On the fourth revolution the motor fired, petered, and died ; then on the third swing the merry music burst forth which had not been heard for many a year and the engine was running in earnest. It was at this point that I decided that I should like to take a hand in the game, and a certain brilliant November day saw me approaching Old Windsor, Mr. Martin, the owner of the car, having most kindly informed me that he would be delighted to give me a run in the veteran.
We found the ” Sixty ” safely in her stable, and stopped to gaze in admiration. There was the monster painted grey all over her low bonnet, and towering tonneau body, upholstered in red leather. Behind the high steering column are two large bucket seats, of which the passenger’s swings out to permit of access to the capacious tonneau, below which long flat guards cover the chains.
A ” Bonnetful.”
When one opens the bonnet one finds that the space beneath it is satisfactorily full of engine. The motor in fact, is a 4-cylinder with a bore and stroke of 140 x 150 mm. and thus has a capacity of 9,236 c.c. It seems that she must have been a very late 1903 model for she has not got the variable-lift inlet valves which one might expect, but on the near side, push-rod operated overhead inlet valves and side exhausts. On the other side of the engine is mounted what must be one of the earliest Mercedes-Simplex carburetters made, if indeed it does not belie its appearance of being original to the car, the instrument replacing the Longuemare carburetter which was fitted on earlier types. On the same side of the engine are the camshaft and push-rods of the low-tension ignition system. On the dashboard there is a most imposing battery of drip-feeds–I forget just how many there are, but I
should say at least a dozen. There are no doors in front of course, but the driver is at least kept on board to a certain extent by the great brake and gear levers. The latter, although dating from 1903, works in a gate, the arrangement of which is rather curious as first and fourth are both forward and second and third back, with the result that one has to round a rather tricky hairpin when going from second to third, or vice versa.
I had hardly finished the inspection of these absorbing details when it was suggested that we should make a start. As a preliminary, the pressure pump was operated vigorously until one metre of water was shown on the gauge. This pressure performs a far greater number of functions than merely that of raising petrol from the tank to the carburettor, as it also starts the oil circulation and sends water to the brake-drum cooling jackets. Once the engine is started, the power for all these purposes is supplied by the pressure of the exhaust gases. So next, the half-compression handle was pulled out and the starting handle revolved, until the engine ” wuffwuffed ” ; the half-compression was shot home, and there burst forth in the garage the most almighty racket that ever delighted the heart of the seeker after strong motor cars. This was no boom of your modern multicylinder racer, no crackle of the sports voiturette, but the thunderous crash of four mighty cylinders beating out their song to the quivering air. The veteran monster shook with its paroxysms of power, while we clambered on board, feeling but unworthy descendants of a sterner age. The clutch was held out, first waited for and engaged with a deep scrunch, and we shot out into the yard. A moment later we were on the road.
First, second, third, fourth . . . and we were away. I do not know how fast we went, but at first, seated in my exalted seat with the top of the bonnet below the level of my knees, with no body-sides to give one a feeling of lateral security and the rush of air in my face, I felt as if I had never travelled so fast before. Clinging on to the back of the driver’s seat, I could at first realise nothing but the mighty beat of the engine, and try and obey the driver’s instructions to keep an eye on the drip-feeds. However, the first excitement over, I was able to take a slightly more intelligent interest in the performance of the car. As with most veterans, the throttle has but small influence on the engine speed compared to what we are used to in our modern cars. This Mercedes in
fact represents the transition stage, when the throttle was just beginning to be the most important control for the engine speed, and was beginning to displace from their pre-eminent position extra air inlets, valve lift controls and spark advance levers. The throttle on this car had hardly gained its victory, for it is a nice question of relative importance between it and the ignition lever. Coming to a good straight stretch of road, one advances both of them. Nothing very much happens at first but gradually the beat of the gigantic motor grows faster and one realises that the car is gathering speed with every yard, with no further move on the part of the driver. Then a bend looms in sight, the engine is shut off, and the car checks and gradually decelerates.
One is surprised in one’s lofty position at the excellence of the car’s cornering, for though she sways a little up at the top, one can feel that she is good and tight on the road. Then once round the bend, the mighty racket bursts out again and the machine once more gets back into its stride.
A Stirring sight.
We thundered into a town and people looked at us as if we were visitors from another age. One man said
Oi and pointed at the car so vehemently that we stopped and clambered down to find that the horn cable had come adrift and was trailing on the road ; so we knotted it round the spare tyres and got away again before too large a crowd collected. Then a man stepped off the curb without looking ; warned by our echoing exhaust whistle, he glanced round and then leapt sideways as if he had seen a ghost. Out in the country the cars we met edged nervously towards the ditch in awe at our thunderous progress. Then at last we were back at Old Windsor and triumphantly drove into the yard. We backed into the garage, for a moment the walls echoed the thunder of the exhaust, then the motor gave a few dying gurgles, and all was quiet. We descended, feeling that perhaps we had not after all been born a generation too late, as we had been privileged to travel in that veteran monster and taste the real thrill of 50 m.p.h. One last look at the “Sixty,” and we said goodbye ; but as we journeyed home there echoed in our ears above the pleasant boom of our 3-litre racer, the mighty racket of that champion
of a bygone age. —E. K. H. K.