That Ninety Mercedes

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Sir,

I was abroad when Mr. Gordon Marshall’s letter on the subject of the once well-known “White Ninety Mercedes” appeared in your May issue. So if it is not too late, I think the history of this interesting car should go on record.

When, after the Kaiser war, Gordon Watney turned his attention to the theatre from rebodying Mercedes cars with sporting coachwork, his foreman, Cecil Harold Crowe, set up on his own. Both Crowe and his brother were very competent engineers, but C.H., who owned the firm, was a poor businessman and always seemed to be in trouble, because people didn’t pay his bills.

In 1925 when he built the “White Ninety” I was an undergraduate at Cambridge and bought a 1915 forty-horsepower T-head Mercedes tourer from him. The “White Ninety” had just been completed and was waiting for a purchaser. I thought it was the most gorgeous car I had ever seen, but, of course, had nowhere near the £550 that Crowe was asking for it. Judging by the length of its chassis, it probably started life with huge and heavy limousine coachwork. Crowe must have compensated for its very light two-seater by fitting higher gear sprockets to the chain-drive. It was subsequently bought by Mr. Rafael, a Mercedes-fancying music publisher. Although it was never much of a performer, it was about the most spectacular looking car in London at a time when the city was full of spectacular cars.

In the early nineteen thirties, Rafael acquired a 38/250 supercharged Mercedes with, rather surprisingly, petrol injection. Tom Wheatcroft had this car for many years. So the “White Ninety” passed to Buddy Blythe. He used it for everyday transport; it was the only car he had. Petrol was under two bob a gallon and traffic very sparse so that the completely inadequate braking of the “90” didn’t matter much. One trod hard on both footbrakes and pulled in an enormous brass-plated handbrake like a signal lever. All that ever happened as a result of all this effort was a tremendous smell of hot metal. The acceleration was disappointing, but we could, on a very long straight road, wind it up to what we kidded ourselves was 90 m.p.h., but was probably much nearer eighty. A side-valve 30/98 would make rings round it, but there was an instant crowd round it wherever one stopped, and all the lovely girls clamouring to be taken motoring in this gorgeous monster amply repaid for the lack of performance and braking.

A year or two before the outbreak of the last war, Buddy and his wife, Toni, emigrated and I lost touch with them and the Mercedes. Then early in the war I was lucky enough to buy it from a chap called Mills and put it in store in a country garage. After the war a friend of mine, John Bellingham, gave it an airing up Bo’ness. Then came my tragic mistake. Another friend of mine kindly offered to house the car for me free of charge in his light engineering factory near Glasgow. Of course I was delighted to accept. Then my friend contracted tuberculosis and went off for a long spell to a sanatorium. When he returned he found the crooked works manager had not only sold most of the best machine tools and pocketed the money but had flogged the “White Ninety” to a scrap dealer along with a lot of raw materials. The criminal went to prison for a short time, but that most picturesque, and fun to drive, Edwardian nine-litre was gone forever.

Leek David Scott-Moncrieff

[Tom Wheatcroft had this 38/250 for some years. He exchanged it for his Type 154/163 Mercedes-Benz and it is now in Prague. – Ed. ]