Mercedes memoirs

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Edward L Mayer has owned nothing but Mercedes-Benz cars. Here, at the request of the Editor, he recalls some of the more outstanding.

I suppose there is a number of motorists who, during their motoring career, have always liked the same make of car. I have always, during my many years of driving, had Mercedes cars, and have had a great deal of pleasure in handling the large sporting and racing cars of this famous make.

The 1903 90-hp model, with 140 by 150 mm 4-cylinder engine, having its cylinders cast in pairs, was capable of about 80 mph, with full touring body. lt had a low-tension magneto, overhead inlet valves, and side exhaust valves and was chain-driven. No accelerator pedal was fitted, and two segments on the steering wheel controlled the magneto advance and throttle, respectively. The early models had no half-compression device for starting, and the first of this model had a variable lift to the inlet valves. Later, 1903/4 60hps were fitted with a half-compression device, a ratchet and pinion on the exhaust valve stems lifting the exhaust valves off their seatings. Even so it wanted a fairly good effort to swing the engine, especially on a cold morning, and I had a few nasty backfires from them. The Mercedes Company supplied several sizes of chain sprockets, so it was quite easy to alter the gear ratios, incidentally.

The 90-hp racers which took part in the Paris-Bordeaux race of 1903 were sent to Cannstatt to be got ready for the Gordon-Bennett race, but were destroyed in the great fire at the works, together with about 100 partly-finished cars. This was in June, 1903, shortly before the Gordon-Bennett race in Ireland, so the Mercedes Company asked three private owners of 60-hp touring cars to lend them for the race. The American, Mr. Clarence Gray Dinsmore, lent his, which was fitted with a 2-seater racing body and, driven by the Belgian, Jenatzy, won the race for Germany. The other two cars in the race were driven respectively by the American amateur, Foxhall Keene, and the Belgian amateur, Baron de Caters. Mr Gray Dinsmore was so pleased that his car won the race that he at once ordered one of the 90-hp racers for the 1901 Gordon-Bennett, again to be driven by Jenatzy. Baron de Caters drove the second Mercedes and Fritz Opel a car of his own firm’s make. The Opel car broke the crankshaft soon after the start. Jenatzy started first and finished first, but L Thery on a Richard Brazier won the race by 11/2 minutes. Jenatzy lost a bit of time when he ran out of petrol, and on one occasion, when approaching the level-crossing at Wehrheim, saw a shunting engine standing on the line, he was able to slacken speed, and the driver of the engine started out of the way, but he was a bit shaken. It was a very hot day at Homburg and the Mercedes people had gangs of men stationed at the controls with buckets of water to cool down the tyres of the two Mercedes cars ! In this race there were three Austrian Mercedes running, but they did not seem as fast, as the Cannstatt cars. These 90-hp 1904 Gordon-Bennett cars were very fast, WK Vanderbilt and Baron de Caters attaining a speed of about 97 mph on their cars. I had one of these cars, which I bought in Paris, and it certainly was an easy starter and most reliable. I also had an Austrian Mercedes 90-hp racer of 1904 type.

In 1905 Mercedes fitted their touring cars with a. side-entrance phaeton body, longer chassis, and many other improvements, including an accelerator pedal, etc. I had a “28/32” open touring car with an elegant Mercedes body. and a “40/45.” Both these cars were painted and upholstered in the then prevailing Mercedes style—maroon body and red chassis and wheels, and red patent leather upholstery with gold and black lines on the body.

The racing 120-hp with 4-cylinder 175 by 115 mm engine, with its cylinders cast in pairs, chain driven, with 34 teeth in the driving sprockets, was in those days considered very fast. It also had a very noisy exhaust, and I remember thundering round Brooklands track in the early days, On an off day, and really enjoying myself.

In 1907, Paul Daimler had the 35-hp and 45-hp cars fitted with ball-hearing crankshafts, but these proved somewhat noisy and were discontiued afterwards. I had a 1907 Grand Prix car which sometimes was very easy to start and on other occasions wouldn’t start at all, and as swinging the engine by hand even on half compression was very tiring work. I used to ask my brother to tow me to a convenient hill near our house and, getting a good run, engage second speed, and let in the clutch. The engine then started at once, and when warm, often started on a good pull up by the handle. This car had a very large engine of 175 by 150 mm, with low tension magneto, maximum revolutions about 1,200 per minute, with 35 teeth in the driving sprockets, and a ratio of about 13/4 to 1 on 4th speed. The Mercedes change-speed gate was very easy, and the lever flicked in without effort. The early models of 1902 were fitted with a safety catch over the reverse position, which had to be hand lifted. From 1903 onward a spring-loaded lever by the side of, and connected to, the change-speed lever was pushed down to release the safety catch. The only Mercedes car I ever saw fitted with a progressive gear-change and not a gate was one of the very first 60-hp cars belonging to Mr G Higginbottom, of Macclesfield, and some years after, when this car was for sale, I drove it for a short distance for the novelty of trying the changing of the various speeds.

The first Mercedes car to have shaft drive was the 1908 35-hp model, with 110 by 140 mm 4-cylinder engine, which had Honald magnetic plugs with rocking anvil and U-spring, and the Friedman system of lubrication. It was a quiet running and reliable car. Although the chain-driven models were fitted with chain cases, there was always a certain hum from the chains. As regards the racing cars, engine size was restricted in 1908 to a bore of 155 mm, and the 135-hp 1908 Grand Prix Mercedes, driven by C Lautenschlager, which won the race on the Dieppe Circuit, had a bore and stroke of 155 by 172 mm, and the other two cars driven by Sulzer and Willy Poege, of Chemnitz, were of 153 by 180 mm. Poege won the Semmering Hill Climb on a “Kaiser Preis” Mercedes of 140 by 140 mm.

I bought a 1908 “Prince Henry” sporting Mercedes of 130 by 180 mm in Paris, and it had a good deal of the speed of the Grand Prix racers, and was a very easy starter. I also had a 1909 55-hp Mercedes, with a 2-seater racing body. I went over to Paris on receiving a letter from the director of the Paris branch of the Mercedes Company, whose works were at Puteaux, outside Paris, offering me a special, very fast Semmering Mercedes racer. The door of the garage was flung open, and there was this fine car, painted the Mercedes white. The acceleration was terrific, but, unfortunately, the price was too stiff, so I had very reluctantly to go home without it. In 1909-10 the sporting model was the “37/95” with 4-cylinder engine of 130 by 180 mm, chain driven with chain cases, and having two overhead inlets per cylinder, and side exhaust valves. I had an open 4-seater of this type. The 1912-13 models were fitted with a V-shaped radiator, and two or four outside exhaust pipes covered with flexible brass tubing. The 1914 French Grand Prix resulted in a triumph for Mercedes, with first, second and third places. There were five Mercedes running, driven by Lautenschlager, Wagner, Salzer, Sailer and Pilette. Sailer had the rather thankless job of making the pace. He was leading up to the fifth round, when his petrol pipe broke and he had to retire. Pilette drove into a ditch, and Lautenschlager, Wagner and Salzer took first, second and third places, respectively. The winning Mercedes cars had a 4-cylinder engine with the cylinders in pairs, machined out of solid steel billets. (98 by 135 mm), four valves per cylinder, provision for four sparking plugs, although only three per cylinder were actually used, and two double magnetos. The water jackets were also of steel, welded on to the cylinders. At about 2,800 rpm the speed was about 120 mph. Two 1914 racers came over here—one was exhibited at the Mercedes showrooms in Long Acre and had Lautenschlager’s “28” winning number on it and his name scratched on the bonnet. The other, a reserve car, belonged to Mr Harrison, of New York, and was sold after the war. I had this car for some time, and it certainly was a remarkable car in many ways.

The Mercedes Company invited their clients to a banquet at the Trocadero Restaurant on July 17th, 1914, to celebrate the triple win, and I have still got the dinner menu as a souvenir. Lautenschlager’s car was raced at Brooklands after the war by Louis Zborowski, and was eventually destroyed by fire. Mr Harrison’s racer is still in England, owned by Ariel Clark. Curiously enough, I had a photo sent me some little while ago, taken in America, of a 1908 Grand Prix Mercedes, which was raced so well at Brooklands by D Resta, and belonged to Mr Fry, the car looked in exactly the same condition as it did in 1908. The other 1908 Grand Prix car which came here was driven by Willy Poege in the race, and his name was stamped on the radiator cap.

The large sporting model of 1914 had a 6-cylinder 105 by 140 mm engine with overhead camshaft, with its cylinders in three pairs, high tension and coil ignition, 12 sparking plugs and two carburetters. I had a car of this type after the war, with a magnificent polished mahogany body and rear scuttle, red patent-leather upholstery and red bonnet and wings, and with improvement to engine, etc. In that year (1923) the two smaller models, “6 /25” and “10/40” were fitted with the new “Kompresser” or supercharger, and I bought a “10/40” with an open Mercedes body. Using the supercharger was very fascinating, and the speed was considerably increased. I went over to the Hague to see the “28/95” racer of Director Wiemann, of the Dutch branch of Mercedes, but the price was prohibitive, so I came away with the “10/40” car I have mentioned, and had some very fine drives on it. For a 16-hp engine it was very fast indeed. The supercharger, when engaged, made quite a loud whining noise, but I found this rather pleasing than otherwise. The supercharger was placed in front of the engine, and the driver pressed the accelerator pedal past the full open throttle position, which drew back a long rod and so engaged the supercharger clutch on the forward end of the crankshaft. The rotors revolved at about three times engine speed, and maximum engine revolutions was very quickly obtained, it only being necessary to engage the supercharger for about 10-15 seconds. The supercharger was fitted as standard on all the large sporting and touring models, only the smaller ones in later years being without this very useful and fascinating fitment.

In 1924-25 the larger models were the “24/100” and “33/140” and short-chassis “33/180.” I had one of the “33/180” cars. Up to this time Mercedes fitted their cars with right-hand steering and gate change, but soon afterwards they made their cars with left-hand steering, and central change and handbrake.

In October 1927, at the Motor Show at Olympia, the new 36 /220-hp open sporting car was shown. It was altogether different, very long and low, with very raked steering column and a 6-cylinder engine with supercharger, two carburetters, frame underslung at the rear, sporting 4-seater body, and spare tyres carried at rear—maximum speed about 110 mph. The English agency very kindly sent a car round to my house with their test driver to try out, and the acceleration on each speed with supercharger engaged was simply remarkable. When I bought one of these models I found it, after getting used to the feel of the car, very easy and most pleasant to handle, and the engine very flexible, and with a top gear of 2.76 to 1 it was possible to run from about 12 to 15 miles an hour to maximum without labouring ; maximum revolutions 3,500 per minute, engine 98 by 150 mm. The larger model of 1929-30-31, the “38/2500” is, in my opinion, one of the very best models ever turned out, and with open sporting body from the Mercedes coach-building works at Sindelfingen, near Stuttgart, I think looked magnificent. Engine and lay-out was similar to the “36/220” only 100 by 150 mm bore and stroke, pressure-fed petrol, and additional shimmy dampers.

I had a very elegant ” 38/250 ” open 4-seater, painted cream with maroon wings, with a large trunk on the back containing two suitcases bound in calf. At the present time I have a very fast open semi-racing 4-seater, with racing supercharger and a good many other special features, and it was prepared for the 1939 Le Mans race, but was scratched at the last moment.

As regards the 1937-39 models, “500K” and “540 K,” I have only had very limited experience with them, but although magnificent cars, they seem to my mind rather too “gentlemanly,” and not so ultra Mercedes as the “36/220” and “38/250.” The independent springing of the wheels is very fine on bad roads, but as English road surfaces are so universally good. it seems rather unnecessary. I had a short run on one of  the first to come over, with Neubauer driving, and he put the near-side front wheel on and off the pavement in a quiet street to show how good the springing was. He was a driver in the 1924 Targa Florio race in Sicily on a Mercedes, which race was won by Werner, and has been for some years manager of the Mercedes racing team.