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A Rembrandt of iron and rubber



1929 mercedes benz ssk roadster


The Mercedes-Benz SSK was developed from the S-type chassis and fitted with a 7-liter SS engine. About 33 SSKs rolled out of the factory from 1928 to 1932, and about half were competition cars like this one, which was sold with the word "Rennwagen" (racing car) written on the invoice. It was built as a long-distance racing car and fitted with the largest fuel tank ever seen on an SSK chassis.

Built in 1928, this SSK Roadster was sold to Julio Berndt, brother-in-law and teammate of the talented driver Carlos Zatuszek. The first important event in which they entered #36246 was the 1929 500 Miles of Argentina Race, in which they came home second. The same year, Zatuszek won the Cordoba Grand Prix. He won it again in 1930, after taking second at the Grand Prix des Nations, second at the Buenos Aires Grand Prix and winning at the Fruhlings Preis. In 1931, this SSK and its driver won the Argentinean Grand Prix.

Zatuszek sold the SSK in 1935, after which it was raced by a variety of owners until 1958. In 1967, the car was brought to North America by California dealer/collector B. Paul Moser who drove it for several years in and around Santa Barbara and in competition at the Laguna Seca vintage races. The car was then sold to Ed Jurist, well-known owner of The Vintage Car Store. Jurist, in partnership with then-Hemmings Motor News owners George Waterman and Bayard Ewing, in turn sold the car to Japanese automotive publisher H. Hayashi. In 1986 it was sold to American enthusiast Brian Brunkhorst.

Two years later, Brunkhorst passed the SSK along to a J. Gottinger, who kept it for 11 years before selling it to Rolf Meyer. The car was totally restored between 1993 and 1996 by the Reifen-Wagner Company, who counts among its clients the Mercedes Classic Center in Stuttgart. The car was restored to racing specifications and without regard to cost. This is an important car, as beautiful as it was when new, reminiscent of an era when drivers showed outstanding courage and stamina. It is the gem of the Rolf Meyer Collection.

{analysis}{auto}195{/auto} This 1929 SSK Roadster sold for $3,329,087, including buyer's premium, on February 10, 2003, at the Rolf Meyer estate auction held by Artcurial-Briest-Poulain-Le Fur in Paris, France.

In the pantheon of truly great and immensely desirable automobiles, the Mercedes-Benz SSK is, was and always will be among the most sought-after of this select group. A rare combination of functional beauty and mechanical efficiency, these cars racked up an enviable record of Grand Prix wins in the late '20s and early '30s in the hands of talented factory drivers like Rudi Caracciola and skilled privateers, Zatuszek among them.

The appearance of this Roadster was hard to fault-in fact, it was a little too immaculate for an honest-to-Pete racing car, but there was no arguing its impressive eye appeal. With the triple flex-pipes snaking out the right side of the hood, the lack of lights or fenders, the huge dumb-irons, copper-clad brakes, the vast hood culminating in a sharply-vee'd radiator, tight little cockpit and bobbed tail with two spare tires hung out on the deck, this car was every schoolboy's dream of what a racing car should look like 75 years ago. It's also what many sophisticated collectors worldwide still regard as the ideal in vintage style and high performance.

The demand has always been greater than the supply of SSKs and an international cottage industry has been going on for decades among a few specialist Mercedes "restorers" who will gladly build you one from scratch for a checkbook-busting price. Because of this and the huge market value of the cars, it has come to the point where most of the SSKs running around today have been built up from skillfully remade parts or bits and pieces from other surviving S-series cars. All this Frankenstein surgery has caused most every S, SS or SSK Mercedes to be automatically suspected of being less than authentic until proven otherwise.

Despite an impressive dossier of documentation and a traceable provenance right back to its original factory commission sheet, rumors about this car's legitimacy were rife at the Poulain preview. As usual, the expected cadre of self-appointed experts called this or that aspect of the car or its history into question.

But talk is cheap and these cars aren't, nor are those prepared to buy them just gamblers out on a Monte Carlo fling. The serious guys took over from the rumormongers when this stunning piece of Mercedes history came on the block as the final car of the auction. After about five minutes of solid bidding, the car sold for the figure noted above, which should be considered an indicator of the current (albeit thin) market for SSKs. People who have the resources to buy multi-million dollar cars also have the wherewithal to spend what it takes to do pre-purchase research. They're not the personality types that suffer mistakes, or the buying of fake cars, gladly.

SCM has often noted that the collecting of automobiles is a young field, compared to collecting paintings or sculpture. As the car itself is barely 100 years old, it has only been in the past decade that the true blue-chip collectibles, the Rembrandts and Matisses of iron and rubber, have begun to be valued as highly as they should be. This SSK will always stand as a definitive car of its era, excelling in style, performance and achievement. With its verified provenance, it will always be highly sought-after, and highly valued.-Dave Brownell{/analysis}

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