I had a customer interested in this car at $2m in the late ’90s before the full story emerged
In the early 1900s, Mercedes styling ran the gamut from conservative limousines and landaulets to dashing phaetons and open two-seaters. None, however, approached the style of this one-of-a-kind 1911 Mercedes 37/90 skiff, one of the most exotic Mercedes ever created.
The avenue des Champs-Elysées atelier of Henri Labourdette pioneered the exquisite wooden skiff torpedo design, which became popular in the 1910s and remained so through the 1920s.
The elegant yacht-like triple-layer body was created by criss-crossing layers of mahogany over a ribbed frame, then applying a third horizontal layer on top. To preserve the rigidity, doors were kept as small as possible in number and size. Apart from its attractiveness, a skiff body was light, normally weighing about 400 pounds.
Produced from 1910 through 1914, the 37/90 chassis was powered by a four-cylinder engine of 9,530 cc and delivering 90 hp at 1,100 rpm. The inline engine had two blocks of two cylinders with three overhead valves per cylinder and a single camshaft high in the block. A four-speed gear shifter was mounted outside the body, delivering power to the rear chain drive. Daimler estimated the average top speed at 70 mph, though lightweight roadsters could reach nearly 100 mph.
According to research conducted by the current owner, this 37/90 hp chassis was delivered to American hat maker G. Henry Stetson. Fitted with coachwork, it was delivered to his Philadelphia residence from the Mercedes dealer in New York City and cost $18,000.
The original body was removed from the chassis in 1922 and a new Cape Top body built by Camden Coachworks in New Jersey. In the late 1950s, two potential buyers noted another wooden body beside the car, and the Cape Body was sold and is currently on another 37/90 car in California.
When the current vendor bought the car in 1972, he decided to have a skiff body built in the style of Labourdette, rather than refinish the wooden body with the car. It is this body the car carries, after an estimated 12,700 hours of construction at Dale Adams Enterprises in Kent, Ohio.