The legendary T-head Mercer Raceabout was one of the most significant cars produced during the glorious Brass Age. The enthusiasm shared by those fortunate few owners and admirers who have experienced the thrill of a Raceabout has elevated these pioneering sports cars to mythical status.
The 300-c.i. four-cylinder engine had massive 2¼-inch valves, high-lift cams, a high compression ratio, and generous and efficient intake/exhaust manifolding. This was mated to a beautifully engineered Brown & Lipe gearbox, with three speeds for 1911 and 1912, and four speeds for 1913 and 1914, with a multiple-disc clutch. The drive unit was set down in a frame to lower the center of gravity on the already low-slung chassis, which was clothed in long, swooping fenders, raked cowl and steering column, and twin rear spare tires. Is there a better example of form following function?
The T-head Mercer Raceabout was the first mass-produced dual-purpose sports and racing car. Indeed, many Mercers were taken right off the showroom floor to a race track where, with their fenders, runningboards and lighting equipment quickly removed, they would frequently set lap records, defeating cars with much larger engines. As Mercer Chief Engineer Finley R. Porter recalled in an interview with pioneer collector Henry Austin Clark, Jr. in the 1950s, "We sold racing cars to the public."
The best drivers always gravitate to the best cars and Mercer was no exception: Ralph DePalma, Spencer Wishart, Caleb Bragg, Eddie Pullen, Hughie Hughes and Barney Oldfield were a few of the stars of the era-;not to mention the many private amateur sportsmen who were victorious behind the wheels of Mercers.
If the phenomenal race record of the Mercer was not enough proof of its worth, consider the list of respected collectors who have chosen to own a T-head Raceabout: Bill Harrah, Henry Austin Clark, Alec Ulmann, Sam Scher, Peter Helck, James Melton, Ralph Buckley, Ken Purdy, Herb Royston, Miles Collier, David Uihlein, Fred Hoch, George Wingard, Phil Hill, Robert Petersen, Roger Ellis and Briggs Cunningham-many of them owning more than one example.
Chassis number 1281 is one of the most original Mercer Raceabouts in existence. It is believed that this car was converted to electric lighting very early in its life and it is conceivable that the original dealer could have done this. This car was purchased by Oliver Frederick (Fred) Hiscock of Southampton, Long Island in about 1919 from Lawrence Griffen of Northsea, Long Island. There were possibly two prior owners at this stage and one of them had flipped the car over in an accident. However, it is not believed that this Raceabout has any early racing history.
In 1969 Fred Hiscock passed away and his son John inherited the car. Sadly, he lost it in a divorce proceeding in 1981. The fortunate purchaser was William B. Ruger, who leapt at the opportunity to acquire one of the great original Raceabouts.
There are approximately 17 genuine T-head Raceabouts in existence. Chassis number 1281 must rank among the handful of truly great Raceabouts with an almost completely known history from new.
|1913 Mercer Type 35J
|Original List Price:
|Tune Up Cost:
|Chassis Number Location:
|Plate on firewall
|Engine Number Location:
|Cast in crankcase
|Horseless Carriage Club of America, 49239 Golden Oak Loop, Oakhurst, CA 93644 888/832-2374, email: [email protected]
This car sold for $865,500, including buyer’s premium, at Christie’s Pebble Beach auction held August 18, 2002.
Not only did it sell for $865,500, but it returned to the family from whom Bill Ruger had bought it in 1981, making a neat full circle on its history, albeit at a price. But that’s the way people feel about T-head Mercer Raceabouts. Back in April 1999 Christie’s auctioned another authentic 1913 Type 35J Raceabout for $926,500. It is now a centerpiece car in the Petersen Automotive Museum. Between these two auction sales, private transactions involving T-head Raceabouts have also climbed well past the half-million mark. The cars are so desirable and scarce that some collectors have ordered “new old” examples built from the ground up by Mercer specialists.
Besides simply being a correct, unmolested T-head Raceabout-with the exception of the addition of a period self-starting system-this car had a well-known history and an owner known for his taste in collecting great cars. Bill Ruger painted this car an incorrect color (it was originally yellow), but otherwise the car was restored exactly right.
The way these cars perform is a large part of their allure. Although rated at just 30.5 hp by formula, it’s reckoned the engine actually produced more like 100 ponies. Torque at the rear wheels make throwing a Raceabout into drifts as easy as a quick poke at the outside-mounted throttle. The transmission is a revelation compared to the balky gearshifts of contemporary rivals. You can snap the gear lever up and down like a modern sports car, speed-shifting at will. Steering is direct and arrow-accurate.
Worth the money? If any brass era car is, it’s the T-head Mercer Raceabout. It tells you volumes about the esteem in which they’re held by collectors when this car brought nearly five times the amount of an equally authentic 1916 Stutz Bearcat at the RM Monterey auction the night before.-Dave Brownell