Courtesy of Bonhams
The Mercedes-Benz “S” was created in a magical period for the company, shortly after the merger of Daimler and Benz, while Ferdinand Porsche was chief engineer. He built a powerful-yet-versatile automobile — a true all-rounder, at home on the racetrack, at hillclimbs and providing exhilirating driving for the road. The signature engineering feature was its “on demand” Roots-type supercharger, which only came into operation when the accelerator was fully depressed, boosting power output from 120 to 180 horsepower for a few glorious seconds! Mercedes debuted the cars at the opening meeting of the Nürburgring in 1927, where Caracciola set the tone with a class win. It would be the first of many laurels bestowed on the model. Here in America, Indy 500 winner Ralph de Palma drove an “S” to victory in the 15- and 30-mile races in Atlantic City, averaging 80 mph. Quite simply, there wasn’t anything to touch the Mercedes, but as with its competitors, it faced an uphill struggle for sales as the Depression set in, and only 146 of these remarkable cars were ever built between 1927 and 1930.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1928 Mercedes-Benz 26/120/180 Type S
Years Produced:1927–30
Number Produced:146
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Chassis Number Location:Data plate on side of cowl
Engine Number Location:Data plate on side of cowl
Club Info:Classic Car Club of America, Mercedes-Benz Owners’ Club
Alternatives:1926–30 Bentley Speed Six, 1928–37 Duesenberg Model J, 1932–35 Bugatti Type 55

This car, Lot 34, sold for $5,395,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Quail Lodge auction, on August 13, 2021.

The Mercedes-Benz Type S helped put the roar in the Roaring ’20s. Consider this car’s pedigree: a brilliant Ferdinand Porsche design, a 6.7-liter supercharged 6-cylinder engine, a validated one-off body by coachbuilders H. Gläser & Co. and a well-known chain of ownership over its 93-year life. The consigning family had kept this car for an extraordinary 57 years, and its distinguished prior caretakers comprise a “Who’s Who” of the the pre-World War II era and read like a history of the car hobby. This big Merc even made a brief movie appearance in 1955’s “I Am a Camera.”

Three American owners — Harry Grey, Walter Stocklin and Leo Pavelle — enjoyed custody of the car, and it spent time stored in the garages of Judge John North before Ed Jurist of The Vintage Car Store sold it to the consignor in 1964. The selling price then was a heady $15,000 plus a 2.9-liter Alfa Romeo.

After consultation with Zumbach’s in New York City and esteemed collector M.L. “Bud” Cohn in Los Angeles, it was restored by George Waterman and Kirk Gibson’s Vetco New England shop and refinished in yellow and black — a livery it would have for the next 50 years. Over the past two decades, expert maintenance was performed by D.L. George Coachworks and Leydon Restorations, including an early-2000s engine rebuild. A testimony to its mechanical prowess, the Mercedes completed the grueling Colorado Grand in 2015. In 2017, it was repainted in Raven Black, accented by its copper brake drums.

Rare and thrilling

According to James Taylor’s Supercharged Mercedes in Detail: 1923–1942, the majority of S models carried 4-seater touring bodies from M-B’s captive Sindelfingen Works, mounted on a dropped chassis. This Gläser-bodied car is different, sporting cut-down doors, a low split windscreen, an immense louvered hood and those distinctive flex-pipe exhausts. As well, this car is equipped with ultra-rare Belgian Willocq-Bottin headlamps, which may have been transferred from the Minerva that original owner Louis Delling traded in on the Benz in 1928.

Subsequent variations on these exciting cars saw progressively lighter SS, SSK and ultimately the racing SSKL models, which were driven by Mercedes-Benz heroes like Rudolf Caracciola, Otto Merz and Christian Werner. But all of these early Mercedes-Benzes are highly desirable, particularly this one with its custom coachwork, history and esteemed roster of owners.

Performance is enthralling for a car of this vintage. Despite the Mercedes’ hefty 4,400-pound weight, the 385 ft-lb inline 6 rumbles along with its base 120 bhp at 3,000 rpm, until the throttle is depressed to the floorboards. Then the finned, gear-driven Roots-type blower is engaged, compressed air is fed through the twin carburetors, and a thrilling scream ensues as the massive Merc, now with 180 bhp in hand, gathers speed in a rush.

Top car, top dollar

Mercedes-Benz Type S examples have sold in the $4m range. Bonhams’ catalog estimate for this car was $3m to $4m, and this sale exceeded that figure by nearly $1.4m. It’s easy to see why. Over the course of nearly 100 years, two major wars and and world upheaval, it’s uncommon, even for a valued classic car, to sustain this sort of historical record. This Type S comes with a treasure trove of documentation attesting to its long lifespan. Provenance is everything with a seven-figure car, and it is unquestioned here.

This 1928 Mercedes-Benz represents a perfect storm, embodying all of the attributes needed to set a sales record. Any Mercedes-Benz Type S is exceedingly rare. Only 18 examples were built in 1928; still fewer survive intact. Moreover, this car is a superbly restored, high-performance, one-off tourer with custom coachwork. It’s accompanied by a remarkable paper trail of original ownership documents — many signed by prominent people — and detailed service records.

Eligible for countless driving events, from the Mille Miglia Storica to the Colorado Grand, it would also be welcome at all the world’s finest concours. This merits a $5 million-plus bid and, obviously, the fortunate winner thought so too. This Mercedes S-type was very well sold and well bought. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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