1928 Mercedes-Benz Type S 36/220 Sports Tourer
“This is what the book is all about- for here are the ‘Mercs’ of motoring mythology. And a surprising bunch they turn out to be. Here the three great exhaust pipes emerge from the bonnet side to be copied by all and sundry who wanted to make a Mercedes-like impression. Here the great three-pointed star rides so big and large before the driver that it becomes almost a fighter pilot’s sight. And nowhere else but in a fighter plane could one sit behind so much engine.” Michael Frostick, The Mighty Mercedes, 1971.
Few examples of the iconic supercharged Mercedes-Benz cars of the interwar years can have such a distinguished provenance as this impeccably presented example, originally registered ‘KP 1813’ in the English county of Kent in mid-1928. Supplied new via British Mercedes-Benz of London W1, its first owner was Denis Conan Doyle, son of the famous novelist Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who himself owned an S-series Mercedes-Benz), creator of the Sherlock Holmes adventures. Denis and his elder brother Adrian ran a stable of four S-series Mercedes-Benz cars which they actively campaigned in sporting events, such as the Skegness Sand races of 1936 where the two brothers were entered in similar S-series sports tourers by Denis’s wife, the glamorous Princess Nina Mdivani; Denis drove ‘KP 1813’ on that occasion. He sold the car a year or two later.
Originally delivered with standard Sindelfingen-built ‘Sport Tourer’ four-seater bodywork, ‘35951’ later saw its rear section modified to two-seater roadster style and was certainly in this form in 1950 when it was in the ownership of Edward Mayer. The Patron of the Mercedes-Benz Owners Club, Edward Mayer was known as the “doyen of English Mercedes enthusiasts” and was a legendary figure in the field of Mercedes collecting, for in his long motoring life he owned no fewer than 160 examples of the marque going right back to the 60-hp of 1903. During his ownership of ‘35951’, the engine was rebuilt “and some £700 spent on its beautification”. In the spring of 1954, “after refusing many fabulous offers for this wonderful carriage”, Mayer sold the car to the well-known dealer Jack Bond of Vintage Autos, who offered it for sale at £450 on condition that it was only available “to a genuine enthusiast who will look after its well-being like its previous well-known owner has done for so many years”.
Perhaps inevitably at the time, that meant that the car’s next owner was an American, longstanding Mercedes collector Ed Wachs of Prairie View, Illinois; by 1965 the Big Merc was awaiting restoration in the ownership of a Mr. H. Kizer of Indianapolis.
It had returned to Europe by the end of the 1970s, and in 1980 the respected expert Brian Classic restored the car’s rear bodywork to its original Sindelfingen configuration for its new owner. Now to factory specification, this is one of the truly great German sporting automobiles.
‘35951’ is from the first series of the ‘S’, model W9856, of which 26 examples were built in 1927-28, out of a total output of approximately 170 cars in four series. Few could afford such sporting luxury, with a price tag of no less than 26,000 Reichsmarks.
Mercedes had led the way in putting supercharged cars into production in the early 1920s, making full use of the lessons the company had learned from building aircraft engines for high altitude operation during the Great War. The ‘S’ Series, introduced as a 6.8-litre fast tourer in 1927, was the work of the company’s new chief designer Ferdinand Porsche, and, like all pre World War Two supercharged Mercedes-Benz cars, it employed an ‘on demand’ supercharger that only came into operation when the throttle pedal was fully depressed, which clutched in the Roots-type blower to boost acceleration and raise power output from 140 to 200 brake horsepower, accompanied by a distinctively piercing sound that the British magazine Motor referred to as “a threatening high-pitched whine”.
The Mercedes S-Type was a car that excelled in endurance racing and hillclimbs: for instance, the great Rudolf Caracciola enjoyed many successes at the wheel of an early ‘S’, winning his class in the opening meeting at the Nürburgring in June 1927 and setting “sensational times” at that year’s Baden-Baden Automobile Tournament. In the United States, Ralph de Palma drove a Mercedes S to victory in the 15- and 30- mile races at Atlantic City, averaging 128.5 kmh (80 mph).
During the quarter century of its present ownership, ‘35951’ has been used for long distance touring, historic events such as the Mille Miglia and display purposes (it has been loaned to Mercedes-Benz for various Museum functions and featured in factory literature), and has been the subject of numerous motoring magazine and book articles. It is a well-known, ‘no questions’ example of one of Mercedes-Benz’s most sought after and evocative models, from highly respected private ownership, and is ready for immediate, reliable enjoyment. The ‘Mighty Mercedes’ indeed…