Model history: Introduced in 1911, the Mercer 35 Raceabout was one of America's earliest sports cars, rivalled only by the similar Stutz Bearcat. Equipped with just the bare necessities, these minimalist machines were hugely successful both in the show room and on the race track. The tragic death of company founder Washington Roebling on the Titanic in 1912 and an accident in a 1914 race that took the life of both the driver and mechanic, prompted the Mercer board to withdraw from racing and to focus on building road cars.
As part of these fundamental changes, an all-new car was produced to replace the existing design in 1915. This did not sit well with Finley Robertson Porter, who had designed the 'T-Head' four cylinder engine used in the Model 35. He left Mercer to develop his own car under the 'F.R.P.' name. He was replaced as chief engineer by Eric H. Delling, who was immediately tasked to create the new Mercer. This was known as the Model 22-70 and was available with a choice of two chassis lengths and four body styles.
The model name respectively referred to the fiscal and actual horsepower figure produced by the four cylinder designed by Delling. The new engine featured a more straightforward 'L-Head' design, which consists of a single lateral camshaft actuating side-valves. The block and integral head were cast in iron and mounted on an aluminium crankcase. With a displacement of 298 cubic-inches or just under 4.9 litre, Delling's 'four' was slightly smaller as the highly acclaimed T-Head previously used. It was nevertheless almost twice as powerful, producing at least 70 bhp.
Mated to a four-speed gearbox, the new engine was mounted in a straightforward steel, ladder frame. The semi-elliptic leaf springs used were also conventional but Delling greatly improved the ride by adopting the latest hydraulic Houdaille shock absorbers. Drum brakes were used on the rear wheels only. The chassis was available in two lengths; 115 inch for the two-seater models and 130 inch for the versions that could seat four or even six people. Available on the short chassis was a 'Raceabout' body that was still spartan but did include more creature comforts than its famous predecessor.
The new Mercer was well received but the internal struggles continued. Delling left in 1916 and all of the original founders had followed suit by 1919. Despite these issues, the 22-70 was continuously developed with detail changes made to create the 22-72 for 1916 and the subsequent 22-73 in 1917. The process of evolution continued with the Series 4 in 1918 and the Series 5 in 1920. During this period the chassis and engine remained virtually unaltered with the focus clearly on further refining the factory bodies. The Raceabout for example came with such amenities as doors and a full-width windshield by 1920.
Delling's L-Head Mercer was finally replaced in 1923 by the Series 6, which used a Rochester-sourced six-cylinder engine and a three-speed gearbox. This represented a further step towards the luxury market and away from the original Mercers that had proven so successful a decade earlier. Even reviving the Raceabout body for 1925 did not turn the fortunes for the company and the factory was forced to close its doors in 1926. Sadly, Mercer followed in the footsteps of many of the great pioneering manufacturers, succumbing to a combination of misfortune and mismanagement.
This 1921 Mercer Series 5 Raceabout was in single family ownership for over eight decades. It was acquired by Mrs. Libaire in 1926 from a friend, who in turn had confiscated it from his son along with his speedboat after he had escaped injury crashing his plane. In the years with the Libaire family, it saw continuous use and was also displayed at the 1940 New York State Fair. During this period, it was meticulously maintained but never restored. In 2010, it finally left the Libaire family and passed into the hands of the current owner for just over $300,000 during the Gooding Pebble Beach Auction. The lovely Raceabout is seen here two years later at Pebble Beach where Mercer was one of the featured marques.
One of the very last four-cylinder Mercers built, this 1922 short chassis Series 5 was equipped with the Raceabout body. It was owned for many decades by a Mercer factory employee. He clearly cherished the car and as a result it has survived in largely original condition. This rare survivor is seen here during the 2010 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance, where it also competed in the Tour d'Elegance. If you have any further information on this particular chassis could you please contact us.