A rare 1903 Mercedes Simplex 60 HP for sale at auction

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A rare 1903 Mercedes Simplex 60 HP for sale at auction

A 1903 Mercedes Simplex 60 HP will be auctioned by Gooding & Co. auction house. The estimated sale price is more than $10 million.

Photo: Gooding & Co 

The Simplex was the successor to the Mercedes 35 HP, considered the first modern car, and was the second model to bear the Mercedes name. Mercedes owes its name to the Austro-Hungarian consul on the French Riviera and Vienna-born entrepreneur Emil Jellinek, who sold cars in Nice, France, as the official dealer of Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft (DMG) founded in Cansttat by Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach in 1890.

Jellinek ordered a new car, contributed to the development costs, and guaranteed the purchase of 36 examples but wanted the car to bear the name of his daughter, Mercedes.

The name Simplex reflected the car’s simplified operation. At that time, there was no starter or synchronized gearbox, so starting the car took quite a long time. But otherwise, the Simplex had all the features of a modern vehicle: honeycomb radiator, longitudinally installed front engine and rear-wheel drive. There was no lack of pedals and steering wheel.

The Mercedes Simplex was produced from 1902 to 1909 in several versions. In 1902, the range included 20, 28, and 40 HP versions. In 1903, the 60 PS version was introduced. The Mercedes Simplex competed in many races at that time and achieved several successes. The Mercedes Simplex 40 HP dominated the Nice Race Week in April 1902. E.T. Stead won the Nice- La Turbie hillclimb race with an average speed of 55.2 kph.

Among the first owners of the Mercedes Simplex 40 HP was the American billionaire William K. Vanderbilt, who already had a Mercedes 35 HP. Vanderbilt received the car in March 1902, and in May 1902, he achieved a record of 111.8 kph on the road from Ablis to Chartres. Vanderbilt’s car is exhibited in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart and is one of the oldest Mercedes models alive. 

In 1903, the more powerful Mercedes Simplex 60 HP version developed 60 PS/1100 rpm and reached a top speed of almost 130 kph (80 mph). The 4-cylinder engine has a larger displacement of 9,236 ccs, a Zenith carburetor, and the power was delivered to the rear wheels via a 4-speed manual gearbox.

DMG built 102 units of Mercedes Simplex 60 HP between 1902 and 1905. One such model is the subject of the auction organized by Gooding & Co.

The car offered at auction has belonged to the same family for 121 years

The car offered at auction was bought in 1903 by British publisher Alfred CW Harmsworth. After beginning his career as a freelance journalist, Harmsworth established his first newspaper, Answers to Correspondents, in 1888. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Mr. Harmsworth began publishing the London Daily Mail, the Sunday Dispatch, and The Daily Mirror, setting new records for circulation and significantly enhancing his political reach.

Harmsworth was a fan of the automobile supporting the Royal Automobile Club’s 1,000 Miles Trial. In 1902, Mr. Harmsworth edited the book Motors And Motor-Driving, which contained a collection of essays on various aspects of motoring.

The British tycoon also owned an impressive collection of cars at Sutton Place, the Tudor mansion where he lived between 1899 and 1917. Among them was a Mercedes Simplex 40 HP, considered the first Mercedes sold in England. 

In 1903, he also purchased a Mercedes Simplex 60 HP, which took part in the one-mile race on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, setting a new record. Harmsworth’s Mercedes later raced successfully in Ireland and was later fitted with elaborate “Roi des Belges” coachwork by the prestigious Parisian atelier J. Rothschild et Fils. Of particular note is the car’s registration number – A 740 – among the earliest issued by the London City Council, which began supplying registrations in 1903 with “A 1.”

Harmsworth then regularly drove the Mercedes Simplex 60 HP, demonstrating its incredible performance to friends in the UK and on the Continent. After his death in 1922, the car was bequeathed to his 12-year-old son Alfred John Francis Alexander Harmsworth.

His son inherited his passion for cars from his father and kept the Mercedes Simplex 60 HP in his collection, along with an Alfa Romeo 8C 2300 and a Mercedes-Benz SSK, moving it to his residence in the New Forest in England. Harmsworth Jr. drove the car several times in the London-Brighton race, after which, in 1954, it was exhibited at the Beaulieu Motor Museum, where it remains for many years.

Now, after 121 years in the possession of the Harmsworth family, the Mercedes Simplex 60 HP will be sold by auction house Gooding & Co at the Amelia Island auction on 29 February 2024, and it is hoped the sale price will exceed $10 million.