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Lot 108: Mercedes-Benz 36/220 6.8-litre S-Type Four-Seat Open Tourer

Goodwood Revival Sale, Bonhams (15 September 2012)

Here we are delighted to be able to offer for the first time in its entire life one of the most jaw-droppingly unspoiled, time machine-quality, Vintage cars that we have ever had the privilege to bring to market.

This extraordinary Mercedes-Benz 680 S-Type has been preserved within its very first family ownership for no fewer than the past 84 years...

It saw very little use even in the hands of the retired British officer and World War One veteran to whose initial order it was first manufactured in 1928. Its presently recorded total mileage of just 8,375 - at the time of cataloguing - is considered by the Daimler-Benz Classic expert who has examined the car to be "probably genuine".

The original owner not only ordered the car in 1928 but also commissioned design and erection of a tailor-made motor house to accommodate it. The car has since spent its entire life � until being offered for sale right now - in that self-same customized motor house, in the east of England.

Upon the original owner's early death in 1940, 'ER 9555' now offered here passed to his son, and it is now being offered for sale � most notably in running mechanical order - by his grandson.

Mercedes-Benz introduced its 'S' Series model as a 6.8-litre fast tourer in 1927. New chief engineer Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had directed its design. It featured a 'kick-down' supercharger engaged only when the throttle pedal was fully depressed. This temporarily boosted acceleration by raising power output from something 'sufficient' to a far more muscular level described as being 'most effective', and accompanied by what the British magazine 'The Motor' described as "a threatening high-pitched whine".(From 1927 well into the 1930s, competition versions of the Mercedes-Benz S-Type excelled in endurance racing and hillclimbs, while for public road use these imposing touring cars proved to be 'The 'Mighty Mercedes' indeed...the factory and its international concessionaires counting many celebrities and sporting-minded gentlemen amongst their clientele.

The original owner was a former military Captain who had the rare distinction for an Army officer of having served throughout (and survived) the First World War, 1914-1918. He was a man of great discretion, and today we respect his anonymity at the vendor's request. The Captain compensated for the trauma of his wartime years with success in both his City of London investment business, and as a motor car and motor racing enthusiast.

He had driven a Mathis in pre-World War 1 Oxford University Motor Club speed trials, and postwar � after tuning a Schneider in 1921 to such effect that its maximum speed improved from 55 to 72mph, in February 1922 he bought a 1913 Grand Prix Peugeot � said to have been Georges Boillot's winning car - which he christened 'Laura'.

The Captain entered it for himself and others to drive at the Brooklands Motor Course outside Weybridge in Surrey. He drove it from Newmarket to Brooklands on the public road � habitually wearing a bowler hat. The car was maintained in the Captain's rented Brooklands shed and in London by the Captain's technical advisor, motor engineer L.C. Rawlence. The car was soon winning events at an average speed exceeding 107mph, and in all at Brooklands it won five times, took two second places and a third from 14 starts. Sadly, in 1924, the Peugeot was lost in a fatal accident on the Byfleet banking while being driven by a friend of the Captain's. He subsequently re-emerged in a TT Vauxhall, before retiring from motor racing upon his marriage in 1925.

He then ordered the new Mercedes-Benz S-Type now offered here, on February 28, 1928, from The British Mercedes Limited. There is a note on the build sheet connecting this order with Rawlence & Company who had previously supplied the Captain's GP Peugeot � and it is considered possible that they bought or liaised in the purchase of both these cars.

Mercedes-Benz's factory records confirm that the powered chassis � serial '35906' - was delivered without bodywork on April 13 that year. The Captain had commissioned Cadogan Motors Ltd. to create and fit a lightweight fabric-skinned body to his specification. Its form was in fact very similar to the Sindelfingen factory bodies, but promised to be lighter, and the Captain's London home (now demolished) was in Curzon Street in Mayfair so Cadogan's workshop in Chelsea was "just around the corner". He could easily follow progress and refine his requirements as they were building his new car's body there.

Once completed, this splendid S-Type was first UK road-registered on May 22, 1928, and from letters and notes in the documentation file accompanying the car it appears that the new owner quickly took it to Brooklands to test its outright speed and performance capabilities.

Describing this outing he wrote: "Lovely evening, wind slight but favorable. Car straight off road, only alteration one turn on back shock absorbers and � turn on steering dampers. Screen closed, back cover and hood cover fitted.

Half mile box has vanished Kilometer 22 2/5 (seconds) = 99.86 (mph) 22 1/5 = 100.76

Without supercharger 26.4 (seconds) = 84.73 (mph) 100mph = 2,950 RPM

"The obvious limit of revs is 3,000 and although down the straight this might have been fractionally exceeded I think it is a definite ceiling and that 2,900, say, could be easily held in adverse conditions

"The car held the track well but fought a little coming on and off the banking: technically I could have driven faster in the timed stretch and possibly onto the Byfleet (Banking) but the top revs seem very constant and I doubt whether much would have been (gained....?).

"The unsupercharged speed was honest and the blower was not used at all, no doubt if accelerated on the blower this would hold something considerably in excess of 85. Acceleration up to 2,800 really remarkable, thereafter slower and almost a little rough, but still fast up to its limit.

"Speedometer reads slow: Rev counter - I think correct, perhaps 50/100 slow Cooling water finally reached 80 but she was a gallon short at the finish, if this was out when we started she would have been even cooler. Plugs at the finish a beautiful colour, completely clean. Champion R IV inlet - III Exhaust "

The car's surviving registration log book charts that first registration and subsequently provides evidence of tax payments confirming its periods on and off the public road within the same family. From this we can see that it was road-taxed continuously from 1928 to the end of 1937 � while there is a note referring to a 'Royal Automobile Club Touring Dept. International Fiscal Permit on April 29, 1937' � strongly suggesting touring use abroad, probably in Continental Europe.

Its last taxation period prior to its recommissioning as recently as 2005 expired in September 1952 � exactly sixty years prior to this Revival Sale.

The Captain made a number of modifications to the car, matching it to his personal preferences. In, we believe, 1931 the standard gearbox was replaced by a British ENV/Armstrong-Siddeley-type 'Wilson' pre-selector gearbox, with gear selection from a neat quadrant control in the centre of the dashboard. The mid-ships chassis cross-brace was revised and re-sited to accommodate this change. An effectively 'after-market' steering damper was also adopted, being mounted diagonally beneath the front dumb-irons.

As, by mindset, a very discreet and understated gentleman, the Captain also considered the S-Type's factory-supplied, voluptuously curved external exhaust header pipes rather too flashy for his taste. Consequently, he had them removed and replaced by a custom-made manifolded system which swept down tightly against the engine's flank, hidden away within the hinged bonnet paneling. The original cut-outs in the right-side bonnet panel which had accommodated the external header-pipe system were closed with welded-in patches, the welding around them remaining clearly visible on the inside of the bonnet today.

After his wartime experiences the Captain also had reservations about the standard three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star emblem on the S-Type's radiator filling cap. He felt perhaps that he had done quite enough sighting along a lengthy barrel with a circular sight upon its tip, and so he had the star device removed and replaced by the most discreet feature of this entire, remarkable, extraordinary, motor car � a tiny brass duck. This also survives upon the radiator cap to this day...

He had decided that such a special motor car deserved and required garaging within a dedicated motor house, and so at his country residence he had such a building - complete with inspection pit - custom-made for the car.

From around 1931 until this year � 2012 � this Mercedes-Benz has been accommodated within this tailor-made building, for many years from around 1952-2005 standing there, up on axle stands, unused.

Alongside it throughout all these years has been the car's metal-cased tool-kit, which is included within this Lot. This tool kit offers a wide range of 'DMG' � 'Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft' � lettered spanners and special tools, plus beautifully boxed contemporary sets of Bosch ignition and carburettor spares � these points, contacts, jets and floats nestling still into the original recessed velvet linings of their tailored cases, as bought brand-new with the car.

The Captain used this Mercedes-Benz quite sparingly during his ownership, seemingly considering it proper transport essentially for high days and holidays. But he died on May 28, 1940, at the tragically early age of only 47.

Ownership of the Mercedes-Benz then passed to his ten-year old son. In the late 1940s when he in turn went up to Oxford University he ran this car on the road as his personal transport. He drove it enthusiastically, and on one occasion is said to have set a new record time in it for the highly unofficial open-road inter-varsity blast from Oxford to Cambridge. Family legend is that his record survived only two or three weeks before being beaten by another undergraduate...but he used a postwar car to manage it.

However, onto the 1950s, still with very little mileage completed, the car was put up on blocks in its dedicated motor house. It then rested there, totally unused, for the following half-century until 2012 when ownership of the car passed on to the Captain's grandson. He became determined to revive the old Mercedes-Benz � with typical family discretion, in secret, without his father's knowledge - to running order, in time for his parent's 75th birthday.

Accordingly, the car was secretly entrusted to specialist Alan Hancock who had been contacted upon private recommendation from a family friend and collector. A set of new tyres replaced the perished surviving set, the brakes and transmission received some detail attention and some work was carried out upon the original radiator to cure inevitable leakage from disuse.

The car was then re-started and proved to run incredibly well, ticking over with jaw-dropping silence and driving very nicely, although the aged exhaust system provides understandably unrefined accompaniment at higher engine speeds. The grandson unveiled the now running car for his father's 75th birthday � a most successful and unexpected surprise.

Subsequently the owner replaced the back-axle drive gear, a German source was located which could machine a new replacement from steel complying with the correct-period grade and treatment.

Now we at Bonhams are delighted to have been asked to offer for sale this simply amazing survivor from a bygone age of prestige motoring. We showed it to representatives of Daimler-Benz Classic here at Goodwood during this summer's Festival of Speed, and their first-contact reaction was similar to ours.

Since then a Daimler-Benz Classic factory engineer from Stuttgart has conducted a non-invasive, non-destructive inspection of 'ER 9555' as offered here. The resultant factory report � in preparation for which component serials have been checked against original period archive records - confirms the car's originality as follows:

"Upon inspection the Mercedes-Benz S with chassis number '35906' is in complete, original and unrestored condition. The original gearbox was exchanged, obviously no later than the 1930s, against a gearbox made by the British manufacturer Wilson. Chassis frame and rear axle torque tube were adapted accordingly, and additional members were mounted. The car is ready to move. The original paintwork shows patina to a large extent. The engine plate on the rear left engine mount is stamped with engine number '68657'. Vertical shaft, camshaft, rocker arms show very low wear. Thus, the mileage given on the odometer as 8,375 miles might be correct. The original type plate is on the right side of the firewall, an additional plate on the left side bears the name and address of the first owner. The body was built by London-based bodymaker Cadogan. It is similar in style to the Sindelfingen four-seater body most (Mercedes-Benz S cars were equipped with. The side panels of the body and its rounded rear end are covered with linen fabric impregnated with oil-paint and painted in the colour of the vehicle. Due to ageing over nearly 80 years the colour of the paintwork is very hard to determine. It might have been dark green or dark blue at the time of delivery. The leather upholstery and carpet are in blue colour."

During this inspection of the car it was obvious that the chassis frame � apart from its modification to accommodate the Wilson pre-selector gearbox � is the original. The factory chassis stamping is customarily located on the outer face of either the left or right front spring-mounting dumb-iron. The car's steel wing panel valences cover these areas and while it was possible to unbolt them from both dumb-irons in this area it was not possible � without unacceptable risk to the car's preserved patina � to separate them sufficiently far from the chassis face to verify the numbering there. However, other number stamps located upon the car have been examined and multiple stampings match, as on the camshaft bearing caps, for example (all stamped '1395 7'). The back axle (bearing an ID plate stamped 'CD4, 5C' � and with its ratio stamped as '3.09'), springs, steering � with the exception of the period-fitted "after-market" steering damper, and back axle are all considered original. The overhead camshaft itself (which bears the beautifully inscribed script 'No 248') proves to be of 'asymmetrical' cam-lobe form, thus being � we are advised � a competition camshaft of the type used in the SS and SSK cars, intended to enhance top-end performance.

The majority of the instruments on the dash panel are absolutely original as fitted new by Mercedes-Benz, and including a now rare Junghans clock. A pull-out turret lamp is carried in a dashboard mount, its bulb illuminated via a spring-rewound flexible cable. A non-standard British Teleflex damper-adjustment control is featured, apparently as specified in period by the Captain himself, together with his preferred adoption of the pre-selector gearbox in place of the German original. A British Tapley brake performance meter is also mounted upon the right side of the windscreen, within the driver's convenient vision.

At the highest level of connoisseurial interest in Vintage, classic and historic cars, it has long been appreciated that restoration is itself a process of obliteration.

Once originality has been discarded or painted-over, it can never ever be retrieved. While class is permanent, condition is temporary. As the world's stock of surviving as-original cars has diminished, so we see an increasingly concerned core of informed and discerning enthusiasts, collectors and institutions seeking surviving cars from this diminishing treasury. By the laws of increasing demand versus diminishing supply, these achingly-rare Mona Lisas of the automotive world are intensely desirable assets. Mercedes-Benz 680 S-Type 'ER 9555' offered here most decidedly ticks all these boxes. We heartily recommend it for the closest inspection and most careful consideration.

Lot Details
Auction Goodwood Revival Sale
Bonhams, Chichester, Goodwood
Lot Number108
Outcome SOLD
Hammer Price£2500000
Hammer Price (inc premium)£2801500
Condition rating0
Registration numberER 9555
Chassis number35906
Engine number68657
Engine capacity (cc)
Engine - cylinders
Number of doors