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Single-Family Owned For 121 Years: 1903 Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges’

While those of us who yearn for a “pre-war” car are eyeing Model As or even a Model T for around $20k at the most, a select few have a different car in mind. These folks are positioning their bank accounts to accommodate the purchase of a pre-war car that hails from 1903 – yes, that war. The price is expected to exceed $10 million, and the car is a Mercedes-Simplex 60 HP ‘Roi des Belges’, lot #128 to be offered at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction on February 29 and March 1. Under single-family ownership through several generations since new, and with documented competition history, the provenance of this spectacular example of the early days of motoring is impeccable. From its delivery in 1903 to media mogul and automobile collector Alfred C.W. Harmsworth, to its record run at Nice Speed Week mere months later, its serial participation in the London to Brighton Veteran Run and six decades on exhibition at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, this rowdy Mercedes represents its marque like no other.

Conceived and designed by Wilhelm Maybach and Emil Jellinek, the Mercedes-Simplex was fast and simple to operate. The first Simplex cars were built in 1902 at 40 hp and less. With customers – including celebrities and royalty – lining up to buy the new Mercedes, Maybach soon built a luxury version, with a long, low-slung touring body, powered by a 9236 cc in-line four-cylinder motor mated to a single Zenith carburetor. Rated at 60 hp, these cars could reach a top speed of 80 mph. Braking is a complicated affair, with two rear drums activated mechanically by a foot pedal and an auxiliary transmission brake. The gearbox is a four-speed transaxle transmitting power via dual chains to the rear wheels. Of course, starting is via crank.

The interior is a reminder that drivers were once intimately engaged in a car’s operation. Those tubes hung on the dash are oilers – each must be set to drip at the proper interval after the engine develops pressure. The steering wheel houses the spark advance and hand throttle. Somewhere in there is a hand-operated fuel pump which must be pressurized. The driver and “co-pilot” must keep a close eye on these various systems, making adjustments as the car warms up. Speaking of warming up, the honey-comb radiator is made of thousands of tiny steel tubes – and no fan. With the car is a selection of tools to effect the occasional roadside fix.

This car is by no means restored. Both headlamp rims are dented. The rear seats are black, and one is missing its buttons, while the front seats are green. Paint scratches all around, worn leather throughout. Curiously, the listing does not address its running condition. No one will mark this car down for the loss of its original body, which was replaced by the “Roi des Belges” coachwork popularized by Leopold II of Belgium in 1901. Leopold commissioned a “stairstep” double phaeton body for a Panhard, a shape supposedly inspired by his mistress. While the number of surviving Mercedes-Simplex cars is vanishingly small, the estimate – if achieved – would put this car in rarified company. I’ll be watching to see how this star car performs.

Comments

  1. Uncle Ed

    Well, someone is going to say it anyway….Needs an LS. I all seriousness, fascinating find

    Like 29
  2. Walter

    Very cool. The pre Great War Era fascinates me, both cars and aviation.

    Like 14
  3. Al

    I guess I will have to settle on the pictures, 10+mil stretches my pocket book a little too far.
    Otherwise this is a nice find.

    Like 15
    • Charles Marks

      Oh, not me. Got change for a 20?

      Like 7
      • Al

        Would you like to buy a bridge or maybe a tower? The towers in Paris and it needs to be moved.

        Like 4
  4. hugh crawford

    Emil Jellinek Is quite literally the father of Mercedes.

    Like 9
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      Jellinek was a dealer. He named the cars he sold after his daughter, but it took his association with Wilhelm Maybach, an engineer who worked at Daimler, to really make the car.

      Like 7
  5. Todd J. Member

    Words that will never be spoken: “Honey, I’ll be back soon. I have to run to Autozone to pick up a new Zenith carburetor for the Mercedes-Simplex!”

    Like 13
  6. Tom

    I asked my wife for a loan of $9,999,994 ( yes I have the $6 in my pocket plus a very small amount of coin ) and she said it would be cheaper to divorce me. I have 34 years invested in her so I guess I will have to pass on this one.

    Like 19
  7. Martin Horrocks

    Not sure how a car on public display at Beaulieu for over 40 years is a “find”, but thanks for a quality article, Michelle.

    This was the McLaren F1 of its era ( N ick Mason has both) and still used in competition by long-term owners like the Collings family in the UK ( now with the 3rd generation of drivers).

    No-one in Europe would dream of repairing the dents and scratches btw.

    Like 10
    • Michelle Rand Staff

      You’re welcome.

      As to whether it is a “find”. Most Americans have never visited Beaulieu. I’ve been three times, but somehow was more entranced with a tiny Austin or maybe a Minx that had some ridiculously low mileage from new. I don’t remember this car. So perhaps a car in plain sight for six decades is not really “found” but on the other hand, for those who have never seen it, the “finding” is more in the way of “I just learned about this” therefore I just found it.

      N’est-ce pas?

      Like 5
  8. Troy

    Wonder how they got to that auction estimate? Personally if I had that kind of money to drop on A car it wouldn’t be this one. I can’t have garage queens if I have classic cars I feel the need to drive them and enjoy cruising around.

    Like 9
    • Richard Waldron

      Auction estimates are like any antique or real estate appraisal. One looks at similar items that have sold and make adjustments for similarities and differences. The truely great specimens will almost always see an upward price movement. 15 +/- years ago I negotiated the purchase of OLDE 16’S twin sister for a cash price of $2million., given the somewhat similar nature of the two with their pedigree,size, age, condition and racing history I think the estimated sale price may very well be on the mark. Dick Waldron

      Like 3
    • Jon Calderon

      Damn right! I find very little value in a car I can’t drive daily if I want to. I like to have fun, as opposed to just looking at it.

      Like 1
  9. jim

    I wish they made car seats like that today instead of riding on a board filling of the newer cars This one looks like a kings chariot

    Like 6
  10. Keith Kuehn

    Folks, there is NOTHING like a drive through the countryside in a pre 1915 brass era car. No matter what the make. And no matter the speed.
    This old gal will easily pull 65 mph, and all day long without missing a beat.
    10 million? Wouldn’t surprise me. I don’t think it will reach that, but my guess is around 6-7. And the patina? Leave it alone!

    Like 6
  11. Allen Member

    Hmmm… 121 years… ‘Makes a guy wonder why they’re selling it already. Just show me the Carfax.

    Like 11
  12. Johnmloghry johnmloghry

    WOW! 60 h.p. 80 mph in 1903, that’s amazing. Nearly 500 cubic inches in a 4 cylinder, those pistons must be massive. You’d have to be a brave individual to drive this rig at top speed on tires of the day and wooden spoked wheels and very scary brakes. Takes 2 people to operate, one to steer and one to keep the engine running, which I’m sure was a full time job. A 4 speed transaxle is quite an accomplishment in 1903, and with chain drive on both sides it probably doesn’t corner very well. With no fan for cooling it most likely didn’t do well in slow moving traffic; get out of the way horse and buggies I’m coming through. Ha, Ha, Ha.
    The Germans were definitely at the top of engineering in those days. Still I say, God bless America

    Like 7
  13. Andy G

    That’s no T

    Like 1
  14. Ken Maxfield

    It will be interesting to know if it sells and for how much!

    Like 3
  15. stillrunners stillrunners Member

    Horder…..ha !

    Like 2
  16. Frank Barrett Member

    This is very similar to the American Mercedes, built by the Steinway piano people on Long Island in the same era. Only one or two of those are known to exist; the best is displayed at Mercedes-Benz USA headquarters in Atlanta.

    Like 3
  17. steve smith

    Looks like a Dulaney Belleville with the same model name as this Mercedes and around the same year. The Dulaney was the first car to have pressure oil feed to the engine. To understand the level of these cars, this model was owned by Tsar Nichols but probably not for very long!

    This car can be seen Revs museum in Naples fl

    Like 2
    • Pommycars

      Delaunay Belleville

      Like 2
      • Steve

        Yes, I can’t spell. I looked at that car for over 8 years

        Like 2
  18. Jerry Turner

    For the owner, or buyer of this Mercedes Simplex, you should know that Nostalgic Reflections made 3 of the Data Plates for these rare cars. There is one listed on eBay and the Item Number is 204651908001

    Like 0
  19. John B. Traylor

    Looks a car used in Downton Abbey.

    Like 2
  20. Bob Mck

    Best of luck to the seller. I’ll keep my 10 million in my bank account! Oh wait, I don’t have 10 million….LOL

    Like 1
  21. Chris Cornetto

    Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The amazing thing is this car survived all these years and depending on where it was from time to time, weathered two world conflicts that even consumed a few Duesenburgs and other near priceless automobiles.

    Like 2
  22. GIJOOOE

    60 horsepower in 1903 must’ve been like 600 horsepower nowadays- thrilling to some, but terrifying to others. It’s absolutely amazing that this car still exists, but the fact that it’s been in the same family since new is even more incredible.

    Like 0

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