12-14 August 2010
1911 Mercedes 38/70 HP Seven-Passenger Touring
Sold for $495,000
- From the estate of Mr. John M. O'Quinn
- Impeccable provenance with continuous history
- Ordered new by Col. Samuel Pomeroy Colt
- Massive Franco-Teutonic touring car
- Pebble Beach trophy winner with excellent documentation
Samuel Pomeroy Colt, nephew of the famous arms manufacturer, was born in Paterson, New Jersey in 1852. Called “Pom” by family and friends, he became aide-de-camp to Governor Henry Lippitt of Rhode Island and was given the honorary rank of “Colonel.” He founded the Industrial Trust Company, a commercial bank later part of New England’s Fleet Bank that eventually merged into the Bank of America. A lawyer, he was appointed receiver of the National Rubber Company, reorganizing it and merging it with other companies he had acquired to form the United States Rubber Company, ancestor of today’s Uniroyal.
Col. Colt also dabbled in politics, representing his home city of Bristol in the Rhode Island legislature. He was elected Rhode Island’s Attorney General in 1882 and ran unsuccessfully for Governor as a Republican in 1903. A progressive politician, he advocated for child labor laws and advanced the cause of property rights for women.
While planning a European tour in 1911, Col. Colt ordered a new 38/70 hp Mercedes through the New York agency. A well-equipped chassis, it was fitted with a hill-holder, exhaust cutout, tools and instruments. It was then consigned to Parisian coachbuilder Vanvooren for installation of a seven-passenger touring body.
Carrosserie Vanvooren was founded in 1910 by Achille Vanvooren. Its fame would come years later, under the proprietorship of M-J Dasté and his partner Guillemet, at which time it was renamed Dasté & Vanvooren. The firm became a licensee for Weymann fabric bodies, and Dasté later patented his own flexible technique for body construction. After Dasté left to head Hispano-Suiza, Vanvooren became the de facto supplier of “house” bodies for that marque. Bodies were also supplied to Bugatti, Rolls-Royce and Bentley, notable among them the Corniche prototype designed by Georges Paulin in 1939. Bombing raids during World War II damaged the factory, and postwar revival was brief, comprising mainly Delahaye bodies from 1947 to 1950.
The Colt family arrived in Paris in June 1912, accompanied by their chauffeur, J. Floyd Heustis. They took delivery of the car and completed the planned Grand Tour. The Mercedes was left behind in France when the family returned home, to be used on future visits. In 1914, Col. Colt returned to Europe, but his trip was cut short by the outbreak of war. The car was requisitioned by the French Army for staff use. After the war, it was returned to Vanvooren for refurbishment, then shipped to America for use at the Colt family residence in Rhode Island.
Col. Samuel Colt died in 1921, but the Mercedes remained with his family until 1937. Chauffeur Heustis drove it frequently in Bristol’s renowned Fourth of July parade, the oldest continuous independence celebration in the nation. That year, Ralph Kinder, a local florist, managed to buy it from the Colt family’s former secretary for $100. Kinder in turn sold it to Ralph Pewsey, a fellow car collector and early AAA racer. After Pewsey’s death, it was acquired by Webster Knight II. After Knight’s passing in 1967, it was purchased by Ohio collector B. Scott Isquick, and while in his possession, the car suffered the misfortune of a fire in the early 1970s, but Twinsburg, Ohio restorer Dale Adams ministered to it for some 12,000 hours to bring it back to original condition.
The engine block had cracked but was repaired and baked with ivory vitreous enamel. In the process, it was bored out slightly, adding nearly an additional liter to its original 8,950 cc displacement. A retrofitted electric starter was removed at that time. A brass-bound varnished wood tool box from the left running board was reunited with the car after a four decade absence.
The Mercedes then became part of the Otis Chandler collection in California, before being acquired by the late Mr. John O’Quinn at the Chandler auction in 2006. Without question one of the most outstanding aspects of this Mercedes is the simple fact that it remains one of the most powerful, mechanically impressive of all chain drive Brass Era Touring cars. The T-Head engine delivers over 70 horsepower, making it one of the largest motors of its time, not to mention rare, and in 1911 few cars could compare with the combination of power, speed and sophistication that this Mercedes would have offered.
Col. Colt’s Mercedes remains outstanding in all aspects. The paint, wood and brass are all in excellent condition, and the buttoned black leather upholstery is nearly perfect. The wheels and whitewall tires are superb. The recipient of AACA Senior National First honors, the AACA Cup for an outstanding restoration of a pre-1921 vehicle, the Mayor’s Trophy at the Louis Vuitton Concours in New York City and the coveted Ansel Adams Trophy at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, this mighty Mercedes remains the perfect contestant for the world’s most prestigious shows.
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