Mention the name Mercer to almost any car buff and you'll get an instant response: "Raceabout." For of all the cars built by the Mercer Automobile Company during its 15-year (1910-1925) lifespan, the sporty 1911-1915 Mercer Raceabout Model 35-R was by all odds the most famous.
But not, perhaps surprisingly, the most numerous. Mercer was never a large-scale producer in any case, but the bulk of its output was comprised of more conventional body styles: roadsters, touring cars, sport phaetons, and sedans. There were even a few formal types, such as town cars and limousines, though coachwork of that sort must have seemed out of place on a chassis that was built primarily for speed, rather than comfort.
Mercer had its genesis in Trenton, Mercer County, New Jersey in 1909. Bankrolling the company was the Roebling family, builders of the Brooklyn Bridge, along with the Kusers, another very wealthy clan. It's not clear who designed the original Mercer automobiles, but in any case they appeared in 1910, powered by four-cylinder, L-head Beaver engines.
Three body styles were offered: Toy Tonneau, Touring, and Speedster. Each was priced at $1,950, about 20 percent higher than the contemporary Cadillac Model 30. They were low-slung, fast, and rugged, as C.G. Roebling insisted they should be.
It was a respectable start, though hardly the stuff of which legends are made. But young Washington Roebling II, one of the financial "angels" of the operation, wanted something more. And at the same time, something less. That is, he wanted to build a very fast automobile, and if it happened to be short on creature comforts, so be it.
To design this new machine, Washington Roebling acquired the services of a talented engineer whose impressive name was Finley Robertson Porter. But Roebling himself played an important role in developing what was to become the original Mercer Raceabout. This is how automotive writer Ralph Stein describes its story:
"Much of the credit for the Raceabout's uniquely satisfying lines belongs to Washington A. Roebling II...Young Washington...wanted the 35-R Mercer to be a low-slung machine. This insistence on lowness gave the car its own lovely shape and made every other bucket-seated, bolster-gas-tanked speedster look high and awkward. ... The engine sat low between the tall wheels. This in turn raised the fender line in relation to the hood.
"Thus the rear line of the front fenders and the fronts of the rear fenders swept downwards at a sweetly shallow angle to the short, high running boards, which were far closer to the low chassis frame than on similar cars. The rake of the steering column, perforce, also had to be sharper in order to place the steering wheel comfortably in the driver's hands, since the low hood line allowed the cushions of the bucket seats to be set right on the floor without impairing visibility. The result: perfection!"
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