Though New Jersey-based Mercer was never a large-scale automaker, it achieved fame far beyond what that firm's modest size would have suggested. That was mainly because of the Raceabout, a low-slung, out-and-out speedster.

©Mike Mueller

1911 Mercer Raceabout Model 35-R

Introduced late in 1910, the 1911 Mercer Raceabout Model 35-R was as light as it was low. A spartan machine, it had almost no body at all: just a pair of bucket seats, a 25-gallon fuel tank, and a five-gallon oil tank perched atop the frame. As Stein once observed, one didn't sit in the Raceabout; one sat on it.

Happily, the Raceabout went even better than it looked. It was powered by a 300-cubic-inch, T-head four-banger, with cylinders cast in pairs, after the common practice of the time. Officially rated at 34 horsepower, it was almost certainly good for more than 50 -- the figure 58 has been mentioned.

A wet, multiple-disc clutch was used starting in 1914, replacing the original leather-faced cone type. And although a three-speed transmission was employed at first, by 1913 it was replaced by a four-speed gearbox, a welcome improvement.

In view of the almost total absence of a body, the Raceabout's $2,250 price was considered a stiff one. One could, if desired, have a similarly-powered four-passenger Toy Tonneau for another $500, but it is the Raceabout that has become almost legendary. And while these two high-speed models -- Raceabout and Toy Tonneau -- were finding their place in the rapidly expanding automobile market, production of the more traditional Beaver-engined Mercers was continued for only one final season.

As Henry Ford had been quick to discover, the way to gain publicity for an automobile -- almost any automobile -- in those pioneer days was to take it to the racetrack. Washington Roebling understood the value of that sort of publicity, so during 1911 Mercer Raceabouts were entered in six major events, copping top honors in five of them -- along with two seconds and one third place.

Captain of the Mercer driving team was Ralph DePalma, one of the leading drivers of his generation. DePalma personally racked up eight new world's records during his time with Mercer.

The one contest in which the Raceabout failed to triumph, incidentally, was the very first "Indy 500," where Mercers placed 12th and 14th. But five out of six is a very creditable record for a brand new car. And in any case, in the grueling 500-mile contest at Indianapolis, just to finish at all was considered a major achievement.

Follow the Mercer Raceabout story through 1915 on the following page.

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