|Antiques Digest||Browse Auctions||Appraisal||Home|
Trenton, New Jersey, has many claims to history. It was settled in 1680, served as the focal point for one of the important battles of the Revolutionary War, and even housed Congress for a while. George Washington made his famous crossing of the Delaware only eight miles above this city which became the capital of New Jersey. A century and a half later Trenton was an established business center with a great deal of the wealth of New Jersey concentrated in the area. In 1909 two important Trenton families, the Roeblings and the Kusers, pooled their finances to start an automobile company. Cars could be considered almost toys to the Roeblings, since a scion of the family, John Augustus Roebling, was the builder of the world-famous Brooklyn Bridge.
From all the wealth and history of its background it would seem that a car with the dignity of the Rolls-Royce would be produced, but that was emphatically not the case. The staid families turned out a rousing, dashing, noisy whiz of a machine and they named it the Mercer. No, there was nobody named Abner or Peter Mercer laboring with scrap metal in the corner of an old shed. C. G. Roebling designed the car and he called it after Mercer County in New Jersey. This is probably the only car that bore the title of a political division of a state. But while few people outside the state know about Mercer County, all car fans know the car that became the traditional racing rival of the Stutz.
In 1909 the first Mercer appeared on the dusty roads of New Jersey. Named the Speedster, it was almost a complete break with tradition. Low, streamlined (for its time), with a curved dashboard, it had a lean racy appearance. It was expensive, but the Mercer Automobile Company had no interest in mass sales. Every man in the plant took great pride in the product, and every inch of the machine bespoke quality and strength. The bridge-building Roeblings spared no pains in the construction of their car.
In 1910 they topped the Speedster with a car that today is perhaps the most sought after classic automobile - the Raceabout. This was a true production sports-racing car that exhibited perfectly controlled dual performance. A Raceabout could be driven sedately to church and putter along in traffic to the outskirts of town. Then, once the open road was reached, one flipped the exhaust cut-out, revved up the famous T-head engine, shifted up through all four gears, and the Mercer flashed away at racing speed, leaving behind a cloud of dust and an earth-shaking roar that echoed from the hills.
On the track the Raceabout was indomitable. Its short wheelbase and supple frame snapped the car through the tightest corners. The small but potent engine drove the car to victory in hundreds of races and the Indianapolis, Vanderbilt Cup, and Elgin Trophy events always found Raceabouts up with the front runners. Drivers like Ralph De Palma and Barney Oldfield muscled the flashy Mercers to many world records on the track and at timed trials.
The Mercer Automobile Company was a live-wire firm and almost every new automotive development appeared on the Raceabout. Houdaille shock absorbers were imported from France and the first cord tires used in America ran on the second place Mercer in the 1913 Indianapolis race.
For those who wanted functional and classic style as well, the Raceabout outdid every other American car. In any show of classic cars today, the Mercer still stands out. It even makes the rakish Stutz Bearcat look clumsy. The car has a light, airy appearance and is excitingly dashing with its `monocle' windshield. A ride in a Raceabout leaves one completely exposed to the elements, but the surge of power and the positive control is quite comparable to any modern sports car.
The Mercer Automobile Company purchased Locomobile and Crane-Simplex following World War I after the Roeblings and Kusers sold the original company. The combined firm began to produce luxury cars, but the new management somehow misunderstood the appeal of the Mercer. It was never designed as a passenger car; it was never intended for large-scale production; it was always meant to be something special. Like the MG-TC the Raceabout was a true sports car, starkly functional and exciting.
In 1925 the firm went into receivership. Perhaps it is just as well. There are no be-finned, overlong, and bulging cars that bear the name of Mercer today. There is nothing to dim the memory of the original Raceabout.