The pre-World War I Mercedes is considered by many to be one of the best engineered, attractive and most successful cars of the time for use on both the road and race track. The 37/90 and 37/95 models built between 1911 and the start of the war in 1914 were the greatest accomplishment by the German automaker up to that point.
The 2015 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance had its usual assortment of fine automobiles on display and today is the beginning of a series of posts of images by Photographer-Restorer Richard Michael Owen taken at the event. To start out, this 1913 Mercedes – Model 37/95, Double Phaeton-Torpedo with coachwork by Henri Labourdette of Paris, France was chosen.
The car is part of The Nethercutt Collection and was shown by Jack and Helen Nethercutt and won the Best in Class Award in the Horseless Carriage 40 + Horsepower category. After viewing Owen’s photos of this exceptional car, be sure to view our complete coverage of the 37/90 that includes period images and press clippings at the bottom of the post.
An Exceptional Automobile – The 37/90 Mercedes
The image (below) of a 1912 Mercedes 37/90 Sport Phaeton has been in our files for quite some time now, but previously we knew none of the details about the setting or the occasion for the photo. Recently, while conducting other research, a pair of photos were found in The Automobile of February 1, 1912 that identified the location as the 1912 Brussels Auto Salon.
The magazine also had the following remarks about the car: “The 9o-horsepower Mercedes touring car, which is shown in the two illustrations, with inboard control and outboard exhaust pipes, disk wheels and in-cased chain drive, stands as an elegant example of radicalism.”
- A 37/90 at the Brussels Auto Salon – “The Automobile” February 1, 1912.
The 37/90 was introduced in 1911 with a 90 h.p. four-cylinder engine that featured three pushrod and rocker arm actuated overhead valves for each cylinder. The two exhaust valves were 2-inch in diameter, and the inlet was 3.375-inch. The valves in each cylinder of the 581 c.i. power plant took up the complete area of the head above the 5.11-inch piston (130 mm), the stroke was 7.087-inch (180 mm). This combination combined with the automaker’s previous expertise and experience applied to it resulted in one of the most powerful and durable engines of the time.
- L to R: 1912 Brussels Auto Salon – 1910 Mercedes aircraft engine showing the lineage of the 37/90 –1912 French Salon de l’auto – Ralph DePalma’s very successful 37/90 racing engine.
According to early Mercedes expert George Wingard, the factory installed several 37/90 engines in 1908 Grand Prix chassis’ and sold one to American racing patron Ed Schroeder. He then hired Ralph DePalma to drive the car, and it almost took him to a 1912 Indianapolis 500 win. You can view DePalma’s 1912 37/90 racing engine (above), with which he was able to win both the 1912 and 1914 Vanderbilt Cup Races and a pair of 1912 Elgin Road Races.
- The 37/90 engine on the left compared and the standard T-head 38/80 passenger car.
The 37/90 engine can be seen above on the left, alongside the standard T-head 38/80 passenger car engine also offered at the time – the photo shows just how impressive it was. The larger crankcase was necessary to contain the crankshaft with a seven-plus-inch stroke. Likewise, the steel cylinders in pairs with integral heads and welded up sheet metal water jackets are also much taller because of the long stroke.
Behind this masterpiece of an engine was a very well designed conventional type of chain drive gearbox-differential in a combined aluminum case that was set back in the middle of the chassis. This four-speed unit featured two water cooled brakes arranged inboard on each jackshaft, which then located the drive sprocket on the outside of the frame.
- 37/90 Kettenwagen Sport-Phaeton.
In December of 1932, some twenty years after the legendary car was built, Motor Sport magazine tested an aging 37/90 Roadster and noted: “90 mph was possible to reach in third gear of the four-speed transmission. The control was very light for a 2.5-ton car with a 12-foot wheelbase. The cornering ability was steady and safe, the gears were easy to change, third and top especially, and the brakes were smooth and surprising powerful”. Having driven one, we fully agree with what Motor Sport had to say about the car that is nothing short of sensational.