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Mercer Cars

1911 Mercer Raceabout
The early Raceabouts were similar in style to the Stutz “Bearcats”, but employed a rather more elegant radiator similar to the Mercedes of the day...

1913 Mercer Raceabout
Few concessions were made for driver comfort, although the optional steering column mounted driver glass at least stopped you swallowing bugs...

Mercer Roadster
In its second iteration, the Mercer not only gained sides but an optional windscreen and hood...

Mercer County, New Jersey, USA. Home of the now largely forgotten Mercer Automobile Company and their wonderful Type 35 "Raceabout". Introduced in 1911 the car was designed by Finley Robert Porter and made possible by the financial backing of Washington A Roebling.

Porter would soon leave Mercer to establish his own arguably lesser known company FRP (later known as Porter) to manufacture a more luxurious line of cars, while Roebling would go down with the Titanic - literally. The departure of these two men was an ominous omen for the future of Mercer.

The early Raceabouts were similar in style to the Stutz “Bearcats”, but employed a rather more elegant radiator similar to the Mercedes of the day.

And just like the Bearcat, the Raceabout featured twin bucket seats with an exposed cylindrical petrol tank located behind and offered the occupants (if you could call them that) absolutely no weather protection at all.

The Raceabout used a 5 litre 4 cylinder “Continental T” engine which developed 55bhp and made the car good for a top speed of 70mph (112.6 kmh).

The engine was known as a “T” due its configuration, having lines of side valves at each side of the bores, but in 1915 this changed to an “L” head with the valves being located down the same side of the engine – a modification that bumped the output up to 90bhp!

Over the ensuing years the Raceabout would undergo numerous changes, and despite a modest output of only approximately 500 cars each year the marque was held in high regard by those that could afford one.

And as was the case with the Bearcat, the Raceabout was far more popular with the well heeled young who favoured performance over creature comforts.

But there were perhaps not quite as many wealthy young people about at the turn of last century as Mercer would have liked, so it was inevitable that changes to the body style would be necessary to make the car more appealing to a broader clientele.

Sides were incorporated into the bodywork, and from 1918 onward you could option windscreens and fold-down hoods.

Following World War 1 a former Packard salesman Emlen Hare purchased Mercer, together with Crane-Simplex and Locomobile. His idea was to form a strong conglomerate from the 3 brands, but unable to create a cohesive operation the entire operation soon failed and was forced into liquidation in 1921. But that was not the end of the road for Mercer.

A new Mercer rose from the ashes, and now used the Rochester six-cylinder overhead valve engine.

But while mechanical improvements were being implemented, the new Mercer operation failed to make any significant changes to the body style – at a time when the buying public was deserting the roadster format in droves, preferring the larger “Touring Car” style. Inevitably Mercer would crash again in 1925.

Then the Elcar Motor Car Company of Elkhart, Indiana thought the marque worth reviving, particularly as the Mercer name was still highly regarded by the public.

With claims of receiving 750 pre-manufacture orders and grandiose plans of manufacturing some 3000 Mercer’s each year, it looked as though a 3rd comeback was on the cards. With much fanfare the new Mercer was launched at the Hotel Montclair in New York – and what a car it was, featuring the lovely Continental 5.3 litre straight eight engine.

But the Depression had so weakened Elcar that they were finding it difficult to continue the manufacture of their own cars, let alone the new Mercer. They were never able to put the car into production, and the marque would, this time, come to an end.

Also see: The History of Mercer Automobiles - The Car of Calibre (USA Edition)

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