Motor City

25 July 2015

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Lot 149

1922 Mercer Series 5 Raceabout

  • Chassis no. 15150
  • Engine no. 6073

$325,000 - $375,000


70 bhp, 298 cu. in. L-head inline four-cylinder engine with single updraft carburetor, four-speed manual transmission, live-axle suspension with semi-elliptical leaf springs and shock absorbers, and two-wheel mechanical drum brakes. Wheelbase: 115 in.

  • An iconic Raceabout with fascinating history
  • Formerly owned by well-known enthusiast Ray Wolff
  • The greatest American performance car of its era


For 1915, Mercer, the most famous American performance name of the decade, introduced its first all-new model since its founding five years prior. The Series 5, as it was aptly named, would remain in production for nearly a decade and would establish itself as the foremost American speed machine of the Nickel Era. It was one of the fastest and most powerful automobiles on the American road, incorporating a brilliant Eric Delling-designed L-head four with abundant power and flexibility on an advanced chassis with live-axle suspension and (eventually) four-wheel braking.

The hottest of the L-head Mercers was the two-passenger raceabout, a gentleman’s sports car with no doors, roof, or windows, which was the spiritual successor to the company’s T-head raceabouts of the Teens. It was a rare, “hot” car even when new with Mercer guaranteeing a 75 mph or better top speed. Today, survivors are treasured today as an engineering landmark of their era.

RAY WOLFF’S RACEABOUT

Raymond A. Wolff, of Waukesha, Wisconsin, is best remembered as the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club’s long-serving and dedicated Duesenberg Historian. He was a great enthusiast and was wildly active in the car hobby during its earliest years, owning, restoring, and selling a variety of interesting automobiles.

Wolff’s career, conveniently enough for a car enthusiast, was running an import-export business. This enabled him to travel the world and build up contacts across the globe, from which he retrieved everything from Duesenbergs to Delahayes over the years. One of his “finds” was this Series 5 Raceabout, uncovered in Venezuela in 1967.

Information supplied to Wolff by the car’s seller, Juan Alvarez, indicates a fascinating history. Wolff recounted the following in a 1971 article in On the Beam with Gas and Steam:

The car sports only 14,510 miles, as it only had five years of service by the original owner, General Aguiar. Aguiar must have been one of the favorites of the former Venezuelan dictator, Juan Vincente Gomez, who ruled with an iron fist for 27 years…Apparently the General, still alive but senile at 96, had the only sports car in the country during the ’twenties, and he must have cut quite a figure among the senoritas with the flashy yellow, very open (no doors) Raceabout.

The car eventually wound up on the general’s ranch and was purchased by Alvarez, who began restoring the car without completing it. It was fixed up enough that, in 1967, it participated in a race in Caracas! Wolff acquired it from Alvarez in 1968, after a year of protracted negotiations; it spent 100 days in transportation to Milwaukee, after which the late M.T. “Joe” Kaufmann and Chuck Kalista spent three years restoring it back to its original condition.

Kauffman’s son and successor, Paul, recalls that he and his father picked up the car from the museum of Wolff’s friend and fellow collector Pete Warvel in Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the thick of a Midwestern winter. They proceeded to drive the car home in -20 degree Fahrenheit temperatures. “Dad did the engine, inspected the transmission, and found that everything looked good, and went through the brakes and bearings. It was not rotten anywhere, just banged up from being run hard.”

In 1972, Wolff used the fully restored Mercer as a partial trade toward a vintage Ferrari. It was acquired two years later by Larry Dubbs, of Germantown, Ohio, who would own the car for over 20 years before selling it to the present owner in 1997. Partial receipts are on file for additional restoration work by Mercer expert Ralph Buckley’s Antique Auto Shop in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The car’s authenticity is vouched for by its original Venezuelan registration, a copy of which is on file, which refers to the car as a “Sports” with capacity for two passengers, as well as by the recollections of Wolff and Kaufmann, both of whom remember the Mercer as being very complete. Its engine and chassis numbers are properly stamped in the expected locations, with “RA136” appearing above the chassis number—perhaps an identification of a raceabout.

Also appearing in the file is extensive communication between Wolff and various Mercer enthusiasts and historians, including the late Ralph Buckley and Herbert Royston, as well as with former Mercer employee George Scoblic; documentation relating to more recent owners and restoration work; and photocopies of original L-head Mercer manuals and parts listings.

This is a fascinating early American sports car, from one of the greatest names of its time.

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

aweaver@rmsothebys.com

+1 864 313 6844
California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

asabatie-garat@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 74 1511 4179
United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

bruprecht@rmsothebys.com

+1 203 912 7168
Ontario, Canada

Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

dswig@rmsothebys.com

+1 415 302 2247
California, United States

David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

drose@rmsothebys.com

+1 617 513 0388
United States

Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

dgould@rmsothebys.com

+1 954 566 2209
Florida, United States

Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

gduff@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

Jake Auerbach

jauerbach@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

kforry@rmsothebys.com

+1 717 623 1638
California, United States

Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

mmalamut@rmsothebys.com

+1 805 231 6410
California, United States

A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

msquire@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

mfairbairn@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 352 4575
Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

ocamelin@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 75 0110 7447
United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

pdarvill@rmsothebys.com

+44 (0) 20 7851 7070
United Kingdom

Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

pfisher@rmsothebys.com

+1 519 784 9300
Ontario, Canada

Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

smyers@rmsothebys.com

+1 310 559 4575
California, United States

Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

tvandervelden@rmsothebys.com

+31 653 84 19 60
United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more