Roebling-Planche of Trenton, New Jersey made just a handful of cars in 1909, and if the Roebling family hadn’t persisted in their desire to build motorcars, the company would have faded into obscurity like so many other flash-in-the-pan manufacturers of the time. The Roeblings had made their fortune from major civil engineering projects, most notably the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. Following the fizzle of Roebling-Planche, the company was renamed “MERCER” after the county to which their Trenton, New Jersey works was relocated. The earliest Mercers had proprietary engines by Beaver, until the arrival of Finlay Robertson Porter; the man responsible for establishing Mercer’s path to fame. Porter’s magic laid in his 300 cubic inch (4,916 cubic centimeter) T-Head four-cylinder engine design. The new engine was fitted to various models such as a Tourer, Light Tonneau and a Runabout, but it was the light and sporty Raceabout model where Porter’s engine shined brightest. The latter was a thoroughly unique car with a lightened frame and bodywork stripped down to its barest essentials. Driver protection was limited to an optional monocle windscreen, though goggles would have likely been more effective. A unique chassis was a half-inch shorter in height than standard to save weight and bodywork was minimalist yet stylish and racy. With Porter’s new engine, the Mercer Raceabout it struck the perfect balance between lightness and strength, with the 300 cubic inch four-cylinder making prodigious horsepower and torque, propelling the Raceabout to a top speed of 75-plus MPH, yet remaining light enough over the axle to allow balanced road holding.
It can be easily argued that the Mercer Raceabout was America’s first proper sports car. While there were certainly bigger and more powerful machines available, the Mercer stood alone in its exquisite handling, surprisingly light steering and easy, slick-shifting four-speed gearbox. In 1911, when the model was still quite new, a pair of Mercer Raceabouts participated in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. The cars were driven to the track with fenders and lights in place, where they were then stripped down, raced for 500 trouble-free miles (lore says the bonnets were never opened during the event!), then fenders and lamps reattached and the cars driven home. It was no doubt a tremendous showing for Mercer and a move that fully cemented the marque’s reputation as a world-class sporting car manufacturer.
This outstanding 1911 Model 35C Raceabout is a very correct and well-restored example. It is one of just two known Raceabouts fitted with distinct Rudge knock-off wire wheels and it is both beautifully presented for show and extremely well-sorted for road use. The known history of this Raceabout goes back to O.C. Corriher, a textile magnate from Landis, North Carolina. Mr. Corriher was a well-known collector who enjoyed large early motorcars from Pierce, Rolls-Royce, Simplex, Mercer and Thomas. Like most racing cars of the period, few Mercer Raceabouts survived in their “as built” state, since they were often used hard, crashed, or valuable parts were scavenged to build specials. The car was assembled after Mr. Corriher spent many years acquiring period parts during the 1950’s, many of which are believed to be genuine original Raceabout components. Mr. Corriher restored the car, and painted the car in a correct shade of light gray and kept it as a centerpiece in his collection until his passing in the 1990s.
From there the car passed to its most recent owners who enjoyed it as Mr. Corriher had before embarking on a comprehensive, high-quality restoration which it wears today. The car rides on a 4-inch chassis (Runabouts and Tourers used a 4-1/2” tall chassis) and correct original type Rudge wheels. The engine is from a Tourer, and is fitted along with a correct Fletcher carburetor and twin-spark Robert Bosch magneto, and during the recent restoration a full rebuild, including new 7:1 compression flat-top cylinders and pistons were fitted to bring the car to full Raceabout specification. Other items such as the polished Presto-lite tank, 100-mph Jones speedometer, and the fabulous Rushmore search light are all correct Raceabout details.
The restoration was completed in 2008 and the car remains in beautiful condition, having seen only light use and having mellowed slightly since completion. It was awarded with an AACA National First Prize that same year, as well as being the recipient of the AACA Cup for the Most Outstanding Pre-1922 Car for the Eastern Region. It presents in a striking, period correct yellow and black livery, a color combo made famous by the racing Mercers. The body is in excellent order with high quality paintwork and detailing. Extensive brass is in finely presented, including the original radiator shell, aforementioned search lamp, as well as dual carriage lamps and tail lamp. The wooden dash panel is highly polished and adorned with correct instrumentation while the twin bucket seats are covered in black leather as original. The car is pictured wearing two-eared knock-offs on the yellow Rudge wheels, which are in place for ease of service, however the correct original hex-shaped knock-offs are also included in the sale.
The engine is fully detailed with correct brass, copper and enamel finishes and fittings, and it a beautiful thing to behold. The rebuilt engine is strong and runs exceptionally well. We have experienced 50+ mph runs in this car, marveling at the handling and performance that belies its 106 years. The gearbox is remarkably slick for such a robust unit and the steering surprisingly light once at speed. The brakes pull the car up reliably and squarely, with no wandering or drama. This Mercer Model 35C Raceabout truly is a magnificent machine to drive while presenting in exceptionally clean, highly correct condition. It remains very-much in showable condition, beautiful in its brutal simplicity. Yet it is from the driver’s seat, tucked behind the monocle windscreen and savoring the seemingly endless torque and exhaust bellow from Finlay Porter’s brilliant engine and the sublime balance of the chassis where this car is best enjoyed.