Chassis Num: 35949
Engine Num: 72151
Sold for $8,250,000 at 2013 RM Sothebys
The imperialist mind-set of the early 20th century would be a source of great contestation all around the globe. However, it would also provide a source of fine materials not seen in Europe and North America. These materials and elements provided automotive artists a whole new arsenal in which to fashion elegant works of mechanized art. To do these elements justice; however, an imperial chassis and body design was needed. An example that certainly fit those requirements would be the Saoutchik-bodied Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo.
Daimler and Benz had only merged together in 1926 as a result of the hard economic times in Germany following the First World War. Up until this point the two manufacturers had been in competition against one another. However, the merger meant the bringing together of two great companies behind one idea—Mercedes.
The merger meant a change in focus somewhat. Instead of building their own reputations on their own, the company could now pool its talent and come up with a reputation that had the potential of being second to none. Given the fact the company had the talents of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, Hans Nibel and Fritz Nallinger as just some of its major influences meant the company certainly could do just that.
It was the 1920s, a period of great economic prosperity in the United States and in other parts of Europe. This would be Mercedes' target audience and the talents of all involved within the company meant an onslaught intended to make the company the very best.
Given it was the 'roaring' twenties, Mercedes would try and capture the mood and feel of the times in their latest models. The Type S would be a replacement to the Model K and its focus would be performance and vitality. It would start with the engine. The new Type S engine would be larger displacing 6.8-liters and delivering up to 180 horsepower when supercharged. No doubt, the overhead cam six-cylinder engine served as the basis for the new Type S chassis.
At the same time the company built the new, more powerful, engine they would also address issues of rigidity by providing cross-bracing and rigid mounts for the engine. When combined with the inherent rigidity from the engine itself, the Type S was much more rigid than previous chassis.
The chassis would also have a number of other changes including a lower radiator, better weight distribution and a lighter weight. Because of the low-slung chassis and the massive engine, sleek new body designs were possible to be fashioned by such coachbuilders as Saoutchik.
Mercedes-Benz was one of the very few to have its own in-house coachbuilder. However, the company was not against collaborating with other well-respected coachbuilders. One of those Mercedes worked with almost exclusively would be Carrosserie J. Saoutchik of Paris. Mercedes knew, very well, the mechanical arts. Saoutchik knew how to combine that with impressive coachwork to create absolutely memorable designs.
Saoutchik and Mercedes had been working together to create a line of incredible sportscars that offered high top-end speed and great competitive characteristics. One model produced by Saoutchik would be known as the Torpedo Roadster and it would rest atop a 680 Type S chassis.
The low-slung 680 Type S chassis would enable the designers with Saoutchik to create a design that would abandon the use of running boards and that would use the size of the engine to create an imperial and aggressive body.
A total of 12 Torpedo Roadsters would be designed to sit atop the 680 Type S chassis. The car would feature greatly contoured front fenders that trailed backward and blended into the sides of the car while smaller rear wheel arches would cover the rear tires. The nose of the car would feature a long, tall nose to cover the large six-cylinder engine. The low-sitting chassis meant the two-seat passenger compartment would sit well down behind the large engine. This enabled the designers at Saoutchik to fashion a car with a very low windscreen and a top body line that ran almost seamlessly from the nose to its waterfall-style tail-end.
If the exterior of the car would be unlike most cars of the era, then its interior would set it apart from just about everything else, including ocean-going liners. Pulling together such exotic materials as lizard skin, Purpleheart wood and other rare materials, Saoutchik would fashion an interior that was pure decadence, especially in color and feel.
One of those decadent Torpedo Roadsters placed atop the 680 Type S chassis would be 35949. The chassis would be completed and delivered to Saoutchik in August of 1928. The order would be received by Saoutchik for Mr. & Mrs. Charles Levine. Saoutchik would finish the car with a disappearing top and dark red lizard skin interior. The color chosen for the car would be Dove Grey with German Silver trim on the fenders.
Levine had formed the Columbia Aircraft Company following the First World War after he had made a fortune recycling materials used during the war. Forming the company with Mario Bellanca, the Columbia Aircraft Company would be on the forefront of the battle for the Orteig Prize for the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris.
Levine would be famous for missing out on his opportunity to achieving the accolade as he would lose out to Charles Lindbergh. Levine would also, for whatever reason, miss out on his opportunity to take delivery of his custom-ordered Mercedes. Tax issues and a zest for records certainly could have distracted him from the fact his car sat in a showroom in New York City just waiting for him to come and pick it up.
The delivery would never happen and the car remained at the dealership without an owner. Not having an owner, Mercedes-Benz in New York would take the opportunity presented to them and would actually use the car for their display in the 1929 New York Auto Salon.
Following the Auto Salon there was still no owner, but there was hope. Frederick Henry Bedford Jr. had ordered a Mercedes previously. Therefore, the sales department would get in touch with the Bedford family and would present them with the opportunity to buy the car for a good price.
Bedford would drive the car and would end up meeting his future wife as a result of the striking automobile. While at a party, Miss Margaret Stewart would catch a glimpse of the car and would ask for a ride home in the Mercedes. It would be recalled her actual date would try and keep up in his own car but would be unable to match the speed of the supercharged Mercedes. They would be married soon afterward.
The Mercedes would be so near and dear to the two of them that when Frederick Bedford suddenly passed away as a result of a sudden illness in 1952, Mrs. Bedford would park the car in the garage never to use the car again.
The car remained locked away as Mrs. Bedford did her best to try and lock away the feelings of her loss. The family, especially granddaughter Ms. Muffie Murray, would do their best to try and coax Mrs. Bedford to find solace and peace. They would try everything to get Frederick's wife to come to terms with her loss and remember the special place the Mercedes had in her life.
It would work. Mrs. Bedford would, sometime later, tell her granddaughter that she would have the Mercedes restored, not for herself, but for her granddaughter. The story of how Mr. & Mrs. Bedford had met had been so powerful in Muffie's life and memory that she would have the car restored for her.
Gus Reuter would earn the commission to do the restoration of the Mercedes. During the restoration process Reuter would replace the red lizard skin with red leather. The rest of the work would be completed and the car would be shown at an AACA event in 1982 where it would win a National First Prize. Another great honor would be bestowed upon the car when it was chosen to take part in Mercedes-Benz's centennial celebrations in 1986. It would be at that time that James Rockefeller would notice the car and would become consumed by the story of the car and the family, especially given its connection to his family's Standard Oil company. As a result, he would ask and would receive permission to have the car loaned to him and his Owls Head Museum. Over the course of the next two decades the car would stand amongst the museum's collection that would include automobiles, motorcycles, bicycles, carriages and airplanes.
The car that had been so much a part of the Bedford family would be put up for sale after so many decades. In 2006, and with only 31,000 miles on the car, it would be made available for sale for just the second time and would end up being purchased by a well-known luxury home builder from Michigan and California. The car would remain with its owner until 2008 when it would pass to its current owners.
Upon taking delivery of the Mercedes, the current owner would contract Paul Russell and Company to perform a full restoration of the Mercedes. Following great research and inspection the restoration would begin. Amazingly, because of the few owners over the car's life there was a great deal of the car that would be original. The Saoutchik coachwork would remain in remarkable shape and well-preserved.
The engine would undergo a complete overhaul while a number of other components, like the gearbox, would be entirely rebuilt. Great care and attention would be given to restoring and retaining many details that could have otherwise been replaced. One such example would be to re-engrave the Saoutchik plates on either side of the car. One very important piece of the restoration puzzle would come in the form of finding new lizard hides from which the upholstery could be made. This would require hides from Southeast Asia. The hides would be cut and then sewn together for use on the seats, door panels and lid that conceals the car's top.
Once again, the rich interior, incredible glossy wood inlay and two-tone exterior finish would shine as it did back in 1928. The quality of the restoration would be rewarded when it made its appearance at the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance. Scoring 100 points, the Mercedes-Benz would go on to earn the Best of Show title. The car would also earn Restoration of the Year at the 2012 International Historic Motoring Awards. Then, in early 2013, the car would receive First in Class at the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este in Italy.
Presented for sale for just the fourth time in its entire life, the 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo Roadster by Saoutchik would come to the RM Auctions Monterey Auction a multiple award winner and one of just three short-windshield examples ever to be built, and the only known survivor. This rich, deep history and the rich and luxurious appointments inside and out of the Torpedo Roadster meant only the very serious would be its future owner. And no matter who that would be, the Mercedes-Benz 680S is certain to be an imposing and imperial-like addition.
As bidding came to a close at RM Auction's Monterey Sale, the car had been sold for the sum of $8,250,000 including buyer's premium.Sources:
'Lot No. 216: 1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Torpedo Roadster by Carrosserie J. Saoutchik', (http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1061167). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/lots/lot.cfm?lot_id=1061167. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
By Jeremy McMullen
Ferdinand Porsche designed the S-Type for Mercedes-Benz in 1927. The racer was constructed using pre-existing road version Mercedes vehicles, mainly the 400 and 630 models. The names of these vehicles came from their displacement size in liters. For example, the 400 had a four liter engine while the 630 had a 6.3 liter engine, both were equipped a supercharger and six-cylinders. The engine was one of the most appealing attributes of these vehicles. The drawbacks that robbed the vehicles of performance were its size, weight and basic suspension system. A cushy suspension and large size was ideal for luxury vehicles that carried the elite in society, but at the track the vehicles were in need of more performance characteristics. An attempt was made to enhance the sporty nature of the 630 by shortening the wheelbase, which brought about the 'short' (Kurz) version. This drastically improved the vehicles sporty appeal but more was needed to enhance the handling. Mercedes answer to this problem was the S-Type version which saw the chassis lowered and the engine moved back. This improved the vehicles balance. To improve its performance, the engine capacity was enlarged to 6.8 liters. Thus, the 680 S was born.
The Nurburgring 1000 km race debuted in 1927. The track is challenging with it 172 turns and 25.6 km length. The track tests both the driver and the vehicle in all scenarios such as power, braking, and cornering. At the first Nurburgring race it was the 680 S that emerged victorious, a true testament to the vehicles capabilities.
Future versions of the S-Type followed such as the 700 and 710 SS which saw horsepower ratings in the 225 range. Most were considered road going cars but there was little to distinguish a car that was meant for the track and one that was meant for the road. Obviously, the vehicles fitted with luxurious coachwork never saw any track time but the roadsters, speedsters, and coupes (for example) could be used for dual purposes.
By Daniel Vaughan | Sep 2007