Image credit: © (Reproduction Or reuse prohibited). Darin Schnabel ©2011 Courtesy of RM Auctions.

1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster Roadster

Mercer had always been one of those lesser-known automotive manufacturers. Its origins are anything but new. Established in 1909 by William Walter, the original factory would be located in Hamilton, New Jersey. However, debt problems would cause Walter to be bought by the Roeblings who would change the name to Mercer after having relocated the company to Mercer, New Jersey.

Mercer would become well-known for its 1910 Type 35 Raceabout. It was a two-seat car that had been stripped-down, but it was capable of reaching 90 mph. This was a truly incredible feat for the day. The car would enter a number of races and would earn five victories out of six races in 1911. Its only loss would be the first Indianapolis 500.

After Washington Roebling's death in the Titanic disaster, Mercer would be acquired by Emlem Hare. Hare would go on a spending spree and would end up overextending himself. Mercer would slip away into history without too many people really noticing.

Yet the Raceabout wouldn't go away. After World War II, it seemed 'skies the limit'. Inspired by the machines of war, reality and of fiction, car design and innovations would explode onto the scene. Almost every imaginable design would be produced. Many were elegant. Many others represented paradigm shifts. Others were just incredibly radical designs. The automotive industry was the modern artist's canvas.

One such artist/designer was Virgil Exner. One of Exner's first designs was the 1947 Studebaker Starlight Coupe. Exner would earn a reputation for truly amazing design concepts. As a result, he would earn a spot with Chrysler. He would end up becoming Vice President of Design. Exner, unfortunately, would also suffer a major heart attack and would end up retiring from Chrysler.

Before retiring, Exner would be approached by Esquire magazine to create modern designs based on classic and antique cars. Exner would set to work designing some concepts and the Mercer Raceabout would come flooding back into his mind and he just couldn't get rid of it. It would lead to his modern version of the Mercer Raceabout.

At the time, such designers were greatly revered and had almost cult-like supporters. Because of such status, Exner would be given the opportunity to bring the Mercer Raceabout to life.
Many material suppliers would attend the major car shows looking for any opportunity to sell their product. Just as it would be a time of great innovative and radical design, it would also be a time when unusual and exotic materials would be used to create a truly striking concept. The Copper Development Association's president, George Hartley, would catch a glimpse of Exner's concept in the Esquire article and would also catch a glimpse of a new way to market his metals.

Being offered at this year's RM Auctions in Monterey, California, is the realization of Exner's Mercer Raceabout and the Copper Development Association's desire for a means to market its metals. It would become known as the 1965 Mercer-Cobra Roadster.

Exner agreed to build the concept but needed to find a craftsman capable of producing the concept. Exner would be directed to Carrozzeria Sibona-Basano in Turin, Italy. Although Exner had a company capable he felt comfortable building the design, he still needed the chassis on which the concept would come to rest.

Exner would turn to AC Cars in the U.K. The car would be purchased through Shelby American, which was the exclusive distributor for A.C. But not only would the body come from Shelby, but the engine, gearbox, and other elements would also come through Shelby.

When it debuted, the Mercer-Cobra Roadster received world-wide acclaim. It was a truly striking concept featuring futuristic wing fenders sweeping back along the side of the car. It would also have a long and narrow design familiar with the antique cars of the period of the Raceabout. It would feature rather modest rear fenders, and yet, stately taillights incorporated into tunnels in the mud flap. The interior would feature laid-back seating for two, opulent black leather throughout and would be surrounded by a large Plexiglass windscreen that would wrap all around to the sides of the car.

But it would be the use of copper and brass with Exner's dramatic design that would draw the most intrigue. The two metals would be used throughout the concept. Some eleven different alloys would be used throughout the car. The brass box-shaped grille immediately captures attention. The rest of the copper and brass details just keep the on-looker looking for more. And there certainly was more.

The grille, trim on the winged-fenders, the entire exhaust, the recessed lights in the mud flap, the wheels and the rear bumper would all be either some alloy of brass or copper. Even the engine compartment would receive the light touch of copper or brass. The valve cover, air cleaner, oil filler cap and dipstick housing all have brass and copper.

The interior would see perhaps the largest concentration, and most grandiose, use of the metals. The steering wheel, center console, doors and instrument cluster would all feature large amounts of copper and brass detailing. And against the black leather, the copper and brass present a sharp contrast greeting the driver and passenger.

While exhibiting liberal use of copper and brass, the car had been tastefully detailed in the metals. Attention-getting but not gaudy, the Mercer-Cobra Roadster certainly could keep one's attention for a while just appreciating the detailing that went into Exner's concept. Although the focus of the car remains on the outside; it isn't just a stylish concept. The car would; however, represent more than just a modern interpretation of the style of the Raceabout. Combined with the 289 cu. in. V-8 Cobra engine, the concept also is a modern interpretation of the Raceabout's performance.

After being displayed and featured in a number of articles, the chassis would be purchased in 1970 by Joe Bortz. Before the 1990s, the car would be owned by three other well-respected collectors. Then, in 1989, the car would become part of the Lyon Family Collection. It would make a number of appearances in concept car displays at events such as the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

This intriguing piece of automotive artwork has been made available again. Complete in its white finish and copper/brass accents, this concept makes an instant impression in any serious collection. This rare and unique concept was estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1,200,000.

At the auction, the car was sold for the sum of $660,000, which included the buyer's premium.

'Featured Lots: Lot No. 231: 1965 Mercer-Cobra Roadster', ( RM Auctions. Retrieved 17 August 2011.

Wikipedia contributors, 'Mercer (automobile)', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 August 2011, 04:49 UTC, accessed 17 August 2011

'Car Reviews: 1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster', ( TopSpeed: No Boring Cars. Retrieved 17 August 2011

By Jeremy McMullen

2011 RM Auctions at Monterey

Pre-Auction Estimates :
USD $800,000-USD $1,200,000 
Sale Price :
USD $660,000

Recent Sales of the Mercer Cobra Roadster

(Data based on Model Year 1965 sales)
1965 Mercer-Cobra Roadster
Chassis#: CSX2451
Sold for USD$660,000
  2011 RM Auctions at Monterey
1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster image  1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster image  

Mercer Cobra Roadsters That Failed To Sell At Auction

1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster's that have appeared at auction but did not sell.
VehicleChassisEventHigh BidEst. LowEst. High

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1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster

Additional valuation insight and sales data
Image gallery

1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster Vehicle Profiles

1965 Mercer Cobra Roadster vehicle information
Coachwork: Sibona-Basno
Designer: Exner
Chassis #: CSX2451

Vehicle information, history, and specifications from concept to production.