This 1903 Mercedes just sold for an incredible £9.5 million!

Posted by Chris Graham on 22nd April 2024

Peter Love reports on the astonishing and record-breaking sale of the Harmsworth family’s 1903 Mercedes 60hp Roi des Belges.

Mercedes 60hp

Wow! This is the Harmsworth family’s 1903 Mercedes 60hp Roi des Belges that broke the world sale record for a pre-1930 car. (Pic: Gooding & Co)

All sale world records were broken for a pre-1930 car and commercial vehicle when an astonishing £9,508,287 ($12,105,000) was paid for the Harmsworth family’s 1903 Mercedes 60hp Roi des Belges, which had been with the same owner for 121 years! This landmark event took place at a Gooding & Co sale held on March 1st at Amelia Island, in Florida.

Many of you will probably remember having seen the car at the National Motor Museum, where it had been exhibited – on loan from the Harmsworth family – since 1956. The vehicle also took part in many London to Brighton runs over the decades.

Mercedes 60hp

This gives you an idea about what the car would have looked like when it was new. (Pic: Mercedes Archive)

The car was in very original, running condition, and was one of the most powerful and successful cars of its era thanks to its four-cylinder, 9.25-litre engine. It started life with racing bodywork, and recorded a top speed of 72.6mph in 1903, at the Nice Speed Trials while being driven by Herman Braun (a Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft mechanic). He drove for the elite, but was lucky to survive after one or two accidents along the way, and retired from competition in 1907.

The car was the reserve entry at the 1903 Gordon Bennett Cup race which took place in Ireland around County Laios, Carlow and Kildare and through Stradbally, where the famous steam rally takes place each year today (Ireland’s first ever steam rally).

Mercedes 60hp

Looking down on the superb Roi des Belges. The J Rothschild bodywork is original. (Pic: Gooding & Co)

It is written that the odds were stacked against the Mercedes team that year, and the win for Jenatzy and Germany was great news for Mercedes as some weeks before the race, a fire had destroyed the Daimler factory at Cannstatt and three of the 90hp Mercedes destined for the June event were destroyed.

However, two of the German team members already owned 60hp Mercedes cars and were happy to drive them in the Gordon Bennett Cup, but this still left a requirement to borrow customers’ cars for the race. Owing to problems with the Napiers, Jenatzy won the race in a car borrowed from an owner based in Paris.

The car in question was used successfully for sporting activities in 1903, but a very stylish body was created for it by J Rothschild called Roi des Belges (King of the Belgians) when Alfred Harmsworth (later 1st Viscount Northcliffe 1865-1922) took the car on.

The most powerful and reliable car of its time – the 1903 Mercedes 60hp. (Pic: Gooding & Co)

He, of course, was the well-known publishing magnate who owned the Daily Mail. He was a car pioneer and used it until the war with Germany, but the car was kept in running order when it passed to others in the family after Lord Northcliffe’s death in 1922.

It was sad to see this important car put up for auction with the American company Gooding & Co during at Amelia Island. This is where all the major companies hold auctions, including Bonhams.

The estimate was £7,900,000 ($10,000,000) which most professionals thought was far too high, but it went on to sell for an amazing £9,508,287 ($12,105,000). That’s a whopping £3,805,671 ($4,845,000) more than the previous record of £5,702,616 ($7,260,000) achieved in 2023 by Bonhams, in Scottsdale, Arizona, for a 1912 Simplex Torpedo Tourer 50hp (restored and painted black) which had been sold new to tennis star of the period, Eleonora Sears.

An idea of the car’s condition, with the band brake in sight. (Pic: Gooding & Co)

Interestingly, the record prior to that point was for a 1904 Rolls-Royce 10hp two-seater, which made £3,521,500 (4,339,092). That vehicle was sold by Bonhams, in London, back in 2007. Let’s hope the Mercedes isn’t hidden away by its new owner, and that it’ll be seen by the general public. It’s certainly a gem of a car, but I hate to think about what the cost of insuring it will be!

This feature comes from the latest issue of Old Glory, and you can get a money-saving subscription to this magazine simply by clicking HERE


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