Celebrating the Spirit of Competition

1927 Mercedes Benz S-Type Sportwagen

Chassis Number : 33679             Horsepower : 180           Displacement : 6-cylinder, 6.78 L           Wheelbase : 133.9"

These Cars

There was a confluence of unusual factors which led to the development of the iconic S series of Mercedes-Benz cars. Eight 4-passenger racing Sportwagens were built at the same time, and most of them participated in early events, but the fact that Mercedes (Daimler) and Benz formally joined in 1927 was clearly celebratory issue. Both companies witnessed declining sales with only 1,372 cars and 830 trucks being built in all of Germany. The same year the great Nürburgring track was built in the Eifel mountains, consisting of a north and south trail which covered over 17 miles in an exciting circuit with many turns as well as erumpent straights. It still thrills the world’s best drivers.

The ever-present Professor Ferdinand Porsche exerted his sporting influence on company decisions. After joining the factory in 1923, he produced a three-car team which handily won the 1924 Targa Florio race, 1-2-3. Leading the new Daimler-Benz team, he was now responsible for design of the new models, which included the radically different supercharged K-type, but mainly the low, beautiful S series.

The first cars had a 6,789 cc overhead camshaft straight-6 engine with a front-mounted Roots-type blower. Running normally aspirated, the output was 120 horsepower, but when the accelerator pedal was floored, the supercharger clutch was engaged and spurts of horsepower up to 180 were achievable.

The large four-wheel mechanical brakes were copper-plated for heat dispersion, and the car weighed approximately 3,700 pounds. Three of the first “Sportwagen” race cars, set out on an inaugural race at the “Ring” on June 18th in 1927, where Caracciola was winner of this more or less experimental run. But for the big 18-lap German Grand Prix on July 17th, they fielded a larger group of cars, and the great new sports car finished first, second, and third. Of the five works cars that were entered in that race, the commission papers show that Rosenberger drove 33676; Caracciola, 33677; Walb, 33678; Werner, 33680; and Merz won in our car, 33679. These low Sportwagens engaged in other, lesser races throughout their career, but soon a larger engine was required, and the “SS” series evolved, extending the displacement and horsepower a bit but producing a higher profile, which, style-wise, is not preferred by most collectors.

Parenthetically, it has been reported that after winning the race, brawny driver Otto Merz was greeted by the famous Elizabeth Junek, who had won the 3-liter contest in her Bugatti, and his hug resulted in three broken ribs. Merz was the chauffer when Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated at Sarajevo, an event which triggered World War I. He was killed at Avus in a testing accident.

Our Car

The commission papers show that 33679 was driven by Merz at the Nürburgring. The seriously financially strapped Mercedes-Benz Company was already offering the car for sale as early as September 1927. It was scheduled to be sent to Los Angeles in 1927, but apparently a diversion to Mercedes-Benz in New York was attempted. This fell through, and finally, in June 1928, the car was shipped to Mercedes-Benz Motor Company, 6063 Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, California. Its owner, a Mr. Baldwin, apparently picked the car up sometime shortly thereafter. Here the trail becomes uncertain.

The most subsequent information we have is from Mr. Bayard Sheldon, a longtime owner of this car who bravely drove it cross-country and ran frequently on long trips, with and without the usual difficulties. Mr. Sheldon recalls that the car was reported to be a race car which was imported into this country into the Los Angeles area by a man whom we could not contact. Robert Day of Beverly Hills was known to have had the car in 1934.

Mr. Sheldon coincidentally met Mr. Day decades later in Florida. Soon after, the car became the property of Fred Torsen, from whom Sheldon purchased it and used it for many miles since. For instance, he took a 3,500-mile shakedown cruise wherein “we were all well shaken.” On other trips, he had various problems with the combined magneto and distributor ignition system, and a starter which would not always engage, but basically he always had a “yen to drive it on long trips.” The only modification he made was to install a “standby” fuel system and a Packard rear end.

After enjoying the car for many miles, he sold it to Ben Moser sometime in 1973. Ben apparently intended to keep the car, but for many well-explained reasons, mainly impecunity, he’d decided to sell it to me in 1975. After going over the car for some time, I finally contacted Mrs. Bayard Sheldon, who, on August 18th, 1976, wrote:

It was exciting to get your call the other evening saying you were going to have fun owning the 36-220 S. It will be the most challenging and pleasurable car you will ever own. It’s got heart, miles and miles of heart.

Well, he was exactly right. We drove it for a while but then decided that it needed refurbishment and general going over. First of all, the car had a Packard rear, which was installed some time ago. Mr. Sheldon advised not to remove this rear, but we simply had to wait until we could get the proper rear, half shafts, gear carrier, and gears, which were all obtained from a donor car. (The donor was eventually sorted out and was part of the swap for the 917 LH Porsche.)

As soon as all the bits were gathered together, the car was taken to Ralph Buckley Shop for his magnificent work. After taking the car apart, we found some very interesting things. Most notably, the brake drums were drilled in the rear, presumably for a lightening. I’ve seen brake drums on at least four other S-series Mercedes car and none of the passenger cars had this lightening modification. The car also had drilled rear spring shackles. The radiator mount was of the characteristic shape apparently seen only on the first racing eight sport models (according to Mercedes expert verification). Overall, we now were sure that we had the original chassis which was graced by Buckley’s sensitive work.