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Dear Prewar Editor:
When you fall for the brawn of an American short chassis racer from the brass age, the Mercer Raceabout or Stutz Bearcat are the ones to go for, right? Not necessarily. There was the Speedwell Speed Car, too. Trouble is, only one of them is known to survive but it is offered in Bonhams’ Quail Lodge sale tomorrow.
Speedwell has of course nothing to do with these chaps here. The Speedwell Motor Company of Dayton, Ohio, built their own cars from 1907 to 1914 and their 1912 Speed Car was undoubtly the top-of-the-range model. It’s unsure how many they built and this example seems the only one with known history going back to the late 1930s. As a matter of fact it was considered as a collector’s car back at the time when acquired by opera singer and car aficionado James Melton who set up his own motor museum back in 1941. The Speed Car became one of its attractions. After Melton sold the car in the late 1950s it staid in the hands of a string of automobile collectors, including William Harrah. It was completely restored in 1999 and still looks ever so good. Tempting isn’t it? Remember you won’t find another…
(picture courtesy Bonhams Auctions)
We were aware of something special Mercedes was to bring over to Pebble Beach this year. What exactly has been made public earlier this week – it’s a one-off 540K Streamliner – or Stromlinienwagen - of 1938-vintage. Thanks to its slippery shape, hammered from lightweight metals and born from windtunnel testing, plus with a supercharged eight cylinder it was supposedly quick enough to win the Berlin-Rome race of 1938. But that never happened, and the car languished for many decades.
Mercedes-Benz Classic can only be applauded to take on this job. The company says the exhaustive restoration was carried out using only techniques of the period to give the spectacular car the new lease of life its should have had much earlier. But how much of the original car was there before work started? The streamliner is said to have been owned by Dunlop in its early life, while later being used by the United States Army. Next it supposedly returned to Dunlop and to Mercedes-Benz once more. That was in 1948, when the aluminum body was scrapped. Supposedly only the chassis and running gear were kept. Don’t get us wrong, we love Mercedes for doing this. But how come we have never seen any other old pictures than the ones spread around now?
(picture courtesy Mercedes-Benz)
We are guessing there have to be more steam fans among the British than from any other nation in the world, with steam fairs and steam rallies organized throughout the year. Still then it’s been 46 years exactly this day since the last steam powered train puffed its way over the sceptred isle following the national train table. Since that August-day in 1968 the Brits have only become more obsessed with steam power.
That makes it seem strange that there has never been a serious attempt of a steam car from Great Britain. The major steam car club is in fact British, but the majority of their cars originate from the US. We’ve really tried to find them and came up with plenty of one-offs, a few buses, some milk floats, one or two American Stanley steamers with British coachwork and quite a few post war attempts. But there has never been anything close to proper steam car production coming from the Brits, it seems. Or do we miss something here?
(Picture courtesy Beaulieu motor museum)
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