When Daimler created the Patent-Motorwagen in 1886, it was the height of sophistication. It didn't take long for that to change, as competitors quickly refined the formula set out by Gottlieb Daimler, so by the early 1900s the world's first automobile was looking like old news, and a replacement was needed. Out of a flurry of ideas came the Mercedes-Simplex, the first car to wear what would become one of the world's most recognizable names. We'll know what that's worth when a 1904 Mercedes-Simplex goes up for auction at the Quail.
Trouble in the ranks
After the success of the Patent-Motorwagen, Daimler needed to catch up with the crowd. Unfortunately, there was no quick or easy formula for how to do that at the time. The company splashed money around, trying to find that formula, to the point where investors were brought on board. These investors spelt trouble, and designer Wilhelm Maybach promptly left the project, followed by Gottlieb Daimler. Eventually both returned, along with Daimler's two sons.
The turning point in the Mercedes-Simplex's development came in the form of Emil Jellinek, a sales agent based on the French Riviera. Buyers had told him what they wanted, and he passed that information on to the Daimler design team, which took the requests on board. In 1901, the car was ready.
What's in a name?
Today, Mercedes is instantly recognizable as a giant of luxury motoring, but that wasn't the case in 1901. Instead, it was chosen out of necessity. In France, a licensing dispute meant Daimler badging couldn't be used on the new car, forcing the team to come up with the first example of badge engineering. Jellinek decided to keep it in the family, naming the new car after his daughter.
Thankfully, Simplex wasn't Jellinek's other daughter. After just a year on sale, Wilhelm Maybach made significant refinements to the car's engine, which cut down weight, improved cooling and delivered more power. Simplex was tacked onto the Mercedes name to reflect the changes.
Lighting quick... for 1904
It might be 112 years old, but the Simplex is still able to give modern speed limits a nudge. Flat out the car could hit 65 mph (105 km/h), thanks to a 5.3-liter four-cylinder engine churning out a staggering 32 hp (24 kW).
All this power was put to the road through a four-speed manual gearbox that was hooked up to the rear wheels with a chain drive. Suspension was a rudimentary elliptical leaf spring setup, and drum brakes were tasked with keeping the driver out of the weeds.
A shining example
As you'd expect of a 112 year old car, this particular Mercedes-Simplex has seen a few owners in its life. After originally being delivered to a wealthy British timber merchant, the car was donated to the UK's War Department in 1908. Having done service on the Western Front the car moved to a farm, where it stayed until the 1970s.
A chance conversation in the 1970s saw the vehicle sold on to Oliver Gray, who set about restoring it. Once it was up and running again, the car didn't just sit idle in a garage. Instead, it was frequently used in period rallies right up until 1999, at which point it was sold to a family of well-known car collectors.
Since 1999, Mercedes-Simplex #2406 has changed hands one more time. The most recent owner has treated it to a mechanical refresh, along with the new Royal Blue exterior and red leather seating.
Bonhams is expecting it to sell for between US$3.2 million and $3.9 million when it goes under the hammer at the Quail Lodge Auction next week.