1928 Mercedes-Benz SSKSOLD
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Estimate: 1,000,000£-1,500,000£
Estimate: €1,452,000 - €2,179,000
Estimate: $2,000,000 - $3,000,000

AUCTION RESULTS: Lot was Sold at a price of £1.229.250

Engine No. 72337 (Original Type SSK)
UK Registration No. GC1939

From the Collection of Mr. Bernie Ecclestone

Specifications:
250bhp, 7,020cc overhead camshaft six-cylinder engine with alloy block and cast iron cylinder head, Roots type supercharger, four-speed gearbox, semi-elliptical springs and beam axle front suspension, semi-elliptical springs and torque tube live axle rear suspension, four-wheel drum brakes with centre lock Rudge wire wheels. Wheelbase: 116.1in. (2,950mm).

The SSK

It was the outstanding popularity of hill-climb events in Europe that lead directly to the development of the most legendary pre-war sports racing car built by Mercedes-Benz – the SSK.

It began with the chassis of the Type S, and the engine from the new SS, the company’s top of the line chassis, but the wheelbase was reduced to 116.1in. The chassis – already low – was lowered even further by mounting the rear axle above the springs rather than below. New Houdaille shock absorbers were fitted with fins for improved heat dissipation.

A racing camshaft with higher lift and longer duration, and a new 10psi ‘elephant’ blower increased engine output – with blower operating – to 225 bhp. Even naturally-aspirated output was impressive, at 170 bhp. Later, increased compression and a higher output 12psi ‘elephant’ blower would raise peak horsepower to more than 300 bhp – a staggering figure at the time, and impressive even today.

The first outing for the new car came on 28 July 1928, when this Teutonic apparition thundered up Gabelbach hill, setting a new record time, with a charismatic Rudolf Caracciola at the wheel.

More successes followed, and the factory was persuaded to begin production. Within the next year, 31 cars were built (other sources suggest up to 35).

Inspection Report

Like many surviving Ss, SSs, SSKs, and all SSKLs, the example offered here is composed of a variety of original S Series Mercedes-Benz components. While many are probably original to the car, others are replacements taken from other cars as needed.

Chassis. Upon examination and paint removal by RM staff, no numbers were found anywhere on the chassis frame. Unfortunately, for unknown reasons, many original chassis frames left Mercedes-Benz without numbers stamped in them, which makes it difficult to draw any conclusion from the absence of such numbers.

In view of the absence of any chassis stamping, and the importance of the car and its potential value, RM elected to commission a closer examination in order to determine whether the chassis is an original SSK, since it is possible to shorten an S or SS chassis to the length of an SSK.

The consensus among those familiar with the Types S, SS, and SSK is that, while it is possible to shorten an S or SS chassis to the proper length for an SSK chassis, this must be done in one area, ahead of the rear wheel arch. This is the only portion of the frame that is both straight and parallel. At any other point, the tapering and curving nature of the chassis frame would make shortening extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Consequently, the decision was made to remove the paint and conduct acid testing from this area, as well as the adjacent areas extending from the rear wheel kick-up to the point where the frame narrows and arcs upwards to clear the front axle. No evidence of any welding on the chassis rails was found. Perhaps equally important, the original ‘mill finish’ characteristic of the mild steel that was used to stamp original frames is also completely undisturbed.

It should also be noted that part of the chassis frame has been boxed and gusseted for additional strength at some point in the past. The nature and quality of the workmanship make it clear that this was not done by the factory, and the most likely conclusion is that it was done in the late pre-war or early post-war period to stiffen the chassis for hill-climbs or racing. All the work is additional to the original chassis frame, which should make it relatively easy to remove.

In all other respects including rivets and other aspects of the detailing that can be used to identify an original frame, the chassis frame appears to be of all original construction.

Suspension. The front axle is an original piece, and is of the correct S series type, including the associated brakes. It should be noted that it is of the anti-shimmy type, fitted with dampers to prevent high-speed oscillations. The rear axle is also original, and of the correct type. The shock absorbers are the standard Houdaille units used on the S Type chassis, mounted to correct SSK mounting points on the frame. Since most suspension and chassis components carry no specific markings, it is not possible to determine whether they are original to any given chassis.

Engine and Drivetrain. Close examination of the engine, its castings, and RB numbers (Mercedes-Benz’s internal build or assembly numbers) confirms that it is indeed an original SSK unit, and, in fact, it is the Nash SSK engine, number 72337.

It is interesting to note that the engine carries a number of magnesium components, including the carburettor tops. These were customarily fitted to racing chassis because of their lightness, but they were also available for purchase from Mercedes-Benz for installation on any chassis. The 15 fin supercharger, the oil sump pan, intake manifold, cylinder head and cover are correct parts, identical to what would have been fitted originally to an SSK.

The balance of the major engine components appear to be correct SSK components, and are probably original to the Nash SSK, including the twin carburettors and original Bosch ZR6 Magnetos. The radiator has a new core but is a correct SSK style radiator.

The transmission is a correct SSK or SS transmission, however the torque tube has been shortened to fit the shorter SSK wheelbase.

Bodywork. On close examination, the body appears to be the ‘twin cowl’ classic English-style roadster body mounted on the Nash SSK (see section to follow). Today, the twin ‘cowls’ or instrument binnacles, have disappeared, perhaps in an effort to make the body more closely resemble the factory style SSK coachwork. Nevertheless, the original English windscreen is still fitted. Examination of the coachwork under the top of the cowl shows evidence of these modifications, and it has been suggested that the work was done by the firm of Koeng, Basel in the 1970s.

Except for the results of these modifications the body appears to retain its original wood, panels, and castings. There is evidence that it has been restored at least once. Paint quality is quite serviceable, though it is an older restoration and shows signs of age.

The steering wheel and dash are correct; all the gauges – which are mainly Jaeger – are incorrect British units (probably dating from the installation of the English-style coachwork) with the exception of the correct ignition switch, the magneto switch, and the Ky-gas unit. In addition, the clock is of the correct type although the face is incorrect. The headlights on the car are Bosch units of slightly later manufacture, although very close to correct in appearance.

After reviewing the information it reveals, the inspection report can be summarized as follows:
1) Despite extensive investigations, RM has been unable to find any evidence that the chassis is not an original one.
2) The engine is an original SSK unit, number 72337.
3) Even though the chassis appears to be an original one, it remains un-numbered, and therefore it could be any one of many unaccounted-for SSKs.

Bidders are advised to rely upon their own inspection and evaluation of this, or any other auction lot. RM Auctions Limited is not an expert in the construction of Mercedes-Benz automobiles, and any inspections commissioned or carried out by RM Auctions are provided solely as additional information, and should not be relied upon to determine the authenticity or originality of the lot.

Operational Condition

The vendor advises that a variety of maintenance has been undertaken since the car arrived in the Ecclestone Collection. The fuel system has been recently rebuilt, the radiator replaced, the brakes have been checked, and correct type Bosch friction dampers were made for the rear of the car. At the same time, the oil sump was removed, the bearings checked, and the oil passages cleaned.

During a recent road examination, steam was found to be present in the exhaust, which may indicate a crack in the cylinder head or a gasket problem.

Provenance

The example offered here consists of two major components:
1) The engine (No. 72337) from the Nash SSK, with ownership paperwork and other documentation that is in agreement with this engine number.


The Nash SSK. The original SSK with engine number 72337 and chassis number 36244 was ordered by British Mercedes Ltd of London under commission number 42709 as a chassis-only delivery. It was delivered to London on 6 April 1929, and then to the Mercedes-Benz dealership at Park Lane.

Shortly afterwards, this new SSK chassis was sold to a Mr Nash, who commissioned Vanden Plas coachbuilders of Kingsbury, London, to design a most remarkable roadster in the very fashionable ‘windblown’ style. The result was unmistakable, easily one of the most distinctive of all the SSKs.

Although it is believed that Nash retained the SSK for a number of years, no record exists of the date when he sold the car. It may have been shortly after the war, during the rise in popularity of various forms of racing utilizing the best surviving pre-war chassis. It was at this time that new coachwork was installed in a very classic English twin-cowled roadster style.

The car remained in the UK until the early 1960s when it was shipped to New York City for Charley Stitch, a private New York dealer, via Dr Sam Scher. Stitch sold his SSK to noted restorer and collector Tom Lester, who passed the car on to Earl Finnebecker of Latham, New York, in 1962, at which point it still carried the British roadster coachwork finished in classic white paint and fitted to the original Type SSK chassis.

In 1967, Finnebecker sold the SSK to Raymond Jones of Birmingham, Michigan, for $6,000. In a recent conversation with Mr Jones, he confirmed that he owned the car only briefly, and did not modify the car in any manner.

Jones sold the car within a month or two of buying it to Robert Morgan of East Orange, New Jersey, for $7,500. The following year, Morgan sold the SSK to noted collector Richard Payne of Seal Cove, Maine, who kept the car for many years.

Clearly, at some point, the engine was removed from the chassis, as it is now installed in the SSK offered here. Historians have suggested that this may have been done either by Robert Morgan, or by Raymond Jones (who denies having done so).

The Julio Berndt SSK. The chassis of the SSK offered here is not numbered. Many other S series cars also had un-numbered chassis, so it seems that relatively little importance can be attached to this fact, apart from the difficulties it poses in identifying the chassis. Consequently, the only clue to its identity is the paperwork that accompanies the car, most of it dating from the mid-1990s, when the car was imported to the UK after its acquisition by the Ecclestone Collection. Included are the importation papers, as well as the UK registration documents, and a letter from Vernon R. Cox, archivist for the Mercedes-Benz club at the time.

Examination of the known history of the Berndt car (No. 36246) indicates that it was delivered to Julio Berndt of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October 1928. Configured and sold as a Rennenwagen (one of a very few SSKs designated as racing cars by the factory), wearing factory coachwork, the car became one of the most successful racing SSKs. The car was subsequently raced or owned by Carlos Zatuszec, followed by Olivari and then Brosutti in Argentina before being purchased and exported to America by the Edgar Allan Jurist, owner of the well known “Vintage Car Store”.Today, a car with chassis No. 36246 exists, and belongs to a German collector.

Given the ease and frequency with which parts have been exchanged among various S series Mercedes-Benz cars, it is very difficult today to trace the ownership history of chassis and engines, as well as complete cars.

Summary

Tracing the history of an SSK can be difficult, and experts often disagree. In the case of the example offered here, there now seems little doubt that the car includes both an original engine and chassis. With only a little over 30 examples made, that in itself makes this an exceptionally important car.

During the SSK’s tenure at the Ecclestone collection, extensive research has resolved many questions, but the mystery of the origin of the chassis remains.

As historians continue to work on researching each individual chassis, the day may well come when the original identity of this SSK is revealed. Once the provenance of the car is clarified, it will be possible for it to take its rightful place among the surviving examples of the world’s most desirable pre-war Mercedes-Benz sports cars.

Reference Number 13218

as of 9/14/2007

Overview
Car 1928 Mercedes-Benz SSK
VIN 36246 
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