1911 Mercedes 37/90 & Ralph De Palma

1911 Mercedes 37/90 in the garage of a friend.
Frankly, this car blew me away when I first saw it in a friend's garage many years ago. The car is a 1911 Mercedes 37/90 - one of the few with a flat radiator (most are the "V" shaped). In 1911, Mercedes introduced their new hi-performance car replacing the six-cylinder models of 1907. The model 37/90 is the last of the chain drive Mercedes, with dual chains enclosed in an oil bath. A four cylinder engine of 9.5 liter displacement, it features three valves per cylinder and dual ignition, producing 90 to 95 hp.

This particular car is has been suggested to be the Mercedes that Ralph De Palma owned and campaigned from 1912 through 1914. However, according to the owner at the time, this is not the case. According the factory records this car has always been a touring car and has never been raced. It was a 1908 chassis modified with the new 37/90 engine that famously quite on De Palma in the 1912 Indy 500 where he and Jeffkins (his riding mechanic) pushed the car to the finish. De Palma would win the 1912 and 1914 Vanderbilt Cups - earning the national drivers championship in both years - in a car similar to this. The 1914 Vanderbilt cup was one of De Palma's greatest achievements - the 1914 race was the first Vanderbilt Cup to be held on the west coast (Santa Monica) and it was here that De Palma beat his rival Oldfield. The Horseless Age of March 4, 1914 described the race as follows: "The 1914 contest for the Vanderbilt Cup will go down in motoring history as being one of the most thrilling and sensational road races ever run in this country...There is a long story back of the ill feeling between Oldfield and De Palma...DePalma in his Mercedes, the same car with which he won the Vandebilt race at Milwaukee in 1912, really rubbed in the lather and close-shaved Oldfield, in the Mercer..."

The car pictured herein has a wonderful history that includes ownership by James Melton, the famous opera singer and early collector. The only De Palma connection to this car appears to be seen below when he drove this car at a VMCCA meet in CT back in the 1950s. I photographed the car in the late 1980's before it was sold to Europe. The car has since been restored and was shown at Amelia Island in 2011 - I don't know who owns the car today.

Ralph De Palma driving the Mercedes when owned by James Melton (photo credit: ebay member mixa11)

The ex-Melton Mercedes today (photo credit: Richard Owen)

De Palma wining the 1914 Vanderbilt Cup (photo credit:

photo credit: The Horseless Age, March 4, 1914

1 comment:

  1. You can see De Palma driving the Benz when Melton owned it in this amazing video clip from the 1942 Antique Auto Derby held at the Fairfield County Hunt Club in Westport, Connecticut on July 25. (About 5:22 into the clip). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mg6teENMiJk