Feb 06 2018

Mystery Foto #5 Solved: Peter Helck’s 1921 Benz-Mercedes “Rabbit-the-First” Now Owned by Jay Leno

The Helck Family Collection challenged you to identify this special racer.

Answers to the Mystery Foto questions:

  • Identify this racer including: manufacturer, nickname and engine size.

Comprised of a 1914 6-cylinder, 18.8-litre Benz aero engine installed in a 1910 chain-drive Mercedes chassis and considered a Benz-Mercedes. Its nickname is Rabbit-the-First.

  • In what year was this racer built and who was its first owner?

Constructed in England  in 1921 for E.T.Scarisbrick by C. H. Crowe & Company of London.

  • Which automobile was this racer often mistaken for?

The famous "Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bangs" built for Count Zobrowski.

  • Identify the driver and passenger in the Mystery Foto.

The driver was Jerry Helck and the passenger was his father the great artist Peter Helck.

  • When was this photo taken and who were the owners at that time.

The photo was likely taken in 1966 following its restoration. The owners at that time were Peter Helck and Charles Lytle.

  • Who owns the racer today?

Jay Leno

Comments (5)

Congrats to Dick Gorman, Ian Robinson, Brian McCarthy, Greg O., and Randy Reed for identifying the 1921 Rabbit-the-First. Kudos to Brian McCarthy for providing some great documentation.

Updated February 17, 2018: Jerry Helck:

 I certainly remember those exhaust headers (?), I made them from copper DWV (Drain, Waste, Vent) tubing. It was a "Learning Experience" which
I'll share with anyone interested. Pre-restoration photos show a variety of both rigid and flexible pipes (no- two-the-same!).

The custom "upside-down Three Pointed Star" radiator insignia  reflects my father's desire to identify this monster as a "Benz-Mercedes", not the other way around.

Photos of the car today, seemingly not much changed, can be seen in Jay Leno's Garage


Howard Kroplick


Driver: Jerry Helck

Passenger: Peter Helck

Documents from the Helck Family Collection

Some highlights of Peter Helck's description of the 1923 B-M Hybrid.

-Purchased sight-unseen by a Long Island socialite (Alistair Bradley Martin) in 1930 when mispresented as a genuine Chitty.

-Purchased by Peter Helck and his friend Charles Lytle in 1950 for $600 (equivalent to $6,300 today).

-Restored by Jim Hoe (a Duesenberg specialist) from 1962 to 1965 at a cost of $13,000 (equivalent to $103,000 today)

-Helck eventually purchased Lytle's share.

-Helck considered it a "beast to drive".

The owners of the Benz-Mercedes Rabbit-the-First as seen in June 1976: Charles Lytle (left) and Peter Helck (right)

A document to the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles dated August 7, 1964 registrating the racer after its restoration. Sam Berliner III: Please note the address used by Peter Helck.

The Benz-Mercedes 1967 New York State registration card. Note: the year of the "convertible" is listed as 1921.

This 1967 insurance document described the racer as a 1921 Mercedes Benz Chitty.

Peter Helck's artwork for the Rabbit-the First appeared on the 1966 cover of the Henry Ford Museum's Sports Cars in Review program.

Horse Carriage Gazette March-April 1966

This article was written by co-opwners Peter Helck and Charles Lytle.

Constructed in England for E.T.Scarisbrick by C. H. Crowe & Company of London in 1921.

Note the inverted 3-pointed star designed by Peter Helck.

The Benz-Mercedes was purchased by the team of Helck and Lytle from the Ellis Brothers of Sea Cliff ,New York.

The Peter Helck Memoirs, Part II, July-September 1981 Bulb Horn (Submitted by Brian McCarthy)

Source: PeterHelck.com

Car and Driver August 2001 (Submitted by Brian McCarthy)

"The 1921 Mercedes-Benz Special" appeared at the 2001 Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance.

National Post February 2012

Rabbit-the First is currently owned by Jay Leno. In 2012, he wrote this article on his big racer. He considered it a "sister car" to the Chitty-Bang-Bang cars.

Jay Leno's Room of Giants Youtube. Rabbit-the First  is featured beginning at the 2:40 mark.


Feb 03 2018 Dick Gorman 8:16 AM

Mystery Foto #5…This auto is a 1922 Mercedes Racing Special with a 19 liter motor!!! The nickname is “Rabbit the First”. It was built for Lord Scarisbrick making him the first owner. I would guess that the auto that this is often mistaken for is one of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang series of specials… those also built on a Mercedes frame. Driver shown here is Peter Helck and passenger could be Jerry Helck. Can’t determine a date for the photo but it was owned by Peter Helck at that point. Today the racer is in the David North collection.

Feb 04 2018 Ian Robinson 6:45 AM

Hi Howard.  Nice to see this car featured in this lighthearted quiz.  I can, hopefully, contribute the following as it is a car with close associations with other British aero-engined cars.
Not sure about a nickname, but the chassis was a Mercedes fitted with a Benz aero-engine of 19 litres.
It was constructed in 1922 for Lord Scarisbrick (who I think ad some links with Birkenhead in the North-West of England)
The car is often mistaken for its contemporary Chitty-Bang-Bang 1
The passenger is (I think) Peter Helck).  Not sure about the driver (William C Crawford perhaps of aviation museum fame??)
Photo taken early 1960s??
Not sure of current ownership!

Great to read of the successful Tucker open day. 


Feb 04 2018 Brian D McCarthy 2:11 PM

*ID Racer/Manufacturer/Nickname/Engine Size:  Mercedes Benz Special C.H. Crowe Racer. Built by C.H. Crowe & Co. London, England. Nickname “Rabbit”. Powered by a Daimler Benz 18 liter straight 6 cylinder.

*Year Racer built & first Owner:  1921 Edward T. Scarisbrick

*Racer this one was often mistaken for:  Hybrids built by Louis Zyborowski.

*ID Driver & Passenger in Foto:  Jerry and Peter Helck ( Son and Father ).

*When was this photo taken and owner of this racer then:  Year 1964 ( Jerry- 38 yrs old and Peter- 71 yrs old ). It was jointly owned by Charles Lytle and Peter Helck.

*Present Owner of this racer:  Don’t know. The latest info/image of this car that I could find was during the 2001 Pebble Beach Car Show Concours d’Elegance. I submitted the link & image to the site here. It looks in fine shape.

Feb 04 2018 S. Berliner, III 5:39 PM

No clue (again) but the passenger ‘pears to be Peter Helck and dollars to doughnuts it has a Liberty L-12 engine (which, in spite of the misleading model number, is a V12).  Sam, III

Feb 04 2018 Greg O. 5:40 PM

Identify this racer including: manufacturer, nickname and engine size
-1922 Mercedes Racing Special. A World War I Benz aircraft engine of 19 liters displacement installed in an early Mercedes chain-drive chassis. The car was known as ‘Rabbit the First,’

In what year was this racer built and who was its first owner?
-constructed in 1922 in England for Lord Scarisbrick.

Which automobile was this racer often mistaken for?
-Pure guess and say the earlier Blitzen Benz.

Identify the driver and passenger in the Mystery Foto.
-Peter Helck in the passenger seat, and I’ll guess that could be his son Jerry driving.

When was this photo taken and who were the owners at that time.
Another guess and say Helck’s upstate home sometime in the 60’s. Peter Helck owned the car.

Who owns the racer today
-I’m only seeing David North/North collection being the possible current owner

Feb 04 2018 Randy Reed 8:56 PM

1. Mercedes chassis, Chitty-Bang-Bang, 23 liter Maybach Aircraft engine.
2. Built in 1921by Count Louis Zborowski.
3. Fiat known as “Mephistopheles”.
4. Driver unknown, passenger is Peter Helck.
5. Photo taken after 1924, owned by the sons of Arthur Conan Doyal.
6. Last known owner in 1934 was John Morris who dismantled the car.

Feb 04 2018 Hugh 10:55 PM

It is the 1912 Mercedes Benz Ralph DePalma drove at Indy. 8W model. something like the Olfield 1909 Blitxen Benz. It is also like the chassis Perry Thomas used to build Babs. DePalma and Hetck in it likely in the 1960s. Might be at Bridge Hampton. Part of the Penske collection.

Feb 05 2018 frank femenias 6:17 PM

Don’t know the car but this monstrous machine reminded me of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt’s 1906 250 hp Fiat.

I believe it’s the Helck father-son team at the helm of what could be a V-12 powerplant on wheels. Possible Mercedes emblem on the radiator. Geez, this thing looks HEAVY and must weigh in at least 6000 lbs. Hope there’s car specs with this week’s answers. Can’t wait!

Feb 06 2018 Brian D McCarthy 2:10 PM

If anyone hasn’t already, I suggest to check out the Peter Helck website. Especially enjoyed reading his memoirs. Peter and Jerry’s relationships with the racers are expressed in a manner as if you were there, too. Plan on thanking Timothy ( Jerry’s son ) for creating this website.

Jay Leno owns this beast now, very cool. I’ll have to check out his show.

Charles Lytle must be related to Herb Lytle, and as well as the Lytle that you used to work along with Howard?

Howard Kroplick

Brian, Charles Lytle was Peter Helck’s friend and an automotive historian. I am not sure if he is related to Herb or Tom Lytle.

Feb 11 2018 Hugh 2:35 AM

After Count Zobrowski died Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang went to Perry Thomas who put an aircraft engine in it. He called it BABS and was killed when a drive chain broke. It was buried on the beach where Thomas died. Only recently it was dug up and restored. It is now often at British vintage race car events and on several videos. This event caused Reid Railton to quit building his Arab automobile and rebuild Thomas’ engineering firm focused on high speed car and boat development.

Feb 27 2018 Tom 12:05 PM

Enjoyed the drive with Jay Leno in the Fiat !

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