Feb 16 2016

Willie K’s 1902 40-HP Merecedes Simplex in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart

In 2009, Tom Gibson visited the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany and photographed the oldest surviving Mercedes in the world. Only years later, did Tom discover the original owner was William K. Vanderbilt, Jr.

Here are Tom's 2009 photos of Willie K's 1902 40-HP Merecedes Simplex.


Howard Kroplick

William K. Vanderbilt, Jr. and his 1902 Mercedes

On March 12, 1902, Willie K. and his friend D.W. Bishop picked up the fifth Mercedes Simplex ever made at the DMG plant in Cannstatt, Germany. Vanderbilt and Bishop then set off on a 375-mile trip to Paris, France and then to Nice. Not surprisingly, Vanderbilt was accused of speeding in  Luc-en-Dios and was told to stay overnight to await a trial.

As described in his 1908 book Log of My Motor, Willie K. decided to skip town on a cold March night: 

" About three a.m., finding it impossible to stand our suffering any longer, I told Bishop that I would go across the way and start the machine, and when I would blow the horn. He was to push the man aside who had been placed to watch us, jump into the car, and we would proceed on our way."
 "As luck would have it, these 40 Mercedes were absolutely noiseless, so the starting of the car caused no excitement.  A few minutes later the door was reached, and the horn blown. Bishop as agreed pushed the Frenchman aside, jumped in, and we were off."

On his way to participate in the Circuit du Nord race, on May 2, 1902, Vanderbilt challenged Bishop and Baron Henri de Rothschild to a kilometer match race between Ablis and Chartres. Willie K. not only won the race but established a one kilometer "flying start" speed record of 111.8 kilometers per hour (69.5 mph).Vanderbilt was hailed by the French as "Un Milliardaire Recordman".

On May 15, 1902, Vanderbilt  was leading the 537-mile Circuit du Nord Race (Paris-Arras-Paris) when his 40-HP Mercedes broke down due to a broken sprocket wheel.


Feb 17 2016 Ted 12:36 AM

What a sight to see. Those cars are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing it with us

Feb 21 2016 S. Berliner, III 8:40 AM

So I saw it and didn’t realize!  I always thought Simplex was an engine type (slide valve Knight, as in Mercedes Knight) but was corrected by the Museum.  C’mon, Howard, be a sport - tell us us how Tom Gibson found the relationship to Willie K., please!  My guess - the registration plate, no doubt.  Sam, III

Feb 21 2016 Randy Reed 12:03 PM

This car lived in San Diego for many years. It was the center piece for the “Mercedes Room” in the Bahia Hotel on Mission Bay. It even participated in one of the “Great American Race” events. It was restored to it’s current “replicated-patina” state by the Evans Garage museum before passing on to the Mercedes-Benz Museum.

Feb 21 2016 Richard 12:24 PM

Wow, another gem.

Feb 22 2016 Tom Gibson 3:37 PM

S. Berliner, III asked…“C’mon, Howard, be a sport - tell us us how Tom Gibson found the relationship to Willie K., please!” Howard, first, thanks for posting the pics of the Simplex, I’m glad they’re appreciated! To answer S.B., III’s query, I took the pics because of the display cars’ dramatic surroundings, knowing only that I was shooting the main gallery at the Museum, and the they had to be special.

A few weeks ago on the AACA Forum, Terry Bond, avid Vanderbilt Cup collector, asked if we could have a sub-forum about swap meets, also those outside the U.S. Having gone to the Museum as part of a trip to the Veterama Show in Mannheim (same weekend as Hershey), I posted some images quickly, sans captions http://forums.aaca.org/topic/268848-how-about-a-swap-meet-forum/?p=1451823 from what we saw in Germany. Terry informed me of the Simplex’s provenance, so I forwarded the pics to Howard, in case he ever wanted to use them.

As with the images of Mrs. Chrysler’s Chrysler from 1986, I take pictures of appealing things, and they seem to come back to Howard years later…
He always, “krops up”!

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