It’s not often that an automobile can transcend mere transportation to become a rolling work of art, but this particular Mercedes-Benz 680 S did so in 1928, and continues to inspire fevered competition for ownership. To that end, the one-of-three Torpedo Roadster, with coachwork by Sauotchik of Paris, will star in RM Sotheby’s 2017 Villa Erba auction, to be held on Saturday, May 27, in conjunction with the Concorso d’Elegazna Villa d’Este on Lake Como, in Cernobbio, Italy.
This 680 S has an intriguing history. Known by its chassis number -35949- it is one of reportedly 174 Model (or Type) S cars built between 1927 and 1930. It was custom-ordered by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Levine in New York City, but they refused delivery of the car when it arrived, allegedly due to “business reversals” that happened before 1929’s infamous stock market crash. It was subsequently displayed by Mercedes-Benz during the 1929 New York Auto Salon at the Commodore Hotel. Its first owner — Frederick Henry Bedford Jr., a Standard Oil Company executive — would keep this car up to his 1952 death, and it would remain in his family’s possession until 2006, following a 1980s restoration and being a long-term display at the Owls Head Transportation Museum.
The pure, sparingly-adorned lines of this 134-inch wheelbase Mercedes Torpedo Roadster are a wonderful example of French Avant-Garde design, which was a specialty of J. Saoutchik Carrosserie; that firm was famed in both the pre- and postwar eras for its spectacular designs on Bucciali, Delahaye, Hispano-Suiza, and Talbot Lago chassis, among others. Its lack of running boards, disappearing convertible top, disc wheel covers, German silver fender trimmings and slender red body accents emphasized the low, long, sleek form.
The interior was equally eye-catching, with a red-rimmed steering wheel perfectly matching the reptile-skin upholstery and complementing the richly finished Purpleheart wood trimmings around the cabin.
Under the long hood was the Model S’s race-proven SOHC straight-six engine that displaced 6.8 liters (leading to its “680” name- a.k.a. 414 cubic inches) through a 98 x 150 mm bore and stroke. Masterminded by Ferdinand Porsche, this engine was fitted with a vertically-mounted Roots-type supercharger that, when engaged by pressing the throttle to the floor, bumped horsepower from 120 to 180. This power was sent to the rear wheels through a floor-shifted four-speed manual transmission, and the car was capable of well over 100 MPH.
This unique Saoutchik Benz first went to auction in 2006, where it reportedly brought more than $3 million; it was again auctioned in 2008, when a similar figure was achieved. The third owners — Paul and Judy Andrews — then hired Paul Russell and Company in 2010 to restore the car a second time, returning it to its period-correct Dove Grey over dark red scheme.
The car also was recognized as the Restoration of the Year at the 2012 International Historic Motoring Awards. It received a First in Class award at the 2013 Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este. A few months later, it was auctioned by RM in Monterey, where it was the third-highest sale of the event, b...
The next owners showed the Torpedo Roadster in 2014 at the inaugural Hampton Court Palace Concours of Elegance (2014), and it won the Mercedes-Benz Star of Excellence award (“For the Most Elegant Mercedes-Benz”) at that year’s Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.
Time will tell how this Parisian beauty will fare, when it crosses the block again, that last weekend in May.
Click on the images below to enlarge.