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1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo Roadster

When Daimler Motoren Gesellshaft and Benz & Cie. chose to merge during Germany’s post-World War I depression, no one could have foretold the extraordinary influence this company would have upon the automotive community. By 1928, with the engineering talents of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche adding to the earlier accomplishments of Paul Daimler and others, the supercharged S (Sport) Type was the leading edge of a new breed of high-performance luxury automobiles. The solidly mounted 6.8 liter engine provided broad and ample torque as well as contributing greatly to the stability of the chassis. The result was a powerful car suitable for sporting events or touring.

In France, Jacques Saoutchik was already making a name for himself as an independent minded quality coach-builder for the worthy and the wealthy from around the globe. A 1928 sales brochure illustrates 3 different body styles for the 680S chassis alone. It is reported that Saoutchik made 12 Torpedo Roadster bodies, all differing in details such as windshield height.

This 680S was ordered with a custom Saoutchik Torpedo Roadster body by one Charles Levine but, for reasons thought to be ‘business reversals’ just prior to the market crash, the customer refused to take delivery when it arrived in New York. Shown at the 1929 New York Auto Show, it must have made quite an impression with its long hood, low windshield, red lizard-skin interior, and ‘German silver’ fender trim. Maybe it was too avant-garde, as it remained in the Mercedes-Benz dealer’s showroom until sold to Mr. Frederick Bedford Jr. of Connecticut. This spectacular car had a major role in the courtship of his future wife, and continued to be a treasured part of their family. In 1980 Mrs. Bedford contracted to have the car restored, unfortunately losing the lizard-skin upholstery and the wheel discs in the process. The car spent the next two decades on display at the Owls Head Museum in Maine, before being sold at auction in 2005.

It was on behalf of new owners in 2010 that we undertook the complete body-off restoration of this Mercedes-Benz 680S with its striking Saoutchik coachwork. Their directive was to perform a thorough and authentic restoration, to be ready for touring as well as for concours events. Fortunately, Paul Russell had the opportunity to view and photograph the car in the Bedford garage before the 1980s restoration. These photos, notably of the lizard-skin seats, were just the beginning of the extensive worldwide research required to produce a car deserving the title Best of Show.

One of the most important authenticity decisions centered on the car’s visuals. Though clearly a pale yellow before the Bedford restoration in the 1980s, the Saoutchik commission records refer to this car as ‘Dove Gray’. Without written records explaining this color change and after much consideration, the decision was made to return the car to the as-commissioned color scheme of gray with dark red accents and chassis.

The lizard-skin interior involved a few challenges, the first being to find a source for the skins (in southeast Asia, as it turned out), and then to process them in the proper trim color, before cutting them into the individual sections that were sewn together to make the seat panels. The restoration of the fender trim presented a technical challenge. Previously repaired areas were a poor color match. Analysis of the original ‘German silver’ trim indicated that it was a precise 80/20 copper-nickel alloy, rarely available today. All of the trim was removed, repaired or sectioned in, and resoldered in place.

The car was still very complete when it arrived at our shop in 2010, even after years of use and its earlier restoration. The only items missing from the car were the metal covers over the wire wheels and the split front bumper, both of which we were able to fabricate after studying period photographs. The stunning results and thorough preparation inspired the Pebble Beach Concours class judges to award the car the ultimate recognition of 100 points. From there, Jacques Saoutchik’s elegant and stylish design elicited the Best of Show award. This magnificent 680S was further honored with the 2012 Restoration of the Year from the International Historic Motoring Awards.

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Featured Articles & Publications

1928 Mercedes-Benz 680S Saoutchik Torpedo Roadster

Paul Russell, Stacy Puckett, Jonathan Sierakowski, “L’Automobile d’Avant Garde”, photography by Kimball Studios
RM Magazine, Summer 2013

Ivar Engerud, “Verdens Fineste”, photography by Ronnie Krabberod
Finansavisen Motor, August 2013 [Norway]

Ronnie Krabberød, “Torpedo Roadster – Saoutchiks mesterverk”, photography by Ronnie Krabberød
Norsk Motorveteran, December 2013 [Norway]   English Translation

David Burgess-Wise, “The Long Road to Success”, photography by Dirk de Jager
Octane, November 2012

“ A triumph of Art Deco styling, its long bonnet and short rear deck made the most of the dramatic proportions of Porsche's chassis. Subtle bright metal edgings accented the sweeping curves of the wings, while a daring break with tradition was the lack of running boards. Saoutchik's mastery of folding top mechanisms (a distinct contrast with the clumsy appearance presented by so many folded German soft tops) was demonstrated by the way that the hood disappeared completely beneath the rear deck and the side glasses rolled down into the doors to create a clean, perfectly proportioned side elevation accentuated by the low vee windscreen. An exotic touch was the "Alpina" real reptile-skin upholstery. ”

David Burgess-Wise, “The Long Road to Success”, Octane

The Mercedes-Benz factories sustained massive damage from Allied bombing during World War II. Utility vehicles were the first post-war product, and helped the company toward recovery. But something more spectacular needed to be done to attract the world’s interest. In 1951, it was decided to re-enter the racing circuit. In order to do so with the least financial strain, a sports car was developed using the existing 300 engine. Because of the relatively heavy weight of that engine and drivetrain, an unusually light body needed to be constructed. And so, the tubular steel framed, aluminum bodied 300SL (Sport Light) was born. Approximately fifteen of these race cars were made, winning many events and earning the world sports car championship.

In 1952, the 300SL caught the interest of racing fans in the United States. New Yorker Max Hoffman was one such enthusiast, who used his car dealership to bring many of the European makes into this country. One might even say that he is responsible for the creation of the 300SL, as his order for 1,000 cars convinced the Mercedes-Benz officials to go ahead with the production of a street car based upon the 300SL racing sports car. The prototype 300SL was shown at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City in February 1954.

The first production car with a fuel-injected gasoline engine, the 300SL was one of the most reliable sports cars of the ’50s and ’60s. The proven 300 engine was tilted to the left to accommodate a lower hood line. The body style was designated Sport Leicht (Light) due to its aluminum doors, hood, decklid, rocker panels and belly pans, though the main body shell was constructed from steel. Unusual for the period, 300SLs came equipped with dependable heat, defrosters, and wiper motors.

Ultimately, three different versions of the 300SL were offered. The 300SL Coupe was produced from August 1954 to May 1957, during which time twenty-nine all-aluminum bodied cars were made as well. Production of the Roadster version was between February 1957 and February 1963. Whichever style is your preference, they are now highly valued for their pure driving pleasure in the Mille Miglia, Colorado Grand, and other vintage events.

Factory photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Archives.

Pininfarina or Pinin Farina? In 1930, Battista ‘Pinin’ Farina founded Carrozzeria Pinin Farina. This company designed and built car bodies for a number of manufacturers, including Alfa Romeo, Hispano Suiza, Lancia, Fiat, and, most notably, Ferrari. Battista is quoted as saying “The interrelation between the body of a beautiful woman and that of a Farina-designed car is that both have simplicity and harmony of line, so that when they are old one can still see how beautiful they were when they were young.”

In conjunction with Battista’s retirement in 1961, the President of the Italian Republic authorized the family name to be changed to Pininfarina “in consideration of his achievements in social and industrial activities”. As a result, the correct usage of the family name as Pininfarina or Pinin Farina depends upon the year it was used.

The Mercedes-Benz factories sustained massive damage from Allied bombing during World War II. Utility vehicles were the first post-war product, and helped the company toward recovery. But something more spectacular needed to be done to attract the world’s interest. In 1951, it was decided to re-enter the racing circuit. In order to do so with the least financial strain, a sports car was developed using the existing 300 engine. Because of the relatively heavy weight of that engine and drivetrain, an unusually light body needed to be constructed. And so, the tubular steel framed, aluminum bodied 300SL (Sport Light) was born. Approximately fifteen of these race cars were made, winning many events and earning the world sports car championship.

In 1952, the 300SL caught the interest of racing fans in the United States. New Yorker Max Hoffman was one such enthusiast, who used his car dealership to bring many of the European makes into this country. One might even say that he is responsible for the creation of the 300SL, as his order for 1,000 cars convinced the Mercedes-Benz officials to go ahead with the production of a street car based upon the 300SL racing sports car. The prototype 300SL was shown at the International Motor Sports Show in New York City in February 1954.

The first production car with a fuel-injected gasoline engine, the 300SL was one of the most reliable sports cars of the ’50s and ’60s. The proven 300 engine was tilted to the left to accommodate a lower hood line. The body style was designated Sport Leicht (Light) due to its aluminum doors, hood, decklid, rocker panels and belly pans, though the main body shell was constructed from steel. Unusual for the period, 300SLs came equipped with dependable heat, defrosters, and wiper motors.

Ultimately, three different versions of the 300SL were offered. The 300SL Coupe was produced from August 1954 to May 1957, during which time twenty-nine all-aluminum bodied cars were made as well. Production of the Roadster version was between February 1957 and February 1963. Whichever style is your preference, they are now highly valued for their pure driving pleasure in the Mille Miglia, Colorado Grand, and other vintage events.

Factory photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz Archives.

In March of 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni founded Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. A “gentleman” race driver and coachbuilder for 1930s Isotta-Fraschini and Alfa Romeo, Felice was well respected for creating beautiful, aerodynamic designs. He developed the patented “superlight” Superleggera construction method, a marvel of metal tube frames welded to a solid chassis, then skinned with aluminum body panels.

When Felice died suddenly in 1948 it was up to his son Carlo Felice, known as “Cici”, to save the business. Cici did so in no uncertain terms, when he presented his 1/10-scale model of the distinctive Barchetta to prospective client Enzo Ferrari. Enzo accepted the “little boat” design as presented. The superleggera concept became so closely associated with Touring that it was incorporated into the name of the company, becoming Touring Superleggera Milano in the 1950s.

Pictured: Cici Anderloni proudly displays the original Barchetta model to Paul Russell. Lake Como, 1998.

Scraping is done with a long, wood-handled chisel. First, the surface is cleaned, made level, and marked in pencil with a grid pattern. The chisel is held with both hands, with further pressure applied by the shoulder pushing against the wooden handle. As the blade of the chisel digs into the aluminum surface, the chisel is pushed and ‘flicked’ with a rotating motion. Once this is repeatedly accomplished in one direction, the part is turned 90 degrees and the entire process repeated again. Finally, the part is hand-sanded with a very fine-grade paper to remove the aluminum shards and burrs.

For many years, conventional wisdom had it that there were 3 Atlantics built. Fortunately enthusiasts like L.G. Matthews and historians like Pierre-Yves Laugier continue to study all things Bugatti, and new information and analysis becomes known and shared. The revival of the Bugatti Marque in the ownership of the Volkswagen Group has facilitated a reorganization of the company historic archives, in the hands of the esteemed Julius Kruta.

It is now acknowledged that there was a prototype (pictured here) named the Aerolithe built on a modified T57 chassis and later disassembled to form the basis for the first production car, now on the S chassis number 57374. This first car was labeled the Aero, and resides at the Mullin Automotive Museum.

Chassis 57473 was the second car produced and the first to be called the Atlantic. There were two more Atlantics made, one of which has not been seen since it disappeared in Belgium in the 1940s. The last of the Atlantics produced is chassis number 57591.

Professor Ignacio Barraquer who owned the Autobahn-Kurier for more than 60 years, was not just any eye doctor, but possibly the most famous ophthalmologist who ever lived. He developed procedures and surgical instruments that are standard to this day, mostly associated with cataract surgery, and many named after him. His father was Professor of Ophthalmology at the School of Medicine in Barcelona, Spain, a position Ignacio was appointed to following his father’s retirement. Ignacio’s son, José, developed the keratomileusis, or LASIK operation, today a common surgical procedure.

Born into an Italian banking family, Count Carlo Felice Trossi was an amateur inventor and a noted motor sportsman of the 1930s. Known as ‘Didi’ to his friends, he enjoyed racing boats and airplanes in addition to his pursuits in the field of engineering. As an early financial backer of Enzo Ferrari, he become President of Scuderia Ferrari in 1932 while continuing to be a primary driver for the team.

Reproduced here is a picture dated 1932, and supplied by his family, of his SSK in front of Castello di Gaglianico. The records of the Automobile Club of Italy show that Count Trossi sold and bought back this singular car several times from 1931 until his death in 1949.

In March of 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni founded Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. A “gentleman” race driver and coachbuilder for 1930s Isotta-Fraschini and Alfa Romeo, Felice was well respected for creating beautiful, aerodynamic designs. He developed the patented “superlight” Superleggera construction method, a marvel of metal tube frames welded to a solid chassis, then skinned with aluminum body panels.

When Felice died suddenly in 1948 it was up to his son Carlo Felice, known as “Cici”, to save the business. Cici did so in no uncertain terms, when he presented his 1/10-scale model of the distinctive Barchetta to prospective client Enzo Ferrari. Enzo accepted the “little boat” design as presented. The superleggera concept became so closely associated with Touring that it was incorporated into the name of the company, becoming Touring Superleggera Milano in the 1950s.

Pictured: Cici Anderloni proudly displays the original Barchetta model to Paul Russell. Lake Como, 1998.

For many years, conventional wisdom had it that there were 3 Atlantics built. Fortunately enthusiasts like L.G. Matthews and historians like Pierre-Yves Laugier continue to study all things Bugatti, and new information and analysis becomes known and shared. The revival of the Bugatti Marque in the ownership of the Volkswagen Group has facilitated a reorganization of the company historic archives, in the hands of the esteemed Julius Kruta.

It is now acknowledged that there was a prototype (pictured here) named the Aerolithe built on a modified T57 chassis and later disassembled to form the basis for the first production car, now on the S chassis number 57374. This first car was labeled the Aero, and resides at the Mullin Automotive Museum.

Chassis 57473 was the second car produced and the first to be called the Atlantic. There were two more Atlantics made, one of which has not been seen since it disappeared in Belgium in the 1940s. The last of the Atlantics produced is chassis number 57591.

In March of 1926, Felice Bianchi Anderloni founded Carrozzeria Touring in Milan, Italy. A “gentleman” race driver and coachbuilder for 1930s Isotta-Fraschini and Alfa Romeo, Felice was well respected for creating beautiful, aerodynamic designs. He developed the patented “superlight” Superleggera construction method, a marvel of metal tube frames welded to a solid chassis, then skinned with aluminum body panels.

When Felice died suddenly in 1948 it was up to his son Carlo Felice, known as “Cici”, to save the business. Cici did so in no uncertain terms, when he presented his 1/10-scale model of the distinctive Barchetta to prospective client Enzo Ferrari. Enzo accepted the “little boat” design as presented. The superleggera concept became so closely associated with Touring that it was incorporated into the name of the company, becoming Touring Superleggera Milano in the 1950s.

Pictured: Cici Anderloni proudly displays the original Barchetta model to Paul Russell. Lake Como, 1998.

Born into an Italian banking family, Count Carlo Felice Trossi was an amateur inventor and a noted motor sportsman of the 1930s. Known as ‘Didi’ to his friends, he enjoyed racing boats and airplanes in addition to his pursuits in the field of engineering. As an early financial backer of Enzo Ferrari, he become President of Scuderia Ferrari in 1932 while continuing to be a primary driver for the team.

Reproduced here is a picture dated 1932, and supplied by his family, of his SSK in front of Castello di Gaglianico. The records of the Automobile Club of Italy show that Count Trossi sold and bought back this singular car several times from 1931 until his death in 1949.