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Tommy Lee Mercedes W154 in England

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#1 cabianca

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 18:17

This car had quite a saga. I will state what I know and perhaps others can add to the narrative.

The 8 Nov 1946 issue of Autocar mentions two pre-war Mercedes Grand Prix cars available in Czechoslovakia for 2500 pounds each. I believe this was in the editorial section, not in the ads. Who had them for sale?

The 13 Dec 1946 Autocar discusses a carnet for the Mercedes. Who obtained it?

The January 1947 issue of Motorsport says the car is at Rowlands of Byfleet. Who imported it?

The March 1947 Motorsport says the car is at Alta. I have also heard that BRM inspected the car. Is the latter true?

Luigi Chinetti brokered the car to Tommy Lee. The March 1947 SCCA magazine Sports Car has a picture of the car when it arrived in New York on the Queen Elizabeth. Who did Chinetti buy the car from?

Lee entered the car at Indianapolis. It then passed thru Joel Thorne who put a Sparks engine in it. It later had an Offy and was at Indy as the Safety Glass Special (story in Autosport 24 May 1957). Then Colin Crabbe and Neil Corner.

I am interested in who had the two cars in Czech, who brought the one car to England and who sold it to Chinetti. Many thanks. Another obvious question is what happened to the second car.

Edited by cabianca, 18 September 2009 - 19:04.


#2 Tim Murray

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Posted 18 September 2009 - 19:03

Jean-Maurice Gigleux posted the following in 2004, in the 'The Last Show of the Silver Arrows' thread:

To answer to Dennis:
Two W154 were discovered, hiden in a barn, by a Czech named Antonin Vitvar, at Start Paka in Czechoslovakia: 189439 and 189440.
The Czech Automobile Club became the owner of the cars in 1945. 189440 went to the Prague National Technical Museum were it is still on display (it is the car which was on show during the seventies at the Donington Collection).
189439 (or Wagen 9) was considered by the Czech AC as being a possibility of exchange with a modern post war GP car. It seems a deal was conclued with Alta in 1946. Alta had an agent RC Rowland Motors Ltd who was their distributor for Southern England and Export. Rowland brought the car back from Prague to his premises at Byfleet (Surrey) on a truck. What is strange is that Alta never built a GP car for the Czech AC!
A picture of the car was published by The Autocar of December 13,1946 with the following caption:
"This 3 litre Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz has recently arrived in this country on an international carnet,issued in the name of the Czech Automobile Club, and is at present at R.C.Rowland's premises at Byfleet, Surrey".
Always in the Autocar, March 14, 1947 issue: "The 3 litre Grand Prix Mercedes-Benz, now at Rowlands Motors at Byfleet, has been sold to the Robert Lee Corporation of Los Angeles. It will sail on the Queen Elizabeth, on March 15, and will be flown from New-York to Los Angeles by special aircraft. Technical director of the Robert Lee Corporation is Louis (sic) Chinetti, one-time winner of Le Mans and he will be in charge of the preparation of the car for this year's Indianapolis 500. It is not yet known who will drive the car.".
In fact the car was prepared by Mal Ord and Art Stump. I don't know more about the link between Lee and Chinetti.
At Indy 1947 the car retired with piston ring failure which caused damages to the rods and valves.
The car was repaired but during the 1948 edition it retired with oil pressure matters. The engine was removed and stored in Lee's shop. Lee commited suicide and the car was sold less engine to Joe(l) Thorne who wanted a more streamlined car; the work was done by Luji Lesovsky with the result you saw and don't seem to appreciate! A Thorne-Sparks 4.5 litre engine was installed. The car was entered in 1949-1950 and 1951 at Indy with respective N°81-33 and 88 but failed to qualify each year. After that it was stored at Indianapolis until the end of 1955 when Edward Shreeve, a
local policeman bought it, the price being, it is said, the amount of the storage bill. Shreeve installed a Jaguar D-type engine in the car and entered it at Indy 1957 with Danny Kladis as driver (N°84
Safety Auto Glass Sp); it failed once more to qualify; after this attempt a stock Jaguar engine was fitted and Shreeve sold the car to Dave Biggs (Missouri) and in 1959 the new owner was Dick Merritt (Ferrari books). Then at the end of the sixties it was bought by Colin Crabbe who sold it to
Paul Foulkes Halbard who in turn sold it to Robert Roberts; Neil Corner then added it to his stabble
and with him a major restoration was done by Crosthwaite and Gardiner. Last owner is a German
who have it in his collection in Germany.
During all that time what about the engine. After Lee's death it became the property of his associate, Willet Brown who had it repaired; it was sent to General Motors for evaluation. After that it remained in Brown's shop until being sold to Briggs Cunningham who had it on show at his museum of Costa Mesa. After five years of tractations Corner managed to buy it so it returned to the car.

#3 f1steveuk

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Posted 19 September 2009 - 08:14

I worked for Paul Foulkes-Halbard, and I was lead to believe that he sold it to Colin Crabbe, not the other way around. I also know that the original "Don Lee Special" body work is still with Paul's estate.

Edited by f1steveuk, 19 September 2009 - 14:23.