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Vanderbilt drives his Mercedes Simplex from Paris to Nice in Three Days
On March 14, 1902, the fifth 40 hp Mercedes-Simplex was handed over by DMG in Cannstatt to William K. Vanderbilt Jr., an American billionaire and car enthusiast. He started out straightaway on a 600 kilometer trip to Paris where he arrived on the evening of the next day.
Later that year he successfully established a speed record over one kilometer with a flying start on the road between Ablis and Chartres: his Mercedes-Simplex reached a top speed of 111.8 kilometers per hour.
Participation in long-distance races - popular events at the time - and repeated record runs in Europe and America were a sporting pastime for Vanderbilt Jr. Besides, these events consolidated the legendary reputation of the Mercedes - and its driver - and provided DMG with a growing number of prominent customers.
The 40 hp Mercedes-Simplex of William K. Vanderbilt Jr., model year 1902, is by all accounts the oldest existing Mercedes and one of the few surviving cars from this model series. Its history can be traced back completely. Today, the vehicle is part of the collection of the Mercedes-Benz museum.
Here, we provide you with William K. Vanderbilt Jr.‘s record of his trip from Paris to Nice only a few days after his arrival from Germany:
MARCH 18TH, 1902
AT 6 A. M. D. W. Bishop and myself were en route for Nice. A 40 H. P. Mercedes equipped with racing body was our mode of conveyance. The route chosen passed through the towns of Fontainebleau, Montargis, Cosne, Nevers and Moulins. At the last named stopped for the night at Grand Hotel de Paris. Distance run for the day was as follows:
Paris-Fontainebleau 60 kilometres Fontainebleau-Cosne127 kilometresCosne-Moulins 110 kilometres Total run so for far 297 kilometres
MARCH 19TH, 1902
Under way bright and early, as we had a long day's run before us. Stopped at Roanne for a cup of coffee and some eggs, and after half an hour's delay, proceeded to Lyon, where we partook of an early lunch. From Roanne to Lyon the road was rather mountainous, and encountering a snow storm, the ride proved disagreeable. The trip was made with no accidents. Distance from
Moulins-Roanne 100 kilometres Roanne-Lyon 90 kilometres Total 190 kilometres
After a short rest we proceeded from Lyon to Valence, and here ran into rain. Wishing to arrive at Digne that night, where we expected to meet Mr. Bishop's valet with clothes, we proceeded as rapidly as possible on our route; the country after leaving Crest became very mountainous. The road extended along a valley through which a small river flowed, and we found to our disgust that same was narrow and in bad condition, owing to the numerous snows and the impossibility of making repairs during the winter months. Ten kilometres beyond Die punctured a rear tire. Made hasty repairs, and in so doing pinched the inner tube, causing same to explode just after starting, with the result that our work had to be done over again.
We cursed our luck, as it was now snowing, and we had a pass in front of us and 100 kilometres of road to cover; but repairs were soon made, and after half an hour's delay, were once more under way.
Arriving at Luc-en-Diois, a small village consisting of not over half a dozen houses, I stopped to inquire if we were on the right road, as I did not care about being lost in the Alps in a blizzard. As I was asking this question a policeman came out of a house right opposite from where we were standing and placed me under arrest, he stating that we had passed through the town of Die, 18 kilometres back, at a tremendous rate of speed.
Taking us into a small room in the house, he showed me a telegram he had received from the officials of that town, which read that he should stop an automobile painted blue, and carrying an extra wheel on the back. My machine was painted yellow, but being thoroughly covered with mud it was impossible to distinguish the color. So I immediately rubbed off part of this dirt, showing him there must be a mistake, as our car was painted yellow. Then I stated to him that we did not have an extra wheel on the back of the machine, but on passing through Die had noticed another automobile that was painted blue and had an extra wheel, and this must be the one that they had telegraphed him to stop. Bishop by this time was getting very much excited and had produced numerous watches, and was now at work calculating and showing the gendarme that it had taken us an hour and a half to travel the 18 kilometres that separated the two towns. But there was no use of arguing, as there were three policemen present, and they unanimously decided to keep us locked up for the night, sending us back to Die for trial in the morning. I again protested, stating that they had no right to make an arrest, that I had my papers and all they had to do was to take my name and send me a notice of the trial, when I should appear. This was the custom all over France, but evidently not so in this spot. We were told to put the machine in a barn on the opposite side of the road, and then were placed in a house next door. We were given two rooms for ourselves and one for the mechanic, and a man was placed at the door to watch us. Being extremely tired and hungry, also very wet, we retired at once.
I tried to go to sleep, but after a short snooze woke up at midnight with a frightful chill, having slept with all the fur rugs and coats available on me, and they having had absolutely no effect. I got up and went into Bishop's room, and much to my surprise, found him walking up and down, taking large drinks of brandy, in an endeavor to keep warm. We finally decided that as Bishop's room had a fireplace we would have a fire, and thereupon proceeded through the house to see what we could find in the way of fuel. Discovering same charcoal, we brought some up and placed it on the hearth, hut curiously enough, it would not burn. Therefore, taking a lot of books that were on a shelf, we tore the pages out and placed them in the fireplace. The library made a very good fire, hut did not seem to warm the room. So we opened the window to let in some of the fresh air from outside, which although considerably colder, did not have the frightful dampness that the interior of the house contained.
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 arrived at the front door 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.
The man asked the mechanic and myself a few questions as we went out. We told him that it was so cold inside that we were going across the street to the machine to get some rugs we had left there, to enable us to get warm. As luck would have it, these 40 hp Mercedes were absolutely noiseless, so that 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.
After having proceeded about five kilometres we stopped to light our lamps, one of which was a very powerful searchlight. We had now begun to ascend the pass. The fog was very heavy and it was impossible to see over twenty feet ahead at this hour, but still there was nothing to do. We could not turn back, and as this was the only road, we had to advance.
After a few kilometres we encountered numerous drifts, which we charged several times before finally plowing through. It took us a couple of hours to attain the summit, about seven miles distant, but same was finally reached in safety, and thanks to the southern exposure on which was located the descent, we found less snow.
At six o'clock in the morning we arrived at Serres, 137 kilometres from Valence, and here for the first time since leaving that town we obtained same food. All the eggs in the place were ordered and as much chocolate as the old lady who was in charge of the road-house could make. I think she thought we were escaped lunatics, especially when we informed her that we had come over the Pass, which she said nobody had attempted to do either by automobile or carriage for five months.
After breakfast we started for Digne and found the road full of "thank-you-ma'ams," which on one occasion almost threw Bishop out of his seat, he having gone to sleep from fatigue, of the previous night.
Finally at nine o'clock we reached Digne, 73 kilometres distant from Serres, and here found the valet with our clothes.
The town is situated in a valley surrounded by the Alps; the scenery is magnificent, but the place itself unattractive.
We were now 174 kilometres from Nice. Leaving Digne about 10.30 A. M., we once more ascended a steep mountain as far as Mezel, and from there on proceeded to St. André on a very uninteresting road, finally reaching Puget Théniers, 70 kilometres distant from Nice. The road to Puget Théniers, especially the first 40 kilometres, leading through a canyon, is worth visiting.
At 1 P. M. Nice was reached, and at 1.30 Monte Carlo. Paris - Fontainebleau 60 kilometres Fontainebleau - Montargis 53 kilometres Montargis - Cosne 74 kilometres Cosne - Nevers54 kilometres Nevers - Moulins56 kilometres Moulins - Roanne100 kilometres Roanne - Lyon90 kilometres Lyon – Valence99 kilometres Valence - Die 66 kilometres Die - Luc-en-Diois18 kilometres Luc-en-Diois - Serres 53 kilometres Serres - Sisteron 33 kilometres Sisteron -Digne 40 kilometres Digne - Nice 174 kilometres Total 970 kilometres