- The only surviving supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz bodied by Saoutchik
- Reportedly commissioned by Bay Area banking heir Dr. Charles Crocker
- First in Class at the first Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1950
- Elaborately detailed disappearing-top coachwork
- One of the most unusual and fascinating supercharged Mercedes-Benzes of its time
Famed French coachbuilder J. Saoutchik is known to have bodied three 500 K and 540 K chassis, all for interesting personages, including Standard Oil heiress Beatrice Cartright and perfume magnate E. Virgil Neal. That offered here, the only survivor of the trio, boasts an especially fascinating lineage, that, indeed, has been spent almost entirely in the Golden State—although its story, of course, begins in Paris.
According to Mercedes-Benz records, the chassis arrived in the City of Light on 9 October 1935. The chassis was delivered later that month to the coachbuilder Jacques Saoutchik to receive his masterfully detailed creation, featuring a disappearing convertible top, opening vee’d windshield, typically intricate interior woodwork, and elaborately detailed moldings along the fenders and flanks of the body, creating the illusion of waves sweeping against a hull. In many ways the design of the car, in its profile and stance, recalls the coachbuilder’s cabriolet treatments on earlier Mercedes-Benz S and SS chassis. Saoutchik was noted for the creativity of his construction, witnessed on this car in the design of roll-up windows in the backs of the front seats, to protect passengers’ faces.
Every line of a Saoutchik body was considered from the viewpoint of a meticulous artist, and the end creation spoke for itself, as much avant-garde sculpture as automobile.
DR. CROCKER’S PEBBLE BEACH CAR
The car was reportedly commissioned from Saoutchik by Dr. Charles Crocker, member of a very old and prominent Bay Area family. His grandfather and namesake was one of the “Big Four” of California railroading and established the Crocker Bank; their legacy includes Crocker Street in downtown San Francisco. The younger Charles Crocker was born in that city in 1904, graduated from Yale, and subsequently earned a medical degree from Columbia; he went on to study further in Vienna, but never actually practiced medicine. A possibly apocryphal but delightful story, passed with the car over the years, was that Dr. Crocker and an equally wealthy friend both visited the Paris Salon de l’Automobile held from 3–13 October while on vacation; attempting to outdo one another, the friend bought a Rolls-Royce and Dr. Crocker the Mercedes-Benz. According to later owner Richard Croxton Adams, Saoutchik assured Dr. Crocker that the body would appear as modern in half a century as in 1935.
The 500 K appears to have been kept locally at Dr. Crocker’s home at Pebble Beach, explaining its presence at a small charity sports car show held at the golf links in 1950—the very first Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, where the original-owner 500 K won its class.
The car reportedly remained with Dr. Crocker until 1959, and was then bought by Scott Newhall. Also a member of a prominent Northern California family, involved in the building of Valencia and other communities, Mr. Newhall served as the longtime and highly influential executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, and was also a devout car enthusiast. Following a restoration, it returned to Pebble Beach with Mrs. Newhall in 1965, with the Examiner noting that the car had been acquired from the late Dr. Crocker. Soon thereafter the car was sold to Robert Burkholder, an investment executive in San Francisco, who exhibited it again at Pebble Beach, in 1966, then in CCCA competition, winning 1st in Class at the Western Grand Classic. Having apparently had his fun, he then offered it for sale in the Club’s Bulletin in 1967.
The 500 K was bought from Burkholder by Richard Croxton Adams, inventor of the paint roller and a prominent San Diego-area banker, real estate inventor, philanthropist, and passionate car enthusiast, cut from the same mold as the late Dr. Crocker. He is well-remembered for his involvement in the establishment of the air and automobile museums in San Diego. Well-preserved in his loving hands, the Mercedes-Benz remained with Mr. Adams’ family until 1989, and was then acquired for the present collection, in which it has remained for the last 33 years.
Today the car appears to retain much of its original restoration for the Newhalls; while there is some damage to the trim hardware, in particular one of the marker lights, the newer black and grey paint is in largely good order, while the elaborate pigskin and calfskin interior shows considerable age and wear, and has developed an almost “original” patina. Fascinating touches include Cromos “safety bumpers” similar to those fitted to European-bodied Duesenbergs, two-tone trimming to the inner door panels, a jade gear-shift knob, and a sterling silver vanity drawer containing cosmetics accessories! The car retains its numbers-matching chassis and engine, complete with original tags, including the factory Typenschild.
Combining one of the period’s finest performance chassis with coachwork by its premiere artisan, this is certainly one of the ultimate examples of the supercharged eight-cylinder Mercedes-Benz. The Crocker-Newhall-Adams Saoutchik 500 K is offered today with considerable pride, in the heart of the area where, indeed, the vast majority of its life has been spent—and where it will almost certainly find some old friends along with a new owner.