1911 Mercer Raceabout

Roy Ritchie

Ninety-seven years later, we had a chance to clamber into the driver's seat - perch, actually - of Mann's pristine but not overly restored 1911 Raceabout. "When you hear that exhaust note," Zakira's shop manager, Dave Schleppi, advised, "it won't be hard to imagine having a ball back in the teens." He was right, but it was the Raceabout's abundant torque that left the most lasting impression. That, and the arm strength required to turn the large, metal-spoked steering wheel that's sitting right in your lap. With zero wind protection, 50 mph feels like 100 mph. The Mercer can be tossed into a corner, but watch out for bumps, since the steel chassis feels about as rigid as a thin sheet of plywood. Also, the gearbox takes a firm hand. As a whole, though, the driving experience is surprisingly modern. Just remember where the handbrake is located as you approach other cars from behind.

We returned to Zakira's and safely stashed away the Raceabout, providing us a chance to reflect on a century of automotive progress. In fact, cars adhere to the same general formula that they have for a century: four wheels, an engine in front driving the rear axle, and a steering wheel to control direction of movement. Just think: those of us who watched The Jetsons in the 1960s probably assumed that we'd all be traveling the world in flying cars by now. It makes you wonder what the Bugatti Veyron will feel like in 100 years.

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