1929 Mercedes Benz 710 SSK Carlton Roadster
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George Milligen was a teenaged English motoring enthusiast when the specialist British press began to carry prominent coverage of the latest exploits of Unterturkheim’s latest S-series Mercedes-Benz models. Known in period as, simply, ‘the mighty Mercedes’, and ‘the great white Mercedes’, the impression that even mere word of these magnificent motor cars instilled into such a youthful enthusiast may be readily understood. Competition successes of these Mercedes were followed by advertisements which justifiably screamed, in capital letters, ‘THE FASTEST SPORTS CAR IN THE WORLD’. Just imagine today how that avid young fan absorbed the ad agency copy-writers’ compelling message during the late-1920s.
In the less than slick – but, at that time no less memorable - advertising style of the period they wrote: “The many years of the ‘Mercedes’ factory in the manufacture of Sports Cars, combined with their well-known workmanship and materials used, has enabled them to construct this super sports model. The Model possesses a high maximum speed, a power of acceleration which was considered unattainable hitherto, wonderful hill-climbing and the highest possible degree of reliability…”.
The hard-hitting punch line intended finally to push any interested would-be buyer over the edge began: “It has put up a number of records in the Sports Classes…and in the 1927 German Grand Prix, against considerable international competition (it) obtained FIRST, SECOND & THIRD PLACES…”.
It would be fourteen years before George Milligen could grasp an opportunity to engage directly with such Mercedes-Benz mastery, but the car which we at Bonhams are now so delighted to offer to you is that very special masterpiece itself – the George Milligen Mercedes-Benz SSK.
This high-performance motor car of world class was supplied new from the Stuttgart-Unterturkheim factory, via Car Mart Limited of London to Major John Coats of J. & P. Coats Limited, Dundonald, Northern Ireland, cotton millers. The Coats brand name was for decades familiar from the literally millions of cotton reels stocked in any British and Empire haberdashery store, and every self-respecting British lady’s sewing box...
This wickedly compact yet still uncompromisingly majestic new SSK was first registered ‘GC 96’ on January 11, 1930 by the London County Council. Major Coats kept his imposing and exciting new acquisition for some thirty months, before selling it on June 16, 1932, to one Alfred John Wroham of Holmwood, Brockenhurst in the New Forest, Hampshire.
Mr Wroham kept the car rather longer, the second ownership change recorded in its logbook having then taken place on March 12, 1935 to Clifford Hall of 32 Moseley Street, Newcastle, in the English north-east.
That well known purveyor of exotic, luxury and high-performance cars, Jack Bartlett of Pembridge Villas, Notting Hill Gate, London, next acquired ‘GC 96’ on February 10, 1937, and he found a willing buyer virtually within the week, for on February 19 the car was re-registered to Christopher Dalton Beaumont of 80 Millfield Lane, York, far to the north again.
The great car’s peripatetic odyssey around the island of Great Britain continued that August – as on the 16th Trevor Henry Norman of 14 Weston College Road, Plymouth in Devon – far out to the south-west - became its fifth registered owner.
On March 24, 1938, the great car reappeared in the London trade – with Central Motors Ltd of 148/150 Great Portland Street – from whom it was acquired on December 15 that same year by well-known performance motorist Gerald Montgomery ‘Gerry’ Crozier of Maida Vale, London.
Having experienced the fuel-thirsty joys of the SSK through the politically tense Spring of 1939, Crozier then sold the car to Arbuthnot’s High Speed Motors company in London, who became its eighth registered owner on June 16 that year.
Great Britain and Germany were at war by December 16, 1939, when Birmingham dealer Jimmy M. James assumed ownership of ‘GC 96’ and on November 13 that year – with bombs falling every night as the wartime ‘Blitz’ gathered pace – this magnificent machine passed almost as far south as is possible within the English mainland - to a wide-eyed young dealer named Stephen Pettit, of Hove on the Sussex coast.
It was then from Stephen Pettit that George Edward Milligen of Stalham, Norfolk, became this great car’s 11th – and so far final – owner. He had the car re-registered in his name on June 10, 1941, no fewer than sixty-three years ago this summer…
Mr Milligen paid £400 for the privilege of ownership, a considerable sum in those dark and uncertain times for a product of an enemy industry, yet indelibly one whose technological ascendancy in so many areas was at that time threatening the very survival of the United Kingdom itself.
George Milligen’s farm was being worked to the maximum to sustain what was known as ‘The Home Front’ and his already celebrated mechanical innovations there, and good management, had made it one of the most productive and efficient around.
Mr Milligen had high regard for Mercedes-Benz engineering and manufacturing standards, and he was delighted with the driving challenge and prodigious performance of the SSK – the long, empty straights and fast open curves of his local Norfolk roads providing the ideal stage upon which he could enjoy its all-round performance, burning some of his farming fuel allowance…
Mr Milligen was so impressed by the SSK – and perhaps also so conscious of the paucity of spares available for it in the UK - that on June 15, 1944, he bought a half-sister Mercedes-Benz 38/250, which had been registered ‘IP 2257’ in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1930. This long-wheelbase ‘SS-Type’ was acquired from a Commander Goddard, and cost Mr Milligen £75. In his extensive notebooks recording developments and work upon the cars in his Collection it would be referred to as, simply, ‘The Black Car’…
The Milligen Mercedes-Benz SSK became something of a celebrity in postwar British vintage motoring circles, and he was a well-known character within the burgeoning Vintage Sports Car Club. Yet while always sociable and engaging to like-minded enthusiasts and Club members, he became increasingly protective of his personal privacy and restricted visits to his small but growing car collection at Stalham to a select few.
He was prepared, however, to run his cars from time to time in public events which appealed to him and for many years was a particularly avid supporter of local East Anglian fetes and agricultural shows etc, for which he would often provide vintage cars as attractive display pieces – a public-spirited show of support which he maintained throughout no fewer than five decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s and even into the present century…
He was also a keen supporter of the growing series of International rallies, ‘raids’ and club runs organised by various bodies for Vintage and Historic cars – virtually throughout the postwar period. This enthusiasm saw him drive his great SSK to its birthplace – the Mercedes-Benz factory site at Stuttgart-Unterturkheim – for the company’s jubilee celebrations, and he also drove it in a select number of organised Vintage events both at home and in Continental Europe, including the 1983 Historic Monte Carlo Rally.
While ‘GC 96’ has never been totally stripped and restored in the currently accepted meaning of that phrase, Mr Milligen did encounter difficulty with the car in the early 1950s when it appears circumstantially that the original radiator core was found to be blocked and corroded beyond further effective use and some castings of original engine Nr ‘77631’ had perhaps also become cracked, porous and suspect.
in one of the Mercedes-Benz publications included in the documentation file accompanying this Lot, Mr Milligen has hand-written “Details of cylinder liners as fitted from both cars to GC 96 at the beginning of 1953”, listing below four such liners originated from ‘GC 96’ in Nos 1, 2, 3 and 4 cylinders, while the liners in Nos 5 and 6 were both drawn from ‘Black Car IP2257’. The hand-written notes also record the use of “All six pistons from IP 2257” and further work in “Spring of 1954”. For many, many years the engine of ‘The Milligen SSK’ has used block and mount casting Nr ‘76110’ which we presume to have been taken from ‘The Black Car’.
In May 2002, in an interview with Michael Ware – the hugely respected former curator of The National Motor Museum at Beaulieu – Mr Milligen recalled how: “I had the interest in sports cars after I saw the 38/250 Mercedes when I was in Germany…near Baden watching a hill climb and a German was driving these 38/250s and from that time onwards it was in the back of my mind that I’d like to have one of those. Not with any idea of collecting anything. I bought my 38/250 via an advert in ‘The Autocar’ or one of those things and I bought it from a young car dealer in Brighton.
“It’s a very good car. What was always the mystery of these 38/250s is the supercharger … I was in touch with another knowledgeable driver and there was a comment about the supercharger and I replied to say that it was a very nice idea on the race track …. They produce the effect of a kick down like on the Facel Vega, it’s a terrible noise you know, very impressive on a race track. I’ve only ever used it about three times. Without it, it does a pleasant 80mph anyway. It’s all in running order but I haven’t licensed it (for a while…)….”.
It appears that upon Major Coats’ original purchase in 1929, ‘GC 96’ was supplied unbodied from Germany, and the bodywork which it has since worn throughout its active life was fashioned and fitted by the Carlton Carriage Company Ltd of Willesden, London – a specialist concern which carried out much bespoke work at the time, often on prestigious chassis.
From the 1960s, George Milligen had great respect for the widely published Vintage car writings and appreciation expressed by America’s first Formula 1 World Champion racing driver, Phil Hill – himself a dyed-in-the-wool motoring enthusiast since childhood. In ‘Automobile Quarterly’ (Volume 7, No 1) this renowned fellow connoisseur wrote with characteristic simple honesty of the short-chassis Mercedes-Benz SSK:
“I expected the driving position to be terrible, what with the steering wheel up against your chest, but it turned out to be quite comfortable. I have a 1750cc Alfa that feels very much the same.
“The SSK exhaust note has a very big sound…pretty noisy, but I hadn’t heard anything until I put my foot in it and brought the blower into operation. Now I understand what all the fuss is about when people rave over the scream of the SSK blower. It makes a heck of a racket…believe me – it’s loud.
“The car seems to be pulling very tall gear ratios…unavoidable in a machine with a rev limit of 3,200rpm that will do over 120mph.
“The handling and braking were absolutely superb for a car with solid axles and half-elliptics all round. I was just amazed at the way this great big thing felt in a corner. The harder you drive it the more it seems to dig itself into the road, and the brakes didn’t make a sound and would really stop the car. It was a strange sensation, sitting back over the rear axle and having the impression that the steering is being done way up ahead of you, but it was easy enough to get used to and after only a few minutes I was hanging the tail out with no trouble at all…It’s really too bad that there aren’t more of these fine cars around…”.
Indeed it is – but here we offer perhaps the most compellingly preserved, perfect-provenance Mercedes-Benz SSK to have survived anywhere in the world – the personal SSK of a lifelong enthusiast and truly acknowledged connoisseur, a survivor ‘au naturel’, a masterpiece whose individual history can be read today in every scuff, ripple and grain of its being.
Louwman Museum report
Everything about this car is original, which is remarkable. It could even be described as the most original Mercedes-Benz SSK, a model which car enthusiasts consider the most famous Mercedes of all time. Only thirty were produced, predominantly for racing, hence the reason why few SSKs survive in completely original condition.
This was a privately owned car, delivered in 1929 to a British Army major. The car had multiple owners before being acquired in 1941 by car enthusiast George Milligen, who put the Mercedes on blocks during the war because he did not want to be seen driving a German car in England. After the war he used the car extensively and kept it until his death in 2004, when it was acquired by the Louwman Museum.
During an overhaul it emerged that all the part numbers were original, with the exception of the crankcase. The original had been fitted to another car, which Milligen sold to Mercedes-Benz. Research confirmed that Mercedes-Benz still possessed the original crankcase and following further liaison with the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center, it was refitted to this SSK so that the car is now entirely in its original state.
SSK stands for ‘Super Sport Kurz’. It was a car based on the S, but with a shortened chassis for improved road holding and handling. The SSK has a seven-litre, six-cylinder engine, producing 140 hp without and 200 hp with the compressor. The car could reach a top speed of almost 200 km/h. It was one of the most exciting and powerful sports cars of its time.
It was the last car that Ferdinand Porsche designed for Mercedes-Benz, before starting his own company. The SSK triumphed in many races, including the 1929 and 1930 Spanish Grands Prix, the 1931 Argentinian and German Grands Prix as well as the Mille Miglia of that year. In 2010 the car was an entrant in the historic Mille Miglia and finished the race without any technical problems.