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First American Sports Car

Chevrolet has claimed the Corvette is “America’s first sports car,” but that dubious claim can certainly be debunked by a quick look at American automotive history. Sports cars of many sorts existed prior to the Corvette. One of the most significant came into being before the First World War. Produced in New Jersey, the Mercer Raceabout has as good a claim as any on the title of American’s first sports car.

The Mercer’s T-head engine allowed it to reach breakneck speeds of nearly eighty miles per hour. This was no small feat in that era of poor road conditions. Those who have had the opportunity to drive restored Mercers have maintained that it drives as well as most modern cars, with the exception of the antiquated breaking system.

Mercers originally appeared around 1910 and were hand-built by a team of artisans in New Jersey. Costs were prohibitive, and Mercer’s customer base consisted solely of wealthy men interested in experimenting with the new technology of the automobile. They were certainly impressed with what they discovered.

In 1911, the Mercer Raceabout was entered in six races—a considerable number considering the paucity of events at the time. It won five of them. Despite its massive success, the Raceabout’s best days still lied ahead.

In 1914, the Raceabout won the prestigious American Grand Prize race, a 403-mile test of the world’s finest automobiles. Beating British and other competitors, the Raceabout and its driver, Eddie Pullen, were welcomed home with a parade celebrating the small manufacturer’s success.

Mercers disappeared by 1925 following a series of unfortunate staffing events and racing accidents. Although the company only produced sports cars for fifteen years, it left an indelible mark on the American sports car scene.

Today, the Raceabouts are a coveted prize among in-the-know car collectors. A model from the 1910s can fetch over $300,000, a testament to its lasting popularity and historical significance.

We tend to think of sports cars in terms of the two seaters that hit mass production after the conclusion of World War II. But the forefathers of modern sports cars—cars like the Mercers that performed and succeeded before World War I—shouldn’t be neglected. One can argue whether or not Mercer deserves the title of America’s first sports car over some other manufacturers, but one cannot dispute that it was one of America’s most successful early forays into the sports car world.

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