The ups and downs of a 1938 Alpine Racer

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1938 Mercedes-Benz Gelandesport Zweisitzer 170VS after its restoration | Horsepower Motorworks photos by Stephen Rossini

Each year, daredevil drivers from around the world assemble themselves just west of Colorado Springs for the race up to the summit of Pikes Peak. Note, however, they only race up the mountain. 

But back in the early days of motorsports, there was a series of races in Europe’s Alps that not only involved climbing up to the Alpine passes but also racing back down and then up the next mountain and on and on for a period of days.

One such event was the Deutsche Alpenfahrt, staged in 1938 and 1939 over a 1,600-kilometer course that started in Munich and — three days and 38 Alpine passes later — ended in Vienna. 

To compete in such events, in 1938 Mercedes-Benz produced 10 Gelandesport Zweisitzer 170VS, two-seat, off-road “Alpine Racer” vehicles. 

Believed to be the only survivor of that breed, Alpine Racer No. 804801 — the first of the 10 produced — not only has been restored, but recently received the Chairman’s Choice award at the 2019 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance.

“For the Alpine competition, the car supported a co-driver, a tool bag as well as two spare tires in case of incidents on the long racecourse,” according to a brochure for the vehicle.

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Under the hood

“The 170 VS did not have bumpers in the usual sense of the word, but it was designed with a bumper rod fitted on the rear end of the car. This design served as a foothold that could be used by the co-driver in order to increase extra load onto the rear axle when the car would encounter slippery terrain during competition. Handles are also present on the rear fenders to aid the co-driver during these exterior support maneuvers.”

No. 804801 won medals during its competitive days. After World War II, it was imported to the United States by William Kitto, a New York City doctor, and while drivable, was not truly roadworthy. It reportedly was repaired though not restored.

In the trunk

In the late 1960s, the Alpine Racer — with incorrect bumpers, wheels, fuel tank, and a wrong instrument panel absent of gauges — was discovered in a barn in Coleman, Michigan, by Ed Hannum, who then purchased the car from Kitto. 

Hannum sold the car in 1971 to Calvin Grosscup in 1971, who eight years later gave the car to Randall Tustison.  A European car specialist dealership near Boston handled the sale of the car in 1990 from Tustison to Warren Riter.

The car was painted silver when Riter bought it, but he discovered that its original color had been black. In 1995, he disassembled the car to see what would be needed for its restoration, and began to track down the proper parts for that project.

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Among the parts needed was a replacement engine, a period-correct, 60-horsepower 1,912cc 4-cylinder with dual Solex carburetors. 

In the restoration shop

In July 2018, the Riter family delivered the car to Horsepower Motorworks in Victor, New York, for a concours restoration to its 1938 Alpine racing specification. 

Approaching the award stand at Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

4 COMMENTS

    • Apollo’s Sitte: you should call the shop that renovated it. The article said Horsepower Motorworks restored it in Victor NY. They would probably know if it is for sale.

      • This is Paul from Horsepower Motorworks. This car is in fact for sale. It will also be at the Greenwich Concours at the end of May 2019.

    • This is Paul from Horsepower Motorworks. This car is in fact for sale. It will also be at the Greenwich Concours at the end of May 2019.

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