Sep 12 2016

Mystery Foto #37 Solved: Ralph DePalma in the Mercedes that Won the 1915 Indy 500 Race

The Helck Family Collection challenged you to identify this weekend's Mystery Foto. Louis Slawe also needs help your identifying this automobile or spaceship spotted last month on the Jersey Shore.

Andswers to the Mystery Foto questions:

  • Identify the driver, the mechanician and the race car.

Driver: Ralph DePalma

Mechanician: Louis Fontaine

Race Car: Mercedes Grand Prix Racer that won the 1915 Indy 500 Race.

According to Mercedes Benz, DePalma aquired the car on July 25, 1914 in Europe just before World War I broke out:

Time and again, de Palma also competed in races in Europe, for instance in the French Grand Prix in 1912 and 1914. In the 1914 race, de Palma drove a British Vauxhall – but places one through to three were taken by a trio driving 115 hp Mercedes Grand Prix racing cars. Two of these were confiscated by the French authorities before they left the country. De Palma traveled to Untertürkheim to talk to Paul Daimler, asking him whether he could buy the third Mercedes. Daimler consented, fixing a price of 6,000 dollars for the car plus spares. De Palma was happy and during the following days watched the car being overhauled. On July 25, 1914 Daimler summoned de Palma to his office and urged him to pack his suitcases immediately, telling him that the vehicle papers and a road map showing him the way to Antwerp were ready to be collected. From Antwerp, the car was to be shipped to America on a German freighter called "Vaterland" ('Fatherland'). De Palma himself left Europe on the steamer "Olympic" from Le Havre, to learn only a few days later, out on the Atlantic, that war had broken out in Europe. It has never been officially clarified why Daimler helped bringing a German racing car out of the country in those days. De Palma had his own theory, saying that motor racing was an international sport. Over and above this, he had clinched the only Mercedes victories in America, and Daimler's help could have been a reward.
 In 1915, de Palma tackled the 500 miles in Indianapolis in his new Mercedes – and again a connecting rod broke under the enormous strain, three laps before the finish. But this time, the engine kept working and the Mercedes crossed the finishing line as the winner.

  • Link the driver to the Vanderbilt Cup Races

Ralpha DePalma drove Mercedes racers in four Vanderbilt Cup Races, winning in 1912 and 1914:

1911 Vanderbilt Cup Race (Savannah): Drove the #10 Mercedes. Finished 2nd.

1912 Vanderbilt Cup Race (Milwaukee):Drove the #22 Mercedes. Finished 1st.

1914 Vanderbilt Cup Race (Santa Monica): Drove the #12 Mercedes. Finished 1st.

1915 Vanderbilt Cup Race (San Francisco): Drove the #22 Mercedes. Finished 4th.

  • At what race was this photo taken?

1915 Indy 500 Race at Indianapolis, Indiana

  • Bonus: Identify the Mystery Auto

The Mystery Auto is an ETV (Extra Terrestrial Vehicle) concept car built by Mike Vetter's The Car Factory, based in Florida.

Congrats to Chuck Rudy, Dick Gorman, Ariejan Bos, Greg O., Steve Lucas and Andrew Wylie for identifying Ralph DePalma and his Mercedes. Kudos to Art Kleiner, Chuck Rudy, Dick Gorman, Steve Lucas, Steve Morris and David Stephan for recognizing the ETV concept car.


Howard Kroplick

DePalma winning the 1915 Indy 500 Race

A Ralph DePalma photo sent to artist Peter Helck. Courtesy of the Helck Family Collection.

Courtesy of the Helck Family Collection.

The current location of the Mercedes is unknown.

Mystery Auto Solved: The ETV Concept Car built by Mike Vetter

Louis Slawe: My paralegal was driving behind this vehicle last week. She could not get a photo from the front.


Sep 08 2016 Chuck Rudy 10:04 PM

The driver is Ralph DePalma, the car is a Mercedes GP car which finished second in the 1914 French GP, was sold to DePalma and shipped just before unpleasantries of WW I, then won the 1915 Indy 500…...looking at the scoreboard the track is Indy. 

“On 2 October 1912, he won the Vanderbilt Cup race in Milwaukee (Wisconsin) driving the “Grey Ghost”, a Mercedes 37/90 hp racing car built in 1911….On 26 February 1914, DePalma won the Vanderbilt race again with the “Grey Ghost”. This time the race was held in Santa Monica (California). In 1915, this was followed by probably his greatest triumph, the victory in Indianapolis”

The mechanician of record is Louie Fontaine.

Sep 09 2016 Art Kleiner 1:01 AM

I’ll go right to the Bonus question:
Car’s frame is a Chevrolet Aveo used by Mike Vetter and others at “The Car Company” in FL to build “The Extraterrestrial Vehicle” (ETV).

Sep 09 2016 Chuck Rudy 12:01 PM

I did get thrown a bit by the Jersey Shore reference, thinking I was being lead somewhere else and seeing what looks like sandy ground… searched Amatol-Atlantic City NJ to see if they had a similar scoreboard and NO, not there.  So I believe it’s Indy.  But did find two sites of Amatol, one is photos the other the best board track newsreel type films I ever recall seeing of high speed board racing.

Pictures of Amatol PAGE STUFF/Amatol_Speedway_Memories__copy(1).htm

1926 Board track film…...which needs to be full screen.

Apologies for going off another direction…...but it was to good not to share.

Sep 09 2016 Chuck Rudy 12:09 PM

The “mystery” car in NJ appears to be ET’s auto…..the ETV.

Sep 09 2016 Ted 12:39 PM

That mystery car is certainly a mystery to me.I think the license plate is Florida,and has a radar antenna or some kinda tracking device.

Sep 11 2016 Dick Gorman 9:50 AM

Ralph DePalma wins the 1915 Indianapolis 500 in a Mercedes Grand Prix car. His co- driver is Louis Fontaine.
DePalma’s other Vanderbuilt cup history includes Vanderbilt Cup, Milwaukee: 1st 1914, Vanderbuilt cup, Milwaukee 1915 2nd place, Vanderbilt Cup 1914, Santa Monica: 1st.
Briggs Cunningham owned a Mercedes GP car very similar to this one. I photographed it at Sebring 1957 or 1958 where it was on display and running. Cunningham’s car may now be in the Collier collection.


Sep 11 2016 Dick Gorman 10:14 AM

I gave my answer about Ralph DePalma and the Mercedes earlier.
The Mystery car is a custom car by designer Michael Vetter which is called an ETV.

Sep 11 2016 Bob McMulkin 11:04 AM

That’s a Mercedes Benz see the star on the rad she’ll under the motor meter

Sep 11 2016 Ariejan Bos 6:06 PM

The mystery photo shows Ralph DePalma at the wheel of Mercedes racer #2, nicknamed the Grey Ghost, with which he won the 1915 Indianapolis 500 mile race on May 31. After wining the race he paid his mechanic Louis Fountaine the following tribute: “Louis, you’re an awful little runt, but believe me, you’re some mechanic!” (Motor Age, June 3, 1915).
The racer was one of the Mercedes Grand Prix team, which had won the 1914 French Grand Prix at Lyon, and apparently had already been in the US since August 1914: on August 22 DePalma had won the Elgin National Trophy with the same car. Comparing with the original 1914 GP racers it is clear that several modifications must have been made since. Based on the number of 5 louvres at the right hand side of the bonnet however, it could have have been Salzer’s car which had taken third place in the Grand Prix: this car was the only one with 5 louvres, the other team cars had at least 6 louvres.
DePalma competed in the Vanderbilt Cup races of 1912, 1914 and 1915, all on Mercedes, of which he won the 1914 edition.

Sep 11 2016 Greg O. 6:16 PM

Identify the driver, the mechanician and the race car.
Ralph DePalma with mech. Louis Fontaine in his Mercedes race car.

Link the driver to the Vanderbilt Cup Races
Winner of the 1912 and 1914 Vanderbilt Cup Races.

At what race was this photo taken?
1915 Indianapolis 500

Bonus: Identify the Mystery Auto
Probably a one-off custom, or kit car.

Sep 11 2016 Steve Lucas 7:42 PM

That looks like Ralph DePalma along with mechanician Louis Fontaine in a Mercedes. DePalma participated in four Vanderbilt Cup Races: 1911, 1912, 1914, & 1915, winning in 1912 & 1914. The photo was probably taken at the 1915 Indianapolis 500 race, which DePalma won.—- Bonus question: the mystery car is an “E T V” or Extra Terrestrial Vehicle, built by Mike Vetter at his shop, The Car Factory, in Micco, Florida.

Sep 12 2016 S. Berliner, III 1:31 AM

The racer appears to be the 1921-22 28/95 PS Mercedes Sportwagen.  The Mystery Car is clearly a full-scale replica of a toy car I played with ca. 1940!  Sam, III

Sep 12 2016 steve morris 4:29 PM

The car seen in New Jersey is called the ETV (Extra terrestrial Vehicle). It is built around a Chevy Cobalt. It features hydraulic suspension to allow it to drop low when parked but raise up for street use. Due to the rather “limited” rear vision, cameras handle all rear view accessibility.

Although not offered as a kit, I first saw it at the Kit Car Nationals at Carlisle back around 2005, or so. At that time it was being offered as a turn key for around $50,000. I am not sure on the status of the company or availability of the car any longer, however, if you want something TOTALLY different, something where you are not likely to be one of a few at a show or cruise night the ETV could just be the car for you

Sep 12 2016 Howard Kroplick 8:51 PM

From David Stephan:
The Florida license plate is a dead giveaway. Spaceship spotted by your paralegal is a car customization by The Car Factory/Michael Vetter “as seen on TV.”

She can get her own one at !

Sep 12 2016 Howard Kroplick 8:51 PM

From Andrew Wylie:

Ralph DePalma and Louis Fontaine

Raced in the Vanderbilt Cup 1911, 1912, 1914, 1915 winning the 1912 and 1914 events

1915 Indianapolis 500

1914 Mercedes GP

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