For the uninitiated, Jay Leno’s Garage is a web and TV series in which American comedian and television host Jay Leno, former host of the Tonight Show, performs live classic-car and motorcycle reviews out of his “Big Dog Garage” in Burbank, California. Recently one of our readers spotted a Chelsea clock on Jay Leno’s Garage — in an episode that featured a 1913 Mercer Raceabout roadster. Chelsea began making automobile clocks a decade earlier around 1903, manufacturing top-of-the-line dashboard clocks for the likes of Rolls Royce, Packard, and Studebaker, among others.
The first Mercer was built in Trenton, New Jersey, in 1909, and was financed by the Roebling family — the same family that designed and built the Brooklyn Bridge. By 1913 the Mercer had a four-speed gearbox, which helped it to reach speeds of over 80 miles an hour. While most Brass Era performance automobiles had huge bodies and engines, Mercer used a much smaller powertrain on a stripped-down chassis. As Leno demonstrates in his garage, beyond the hood and fenders there was practically no body (“a chassis with fenders,” he calls it). Thus, its lightness and agility also aided in its relatively unmatched speed and precision.
“Believe me,” says Leno as he whizzes down the freeway in the Mercer’s open cabin, “a hundred miles an hour in this feels like the end of the world. I can’t imagine what it felt like in 1913. The Model T barely went 42 miles an hour — that was their top speed. In this we hit just a little over 100 [mph]. So this was like the Ferrari Enzo or the Lamborghini of its day: Fast, light, agile, terrific car.”
“You know a lot of people like to call the Corvette ‘America’s first sportscar,’ but in a lot of ways, I think this really is,” said Leno of the Mercer. “Because it actually beats all the cars of the day, not by sheer speed and power, but by a balance of power and handling.”
Leno touched upon the Chelsea dashboard clock only briefly, when acknowledging that most of the car’s components were still original: “There’s nothing modern about this car. We haven’t updated it in any way. The only things I’ve done is… the Mercer race cars had enormous brake drums on the back. My friend… put on the original style racing brake drum. But other than that, this is how she would have left the factory. Clock… speedometer… you can see the oil flowing,” he says pointing to the old oil sight gauge.
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