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SS Mercedes

Sporting Mercedes-Benz entrance a Professor and a Maharajah

Peter Kunz

# Magazine - Article - SS Mercedes 01

No, your car is not the heaviest on juice. May I introduce the (1929) 33/180 h.p. sports Mercedes-Benz? Thank you. This great cream-coloured giant, does 4 to 5 m.p.g. when the blower is operating. But in fairness to this thirst, it should be mentioned that once, in a petrol consumption test, the Benz actually did 12 m.p.g.! Imported by the late Lebbeus Hordern last year, this most distinctive car cost over £2500. It only develops 3100 "revs," but when, at full throttle, the "blower" comes into action, she has tremendous acceleration, and the note is very powerful. The owner of the Benz is Dr A. N. Burkitt, Professor of Anatomy at Sydney University. It is hard to associate a "prof." with a speed car, but the pair get on very nicely, thank you. Produced 110 m.p.h. at Gerringong Beach recently.

So reported Sydney’s paper The Referee (18 June 1930) which sported a grainy photo of the Professor in his 1929 Mercedes-Benz.

Professor Burkitt’s Mercedes-Benz was one of very few sold in Australia in the late 1920’s to mid 1930’s. In Paul Roellf’s book Southern Star - Mercedes-Benz in Australia, the author notes that four Mercedes-Benz were sold in Australia in 1929. It can be reasonably conjectured that of the four sold, the car which Lebbeus Hordern bought new and passed to the Professor was the almost certainly the most expensive. In England, the base price of the car was 2,200 Pounds in 1926 and could be more depending on bodywork selected, which was the first year of the introduction of the 33/180.

Who was Professor Arthur Burkitt? Wikipedia provides biographical information;

Arthur Neville St George Handcock Burkitt (1891-1959), professor of anatomy, was born on 25 March 1891 at Goulburn, New South Wales. He enrolled in science and next in medicine at the University of Sydney (B.Sc., M.B., 1916), graduating with first-class honours in both.

Following a residency at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in 1917, Burkitt was attracted to an academic career and accepted a part-time post as demonstrator in anatomy at the university.  Appointed surgeon lieutenant in the Royal Australian Navy on 1 July, he served at sea on the Australia Station. His appointment terminated on 1 October 1919 and he returned to the anatomy department as lecturer and demonstrator. In 1924 he studied at University College, London, on a Rockefeller grant; back in Sydney, he was promoted associate-professor next year. Following the death of his mentor J. I. Hunter, Burkitt became Challis professor of anatomy in January 1926; he was to hold the post for almost thirty years. In 1930-31 and 1938 he studied the comparative anatomy of the brain at the Netherlands Central Institute for Brain Research, Amsterdam.

Burkitt's tenure of the chair was remembered by all who knew him with affection. The affection arose from Burkitt's personal qualities-his courtliness of manner, gentleness of character and diffidence-and from his professional enthusiasms-his love of books and scholarship, and his willingness to help others. It also stemmed from his private enthusiasms-for racing-cars (he owned five at one stage, among them the Bugatti in which W. B. Thompson won the 1930 Australian Grand Prix, with Burkitt as riding mechanic), for private cars (he owned a large Daimler and a 6.7 h.p. Fiat) and for his yacht which he moored in Middle Harbour and made available to the R.A.N. in 1941-44.

(The reference to a "Daimler" almost certainly refers to the Mercedes-Benz. PK)

Arthur Burkitt had married a nurse named Emily Hordern. If Emily was a member of the prominent Hordern family (which I cannot verify but seems quite possible)  of department store fame, this raises the possibility that Burkitt had purchased or been given the cream coloured car by his relative through marriage, possibly his father-in-law named Lebbeus Hordern, or had inherited it at Hordern’s death in 1929. The Hordern family were one of the richest families in Australia. The family motto was “While I live I’ll grow” and an oak tree at Camden on their estate (which the author saw when young) was a living symbol of the motto. The flagship store of Anthony Hordern and Sons off Broadway in Pitt and George streets in Sydney was sold to Waltons in 1969 and rather coincidentally and eerily, the oak tree at Camden died soon after.

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