Murky history of the 1954 Merkle Subatom MC2 Sport

The 1954 Merkle Subatom MC2 Sport was a side project of Captain Hyman Rickover’s when he was developing the nuclear navy and adapting that technology for civilian power production. It was named Merkle, for an old friend of the admiral’s back in Poland, as a way of deflecting attention; yet it was indeed Capt. Rickover who climbed behind the wheel when the Merkle competed in the Carrera Panamericana. As viewers of that race remember, the entry surged to an enormous lead by the middle stages, proving the efficacy of nuclear power in automobiles, but during a restroom break at a tiny pueblo in Zacatecas, Capt. Rickover decided to power down the reactor and learn the Spanish subjunctive mood from a woman he met near a bougainvillea hedge.

Series production of the Merkle was briefly considered, and the Packard Motor Car Company appeared interested in acquiring the model as the linchpin for a new division of high-performance automobiles. The plan snagged when Packard’s assistant chief engineer John DeLorean insisted the Merkle be equipped with the company’s Ultramatic transmission, which he had helped to develop; but Capt. Rickover’s minions, who were handling the Merkle deal, let it slip that they preferred General Motors’s Hydramatic tranny, and DeLorean stormed out of the meeting, going home to his mother, with whom he still lived.

Admiral Rickover looking over USS Nautilus, th...
Hyman G. Rickover

After this traumatic episode, the one and only Merkle fell into obscurity. Following his promotion to Vice Admiral, Rickover began to drive Cadillacs. The Merkle languished for many years at the Shippingport Atomic Power Station in Pennsylvania. Later it was put back into driving condition for use as an airport shuttle at Los Alamos National Laboratory; then it served as a hogan near Round Rock, Arizona, with the built-in central heating being a prized feature.

A decade ago, the Merkle was sold at a well-known vintage and collector car auction in Scottsdale, Arizona, realizing a disappointing sale price of just $12,750. Quickly taken away on a flatbed, it was spotted in the parking lot of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas and subsequently reported in Beatty, Nevada, by an automotive spy photographer who spends her summers there in pursuit of future production models that are undergoing tests in Death Valley. Pictures of the Merkle were found to have been spirited away from archives such as the National Automotive History Collection in the Detroit Public Library, where a tall, bespectacled, white-bearded gentleman in a bespoke English suit, who signed the guest register as Lorem Ipsum, was the last to request the file. The only known surviving image of the Merkle, seen above, was recently acquired by a collector at a literature, toys, and memorabilia show for vintage Porsches and VWs in a hotel near LAX.

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