by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Daimler “Phoenix” Phaeton 1898, the first Daimler four-cylinder passenger car


Stuttgart, Germany, Aug 01, 2008

On September 12, 1898, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Cannstatt delivered its first passenger car with four-cylinder engine – the Daimler “Phoenix” Phaeton – to Emil Jellinek, the speed-obsessed Austrian consul and businessman based in Nice. Although this was not Jellinek’s first vehicle, it was certainly the most powerful and fastest of all the vehicles he owned. The 2.1 liter four-cylinder engine boasted a maximum output of 8 hp at 720 rpm with a top speed of 24 km/h. But of particular note was the fact that this four-cylinder engine was the first to power a Daimler passenger car, since it had previously only been used in boats.

The “N” engine or “Phoenix” engine

The “N” engine was developed during the period when Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach were forced to withdraw to the “garden-house workshop” of the Hotel Hermann, having fallen out with the board of the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in the autumn of 1892.
“N” stood for “new model”, a two-cylinder engine with adjacent cylinders developed by Maybach in 1892/92. It was new in that it superceded the two-cylinder “V” engine which had powered Daimler’s “wire-wheeled car” of 1889.

But a further innovation was that both its cylinders were cast in one block, thus giving it a considerable weight advantage. Furthermore, with this design the torsional moments acting on the crankshaft – which was mounted on only two bearings – were significantly lower as a result of the reduced distance between the cylinders.
The cylinder block was screwed onto a roughly spherical crankcase, and for the first time the exhaust valves were operated by the camshaft. The “curved groove control” system developed by Daimler and Maybach had served its time.
Of course, in place of the bulky “surface” carburetor, the “N” had a Maybach spray-nozzle carburetor, which was more compact, occupied considerably less space and allowed for quick and precise adjustment of the fuel-air mixture as circumstances required.

When the engine was unveiled it caused a sensation. The first 1.5-liter model had an output of 5.8 hp at 720 rpm. An improved version was fitted with Robert Bosch’s low-voltage solenoid ignition from 1897 suitable for use in automobiles. Together with its considerably more effective cooling system, the design greatly impressed European automotive manufacturers – most of all the French, who provided the name by which it became so famous: the “Phoenix” engine.
This sobriquet – a marketable asset in itself - was to attach itself to a whole series of Daimler models. And once and for all the automobile had acquired a front-mounted engine.

“Tube radiator”

During the Phoenix era a tight rein had to be kept on engine output, since for the longer journeys which were now feasible there was still no reliable cooling system for engines of 10 hp and above. Given the enormous quantities of water required, the reservoirs of the earlier cars were simply not adequate.

In 1897, Maybach – resourceful as ever – came up with a solution. His description for the patent of his “tube radiator” – that distinctive rounded cooling system mounted on the front end of the various Daimler “Phoenix” cars – read as follows: “Device for cooling the water circulating around the cylinders of combustion engines, consisting of a flat receptacle having a large number of tubes passing through it, whereby heat is extracted from the water coolant by means of a constant flow of air around the tubes supplied by a dedicated ventilation system.”
From there it was but a small step to the “honeycomb radiator” patented in March 1900, which allowed the “Mercedes” cars built from 1901 onwards to achieve such success.

“Phoenix” four-cylinder

On occasions when greater output was required, Gottlieb Daimler achieved this not by increasing engine speed and/or displacement, but by doubling the number of cylinders. An example of this was the two-cylinder V-engine based on Daimler’s upright “grandfather clock” engine, the second version of his original one-cylinder engine.
The “Phoenix” four-cylinder was built on the same principle as the two-cylinder, i.e. each pair of twin-cylinder blocks rested on a common crankcase. And with the four-cylinder, the crankshaft was of course mounted on a triple bearing. But otherwise components were identical with those of its baby brother. Over time, it was developed as an engine with a range of outputs, the final version of 1899/1900 even generating 23 hp from a displacement of 5.5 litres.

The “Phoenix” engines were coupled exclusively to a four-speed mechanical transmission – another of Maybach’s invention, first introduced in the wire-wheeled car of 1889. This formed a block with the differential acting on the chain sprocket shaft. Chain-drive to the rear wheels was still obligatory, with a conical leather clutch serving to ease gear shifts.

Chassis and various attachments

The early “Phoenix” cars were built on a straight U-section iron frame and, with a remarkably short wheelbase of 1753 millimeters, the rigid axles were suspended from longitudinal leaf springs. The double-pivot steering was turned either by a steering lever or a steering wheel.

The foot brake operated as an outer shoe brake on the drive shaft, the handbrake via outer shoes on the rear wheels. In addition there was a ‘hill-support’ – a sturdy pole attached to the rear, which as its name suggests was used when the vehicle was at rest on an uphill slope and could be kicked into position in the relatively soft road surfaces of the day. Automotive history was still years away from the concept of front-wheel brakes.

The wooden-spoked wheels – which normally varied in size front to back – were initially fitted with solid rubber tires. From 1899 onwards, however, pneumatic tires became standard. In total, the “Phoenix” tipped the scales at around 1400 kg.
As with other brands of automobile, the design of the Daimler “Phoenix” car is remarkable for its very high center of gravity. This gave rise to an alarming rolling motion on rapid cornering, but for the gentlemen drivers of the day this was nothing unusual – it was, after all, merely a throwback to the days of the horse-drawn carriage.

A watershed was reached, however, at the memorable hillclimb event from Nice to La Turbie in March 1900, when Wilhelm Bauer, master mechanic at Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, had a fatal accident whilst driving a Daimler “Phoenix” racing car entered by Emil Jellinek.
Jellinek was deeply affected by the tragedy and put his mind to finding a remedy. His solution was to lengthen the wheelbase and lower the center of gravity. These were fundamental concepts in the historical development of the modern automobile and led via the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft and its genius designer Wilhelm Maybach directly to the “Mercedes” of 1901.

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