Bertha Benz embarked on the world’s first long-distance journey by motor car 125 years ago
The route led from Mannheim to Pforzheim, the birthplace of Bertha Benz. It was a 106-kilometre journey fraught with uncertainties and challenges that called for great courage on the part of the pioneering trio. The venture paid off though, as the Patent-Motorwagen proved itself to be a perfectly suitable and flexible means of transport for longer journeys, too.
This year, the Mercedes-Benz Museum is commemorating the 125th anniversary of the epic journey with Bertha Benz Days from 2 to 4 August 2013. Over three days, costume guided tours for both children and adults will focus on this automotive pioneer. Entrance is free on Sunday, 4 August 2013. The special program on this day also includes taxi rides with a replica of the Benz patent motor car and a story hour with Jutta Benz, the great-granddaughter of Bertha Benz.
A commemorative drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim will furthermore take place from 9 to 11 August 2013 to mark the first ever long-distance journey in the world’s first motor car. It is being organised by the ASC classic car enthusiasts club and the Dr. Carl Benz car museum in the town of Ladenburg. These days, the long-distance journey is more of a historic tour staged as a regularity drive for vintage cars. The return journey to Mannheim also tracks the route taken in 1888.
Secret test run
The drive to Pforzheim provided impressive proof of the Patent-Motorwagen’s capabilities. Yet Bertha Benz also hoped to encourage husband Carl to publicise his ingenious invention more confidently. Carl Benz, a brilliant engineer, had filed a patent application in January 1886 for the Motorwagen he’d invented in 1885 and that had since evolved into the Type III. However, he had yet to demonstrate that his motor car worked reliably and could also cover long distances. Bertha Benz quickly resolved to provide the necessary evidence with her long-distance journey.
The mother of four told her husband nothing of her intentions to drive to her birthplace of Pforzheim to visit relatives with her sons Eugen and Richard. A concrete plan started to take shape when the school holidays started, and very early one morning the mother and her sons sneaked the latest version of the Patent-Motorwagen out of the workshop without Carl Benz suspecting a thing.
They pushed the three-wheeled motor car for the first few metres as they didn’t want to start the 2.5 hp (1.8 kW) single-cylinder four-stroke engine until they were out of earshot of the house in order not to wake the inventor from his slumber. When Carl Benz later entered the kitchen, he would find a message telling him about the journey they had set out on to Pforzheim.
Test drive for the motor car and its infrastructure
As intended, the journey was to become a highly successful test drive for the motor car: Bertha Benz provided conclusive proof of the Patent-Motorwagen’s fundamental suitability as a means of transport and was furthermore able to pass on some important findings and pointers to her husband for future development work. For instance, she suggested including an additional short gear for driving up hills instead of just the two-speed transmission used previously, as well as demanding better brakes.
At the same time, Bertha Benz also did some pioneering work when it came to defining the necessary constituent elements of an infrastructure system for motor vehicles. In future, for example, road vehicles would need filling stations – the stain remover “ligroin”, a benzine provided by chemist’s, for the first long-distance journey i.e. in Wiesloch, Germany. Therefore the Wiesloch municipal chemist’s became first filling station of the world. Highways would also have to be signposted – Bertha Benz had to carefully make her way from one place she knew to the next.
The automotive pioneer and her sons skilfully remedied minor glitches, using her hat pin for example to clean a clogged fuel line. No major repair work was necessary, although the enterprising trio did decide to make the wooden block brakes more durable by having a cobbler nail leather patches to them to act as brake pads.
Carl Benz’s family kept him informed of the journey’s progress by sending a series of telegrams en route. The drive from Mannheim to Pforzheim and back wasn’t just a watershed moment for his Patent-Motorwagen, but for the future of the motor car full stop. Around 25 models of the Benz Patent-Motorwagen with various engines were built between 1886 and 1894, making it the first motor car of the world to be manufactured and sold in series.
The memory of the world’s first long-distance journey by car is perpetuated by various outstanding events. In 1963, for example, exactly 75 years after that intrepid journey, the inaugural “Bertha Benz Drive” was staged along the Mannheim to Pforzheim route as a regularity drive for classic cars.
Carl Benz unveiled his Patent-Motorwagen, the world's first motor car, in 1886. By 1894, a total of 25 had been built, with engine outputs varying between 1.5 and 3 horsepower (1.1-2.2 kW). The original Patent-Motorwagen was the Type I. It had steel-spoked wheels as well as further design details that took their cue from state-of-the-art bicycle manufacture at that time. The modified Type II was also built initially as a three-wheeler, but was later converted to four wheels as an experiment. This vehicle, including the double-pivot steering that was tested out in it, represented a further major step towards the modern-day motor car. Presumably, only one was ever built. Finally, the Type III was the first motor car to be sold in small numbers, making it the world’s first ever production car. At the start, Carl Benz did not find it easy to market his Patent-Motorwagen, until the Frenchman Emile Roger from Paris took over as the sole agent for Benz vehicles and engines in France.
The only Patent-Motorwagen Type III that still survives today found its way to England via Emile Roger, as certified by a badge on the vehicle itself. Some details assume that this could be the car that Bertha Benz used for her long-distance journey to Pforzheim. It is the oldest Benz Patent-Motorwagen preserved in its original condition, and is therefore the oldest original Benz motor car in existence. Today, the vehicle belongs to London’s Science Museum. At present the car is an exhibit in the Dr. Carl Benz Museum, Ladenburg.
Technical data: Benz Patent-Motorwagen Type III
Body: open three-wheeled vehicle
Engine: single-cylinder four-stroke unit Displacement: 1,660 cc
Output: 2.5 hp (1.8 kW) at 500 rpm Carburettor: Benz surface carburettor
Valves: automatic intake valve, controlled exhaust valve Cooling: water/thermosyphon evaporation cooling
Lubrication: drip-feed lubricator and grease cup Ignition: electrical high-voltage-buzzer ignition
Fuel tank: 4.5 litres in the carburettor Starter: cranking the flywheel
Power transmission: leather belt from engine to cone pulley, differential, 1 chain to each rear wheel Clutch: none
Transmission: two-speed fixed pulley, 2 forward gears Gearshift: hand lever under steering crank for moving the belt between the pulleys
Frame: steel frame Front suspension: front wheel in control fork with no springs
Rear suspension: rigid axle, full-elliptic springs Steering: rack-and-pinion steering, steering crank in centre of vehicle
Handbrake: wooden block brake/rear tyres Footbrake: none
Lubrication: grease cups Dimensions: 2,700 x 1,400 x 1,450 millimetres
Wheelbase: 1,575 millimetres Track width: rear 1,250 millimetres
Wheels: wooden spokes, diameter front 800 millimetres, rear 1,125 millimetres Tyres: front all-rubber or iron, rear iron
Weight: 360 kilograms Top speed: 16 km/h
Fuel consumption: approx. 10 litres of ligroin per 100 kilometres
Credits: Daimler AG
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