Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: Benz Patent Motor Car Velocipede of 1894 – the world's first production car


Stuttgart/Mannheim, Germany, Dec 15, 2008

* Light, robust, fast and comparatively inexpensive

* State-of-the-art design throughout

* Over 1,200 units produced in total

Carl Benz played a prominent role in promoting the development of the automobile. Production of the Benz Patent Motor Car of 1886, the world’s first automobile, ran to around 25 examples. Carl Benz had designed it as a three-wheeler, because in his opinion there was still no properly functioning front axle steering for a vehicle of this kind – he found the conventional steering used in carriages unsuitable for application in the automobile. He solved the problem and filed a patent for his double-pivot steering (DRP 73515) in 1893. He installed it in the same year in his four-wheeled Victoria model. However, he had a lighter car in mind, which was finally presented to the public at the World Exposition in Chicago (May 1 – October 31, 1893) - the Velocipede. It proved a terrific success – over 1,200 units were built. It can therefore lay claim to being the world’s first production car.

The vehicle’s name was apt: Carl Benz had also been engaged in the development of bicycles, called velocipedes at the time. At an early stage, he used this designation for his first three-wheelers – probably to distinguish his light automobiles from the heavy motorized carriages. The Velo fulfilled all the criteria its designer had specified. It was light, robust, fast and comparatively inexpensive – with its "perfectly refined equipment complete with lanterns", it cost 2,000 marks which, however, was not exactly cheap at the time.

The car's top speed was 20 km/h. It was fitted with a wooden frame with iron reinforcements. It had compact dimensions and was 2.25 meters long – 45 centimeters shorter than the Benz three-wheeler – and it looked rather delicate on its wire-spoke wheels. The first version of 1894 tipped the scales at 280 kilograms – as much as 380 kilograms less than the Victoria. The car featured rigid axles front and rear. The double-pivot steering was operated via a vertical steering column in the center of the car.

Benz designed a new, smaller engine for the Velo. As before, this was installed horizontally, developed 1.5 hp (1.1 kW) at 450/min from a displacement of 1,045 cc and had a bore/stroke of 110/110 millimeters. Initially, Benz used his surface carburetor, to replace it at a later stage by the floating carburetor, which had equally been designed by him. As on the three-wheeler, the engine was started by the turning of the flywheel to chug away at an even rhythm. The fuel tank under the seat bench had a capacity of almost 18 liters – which seems to be plentiful at first glance but is put into perspective by a fuel consumption of some 14 liters per 100 kilometers. The engine, installed under a wooden hood, drove the countershaft with a loose disc, a fixed disc and an integrated differential via two flat belts, with two chains running from the differential to the two rear wheels. As on the larger engines of the three-wheeler and Victoria models, the crankcase was still open; an enclosed housing was not incorporated until 1898. The car had two forward gears but, initially, no reverse. Power was transferred to the road via a two-stage flat-belt transmission. The Velo rolled on wire-spoke wheels with solid rubber tires, 550 millimeters in diameter at the front and 850 millimeters at the rear. The wheelbase was 1,340 millimeters long; the track width was 1,000 millimeters at the front and 1,040 millimeters at the rear.

Pneumatic tires for the successor model

In 1896, an improved version of the Velo – the "Comfortable" model – became available at a price of 2,500 marks. It came with better equipment in every respect, and pneumatic tires were optionally available at a surcharge of 350 marks. The diameter of the wheels was 540 millimeters at the front, 780 millimeters at the rear. The following lines appeared in a contemporary newspaper article: “The car attracted attention with its elegant lines and refined appointments, testifying to the fact that Benz set great store not only by outstanding design and excellent workmanship but also by perfect styling.” The engine now developed 2.75 hp (2 kW) at 600/min – with unchanged fuel consumption – and was started by means of a crank, a major relief compared to the previous method. In addition, a planetary gear set with three forward gears and a reverse gear was available at a surcharge of 200 marks. Top speed had been raised to 30 km/h. A contemporary sales brochure listed additional equipment, for instance "a half-top and leather splash guard at 200 marks, and a parasol at 100 marks."

A revised model was introduced in 1900, with an engine developing 3 hp (2.2 kW) at 700/min from an unchanged displacement of 1,045 cc. The transmission with reverse gear introduced in 1896 now formed part of the standard specifications. In 1901, engine output was raised still further to 3.5 hp (2.6 kW).

With his Velo, Carl Benz achieved two things above anything else. First of all, the production volume of more than 1,200 units testified to people's great desire for personal mobility independent of horses. And secondly, the Velo paved the way which was followed by Benz with his company: building cars in large series.

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