Mercedes-Benz-Blog TRIVIA: The Lightning Benz: Faster than any other vehicle on land


Stuttgart, Germany, Mar 24, 2006

- April 23, 1911: Driving a Lightning Benz, Bob Burman sets a new world record – 228.1 km/h – which remains unbroken until 1919
- 200 hp from a mighty 21.5 liter displacement
- The car becomes an attraction and generates great publicity for Benz

228.1 km/h – faster than any other vehicle on land had ever been. The world record car was a 200 hp Lightning Benz piloted by Bob Burman on April 23, 1911 at Daytona Beach, Florida/USA, over one kilometer from a flying start. Over one mile from a flying start, he recorded an average speed of 225.65 km/h. These records remained unbroken until 1919. The Benz had been twice as fast as contempo-rary aircraft, and also surpassed the record for rail-bound means of transport (1903: 210 km/h).

The Lightning Benz had quite intentionally been built as a sports car by Benz & Cie. in 1909 – with the aim of breaking through what was a magical barrier – 200 km/h (124.26 mph) – at the time. The basis was the 150 hp engine from the Grand Prix car, but this output was not sufficient for the ambitious project. Displacement was enlarged to 21.5 liters – no other racing or record car engine from Benz & Cie., Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft or Daimler-Benz AG would ever be larger. The first version of this engine developed 184 hp at 1500/min, and in meticulous fine-tuning work, this output was eventually boosted to 200 hp at 1600/min. The car was then built around this engine, using the chassis of the Grand Prix car. In accordance with the model designation logic customary at Benz, the car was named 200 hp Benz.

The car proved its mettle in its very first race: in the one-kilometer race in Frankfurt/Main, Fritz Erle won at an average speed of 159.3 km/h from a flying start. The 200 hp Benz went on to tour the record tracks in good old Europe, among them the concrete oval at Brooklands/England. In the process, it pushed all the hitherto existing limits a little further, and soon proved that the race tracks in Europe were too short and too narrow for the speeds aspired to.

In 1910, the car was fitted with new bodywork and shipped to America. It was bought by event manager Ernie Moross and given the punchy name Lightning Benz because the car was as quick as lightning. And before very long, Barney Oldfield broke the existing world record by reaching a speed of 211.97 km/h in Daytona Beach. With a new name – “Blitzen-Benz” – the car became an attraction which toured the USA much like a traveling circus. It was at the wheel of this car that Bob Burman established the new world speed record in April 1911.

There were six Lightning Benz units altogether. Two of these still exist today – one is owned by Mercedes-Benz, the other one by a collector in the USA. In 2004, another brand enthusiast in the USA privately built a replica of this car, using several original parts and cooperating closely with Mercedes-Benz Classic. In this project, the Lightning Benz in the museum served to provide authentic orientation while being expertly restored and made operational again at the same time. The authentic Lightning Benz is a very special exhibit in the “Silver Arrows – Races & Records” section of the new Mercedes-Benz Museum.

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