Mercedes History

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Karl Benz & Gottlieb Daimler

by Tim Patterson

The First Practical Petrol Driven Car

It is widely accepted today that Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler were the first to produce a "horseless carriage". Karl Benz was born in 1844, a descendant of blacksmiths and son of a German engine driver. Gottlieb Daimler, 10 years younger than Benz, became "chief engineer" in a locomotives works factory three years after Benz had left.�This was the closest the two ever came to meeting.

Daimler's very first car was a wooden motorcycle that could only reach 12km/h, while the first Benz car of 1886 could only reach 15 km/h (this some six years after he had first run his new engine, on new year's eve, 1879).

And it is this car that is widely considered to be the first ever practical, petrol driven motor car, which coincidentally incorporated Benz's own invention, the carburetor. His wife and children watched as he tried it out for the first time on a cinder track next to his workshop.

The car ran right into the wall and ended up somewhat bent and broken. Benz admitted it was tricky to steer! "I ventured a ride on the road," he said "only after I had somehow managed to steer properly."

When he did succeed in driving his machine non-stop round the streets of the town, it was the most exciting day of his life. But unfortunately, Benz was a man who refused to move with the times. He would not see that his cars were no more than stepping stones towards better and improved vehicles.

His early cars sold well, but he could not bring himself to alter his basic design. Buyers turned to other makes, forcing Benz to curtail production. In 1900 he built over 600; in 1903, only 170. His car even became a joke among designers and car owners. No one doubts that Karl Benz was a gifted engineer, but his stubborn and obstinate nature nearly ruined him.

Emil Jellinek & daughter Mercedes

The First Mercedes

The first Mercedes was the result of a discussion by three men, an Austrian diplomat, Emile Jellinek, who was more interested in cars than diplomacy; a designer, Wilhelm Maybach; and Paul Daimler, son of the famous Gottlieb Daimler. Jellinek was enthusiastic about the dawn of motoring age and believed that the motor car was of major importance for the future.

In 1897 he had already made a special journey to Cannstatt where he visited the Daimler factory and brought back a car to the French Riviera, causing quite a stir. At the meeting with Maybach and Paul Daimler, Jellinek outlined what he had in mind and agreed that, if Maybach would design a car along those lines, he would be prepared to take delivery of the companies entire production.

Maybach set to work on the new design and, when the first car appeared at Nice in 1901, it amazed everybody with its fine performance. Overnight it made every other car seem five years out of date. The ideas of these three men revolutionised motor car design the world over.

Jellinek decided to call the new car "Mercedes", a Spanish Christian name meaning "grace", and a name he obviously quite liked, as he had chosen for his daughter. Jellinek was also acutely aware that the French were prejudiced against any car with a German name, and so Mercedes was a far better fit.

Since Jellinek was a big figure in society there and enjoyed good relation's with the international financial world, it was not long before prospective buyers were taking an interest in the Daimler cars.

Mercedes At The Race Track

Mercedes have raced since the 1894 Paris- Rouen race and received their first record in motor racing in 1901 at Nice in France with a car that had a 35 horsepower motor that got to a speed of 79.7 km/h.

But it was between the wars that Mercedes came to the fore, with the impressive SSKL sports car.�In 1937, this car had improved to have a top speed over 330 km/h (in 1939 this increased to 400 km/h!!) and it is still considered as one of the most successful racing cars ever made.

For the Tripoli Grand Prix, the organisers placed a 1.5 liter limit on the motor size to help the Italian sports cars, but Mercedes was able to produce a motor in time and come first and second!! Their fastest lap was 211.6 km/h and these cars still exist at the Mercedes Benz museum.

In 1954 and 1955 the famous racing car driver Juan Manuel Fangio won most of the world grand prix's driving a 2.5liter 300SL Mercedes but in 1955 a driver crashed driving a 300SL and killed 90 people.�Mercedes then pulled out of motor car racing and have only recently re-entered Formula One and have been very successful winning the manufacturers championship last year.

The Mercedes Symbol

The Mercedes trademark was registered in 1902 - after Karl Daimler had died in 1900 at the age of 66.  His two sons then managed the company - and they remembered that their father had only once sent a postcard to their mother which had a star marked on the house where he was living at the time, a place called Deutz.

He made the comment on the card that "eventually this star would rise out and shine over his work".  In June 1909, the then chairman applied for a trademark of both a three pointed star and four pointed star.  Both trademarks were granted, but only one was ever used. 

This trademark was soon placed on the from of the car as an radiator emblem.

Also see:
Mercedes-Benz SL Heritage
Mercedes 28/60 45/50hp
Unique Cars and Parts USA - The Ultimate Classic Car Resource