1909 Blitzen-Benz 

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W XYZ

 

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----  Specifications  ----

Price 

  --

Production 

  6

Engine 

21.5 Liter 4-cylinder

Weight 

--

Aspiration 

--

Torque 

--

HP 

200 hp @ 1600 rpm

HP/Weight 

--

HP/Liter 

9.3 hp per liter

1/4 mile 

--

0-62 mph 

--

Top Speed 

140.21 mph

(Daimler-Chrysler Press Release) Stuttgart, Mar 24, 2006 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 contemporary 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.

Origins

The late nineteenth century was a unique era for technological pioneers like Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler. For many years the two engineers had been working independently on the realization of a human dream - individual mobility. Both men recognized the key to this was a compact combustion engine capable of powering a vehicle, and eventually both came up with a design for a car. Karl Benz registered his Motor Car for a patent in January 1886, and Gottlieb Daimler came along just a few weeks later with his horseless carriage.

It was an historic event not lost on Gottlieb Daimler. As a man of vision Gottlieb Daimler looked well beyond the latest technological developments, and predicted that the internal combustion engine would mobilize people “on land, on water and in the air”.
A few years earlier, in 1876, the gifted designer and close friend of Daimler, Wilhelm Maybach, had become acquainted with the businessman William Steinway, whose New York company manufactured pianos in the tradition of his German forefathers. During one of his visits to Germany in 1888, Steinway also got to know Gottlieb Daimler. Their conversations returned repeatedly to the same subject: the manufacture of Daimler products under license in America. Shortly after Steinway’s return to America the matter was settled. On September 29, 1888, Daimler Motor Co. was established with headquarters on Long Island, New York. Thus, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) became the first European car producer to have a presence in the United States and the agreement additionally covered use of the Daimler licenses for the manufacture of stationary and marine engines.

In August 1890 the first four-cylinder Mercedes engine designed by Wilhelm Maybach was shipped to New York. The unit weighed 451 kilograms, and with a six-liter displacement delivered 12.3 hp at 390/min. Ten days later a second engine arrived, a variant developed in parallel, with a 2.4-liter displacement, weighing 153 kilograms and producing 5.9 hp at 620/min. Both versions were designed for use as marine engines.

In 1891, William Steinway’s Daimler Motor Co. manufactured under license America’s first fully operational vehicle engine in Hartford/Connecticut using the original plans drawn up by Gottlieb Daimler.

The early years were not without challenges, but in 1893 at the World Exhibition in Chicago, DMG presented the USA with its first fully operational automobile, and sales figures for the engines began to take off. A modified version of the “wire-wheeled car” was put on show. Gottlieb Daimler visited the exhibition himself during his honeymoon with his second wife Lina - the question of car production in the United States still very much in his thoughts.

In a newspaper interview given in 1895, William Steinway described his vision of the motorization of America: “The cars we intend to produce for the American market will carry two to four persons and will be powered by an engine of 2 ½ - 3 ½ hp. Each car will have four gears of varying speeds: 3 ½, 6, 9 and 14 miles per hour. The fuel, namely petroleum, costs approximately one cent per hp and per hour, which is considerably cheaper than horse power. … We had a horseless car here in 1893, although it was too lightly built for our cobbles and uneven streets. We shall therefore bring out a model adapted to American circumstances.” Steinway’s plans all sounded very concrete. But he was to die in November 1896, and his heirs, unconvinced that the car would be a money-maker, sold their share in Daimler Motor Co. to General Electric Company. After restructuring, the American production facility changed its name in 1898 to Daimler Manufacturing Company.

When Gottlieb Daimler died on March 6, 1900, DMG continued in its founder’s internationalist tradition, and the idea of production in America was never far from mind. The first “American Mercedes” was finally built in 1905, an exact replica of the 45 hp Mercedes as being manufactured in Cannstatt.

As for Karl Benz, sought out the American market at an early stage. His first vehicles were sold in the 1890s under the names “Eclair” and “Roger”. More than anything, however, the name Benz became associated with the first car race to be held on American soil on November 2, 1895. The course covered a distance of 92 miles from Chicago to Waukegan and back, but a terrible storm on race day meant that only two of the more than 80 cars registered turned up for the start, and the race was postponed.

Nevertheless, the two vehicles set off on the course, and one - Oscar Mueller driving a Benz - reached the finish. It was several years before Benz’s next major automotive triumph, but when it came, it was with a great roll of drums. With almost no preparation, Barney Oldfield took to the wheel of the “Lightning Benz” on March 17, 1910, in search of speed records on the beach at Daytona/Florida. He set a new best mark of 211.97 km/h.

On April 23, 1911, it was Bob Burman’s turn to exploit the full potential of the “Blitzen-Benz” at Daytona Beach, setting an average speed for the flying mile of 225.65 km/h and a new land speed record of 228.1 km/h over the flying kilometer - a mark that would stand until 1919. The “Blitzen-Benz” became a celebrated attraction as it traveled across the country and during this era laid the foundations for the excellent reputation of the Benz brand in the United States.

In 1926 the two companies merged to become Daimler-Benz AG and from then on conducted their US business jointly as Mercedes-Benz Company. The records of sales figures prior to the Second World War are rather sketchy, but it is thought that in total about 200 vehicles were imported. The Second World War brought commercial activities in the USA temporarily to a halt, but the brand name Mercedes-Benz was never forgotten.

The Blitzen-Benz held by the Mercedes-Benz Museum

1935 was dominated by a major anniversary at Daimler-Benz. It had been 50 years since the company started to make automobiles and another 200-hp Benz - the car which can currently be found at the Mercedes-Benz Museum - was built from the parts still at hand as an exhibition piece for the celebrations. Some of the components were taken from the “grandmother”, others - the hub locks, for example, and probably the radiator and the central section of the body - from the wreckage of Hornsted’s Blitzen. In order to make the car look slightly more aerodynamic, the wood-spoke wheels were fitted with aluminum covers. Plus, the engine cover, rear section and the cover of the truncated exhaust were all newly manufactured.

Lightning strikes twice

There were still two other 200-hp Benz cars in circulation. Madrid-based Benz dealer Treumann sold car no. 5 (engine number 9145) to Mr. J. Ratis in Barcelona and the customer received his Benz on February 20, 1913. What happened to it next is unknown.

Meanwhile, the Benz dealership in Antwerp, Belgium, sold Blitzen-Benz no. 6 to a Mr. M. Heje from Gent, who took delivery of the car on December 24, 1913, thereby setting himself a very special Christmas present. This was the only Blitzen (engine number 13280) with an extended chassis (3200 mm instead of 2800 mm) and a four-seat touring body. The latest model was also a frequent entrant in record attempts at Brooklands. The car remained in England for a long time, before being acquired by an American collector in 2002.

A new chapter in the history of the Blitzen-Benz

Indeed, 2004 has seen the latest Blitzen-Benz taking shape, an American collector refusing to be intimidated by the costs involved and commissioning the construction of what is in effect the seventh 200-hp Benz. In a remarkable show of trust, the Mercedes-Benz Museum loaned him its own Blitzen-Benz for a period of a year to serve as a template for this most extraordinary of projects. Mercedes also supplied the parts from the Hornsted car still held in its stocks- including engine no. 9141 and several other essential components - in order to add as much authenticity as possible to the reproduction. Sections of an original body, meanwhile, were still available in the USA.