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The car celebrates 130 years

Number one: Carl Benz’s first car is the star attraction at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

Born in 1886, Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen paved the road for an automotive future


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21 Jan 2016

THE motor car turns 130 this month, at least if you accept the Daimler version of automotive history.

According to the German manufacturer, a Mannheim engineer called Carl Benz lodged his patent for a "gas-powered vehicle" with the German Imperial Patent Office in Berlin on January 29, 1886.

The event is generally regarded by automotive historians as the birth of the automobile, although not without argument from some quarters, such as the French who believe Nicholas-Joseph Cugnot’s steam-powered wagon that hit the road in 1771 was the true pioneer.

The difference is that Herr Benz’s Patent-Motorwagen “for the conveyance of one to four passengers” was powered by an internal combustion engine of his own making, giving it claim to the title of the first true motor car.

It took a few months for the inventor to turn his patent into a real, rolling, self-propelled horseless carriage, with the vehicle taking to Mannheim’s Ringstrasse on July 3 1886.

Benz number one was powered by a 954cc single-cylinder engine that revved to a giddy 400rpm and produced all of 0.55 kilowatts of power – a fraction of the power of a modern vehicle such as the V12 Mercedes S65 AMG with its 465kW. Top speed was 16km/h in 1886.

Famously, Mr Benz’s wife Bertha gave the car its first true test in a cross-country spin from Mannheim to Pforzheim, with her sons Richard and Eugen along for the ride, on a 106km round trip in 1888.

Legend says she employed her garter to repair the ignition, stopped at chemist shops to buy fuel and got a cobbler to create the world’s first brake pads from leather when the wooden brakes started to wear out.

And all without telling her husband that she had borrowed his pride and joy.

Just as Mr Benz was filing his patent for his automobile in 1886, another German inventor long associated with Mercedes, Gottlieb Daimler, was working along the same lines, creating the first motor cycle and then a motorised stagecoach, with the latter surfacing just a few months after the Benz buggy.

Today, the Benz Patent-Motorwagen and Daimler carriage are both exhibited at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, where they form the opening exhibit of the tour that has been taken by seven million visitors to date.

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