Reviving the Blitzen spirit



Bill Boddy

Giant racing cars, whether original, resuscitated or replica, always excite me. The latest of the aero-engined breed is breathtaking. In action, it will undoubtedly be more so! When I first saw it I felt as though I had been transplanted to Brooklands in 1914, with Hornsted about to venture out in it for some very fast lappery, for it is a replica of one of the famous 200hp 21.5-litre Blitzen Benz.

The Mannheim firm built a few of these monsters from 1909, with very short wheelbase and chain final drive. One went to Brooklands, where Victor Hémery broke the official LSR with it, at 125.95mph. It was then sold to Barney Oldfield over in America, where he did some heart-stopping exploits with it as part of his barnstorming circus until he lost his licence in 1911. He sold it to ‘Wild Bob’ Burman, who also raised the blood pressure of onlookers – and no doubt his own – when he used it to set an LSR, unofficial in Europe, of 141.37mph at Daytona Beach in what he called the ‘Lightning Benz’.

After the war, two of these enormous Benz enlivened Brooklands. Horace Barlow had one entered by the British Benz Co, and Count Zborowski drove Major R F Cooper’s (best lap 108mph). John Duff went over the banking in the Barlow Benz (best lap 114mph), which was rebuilt for the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Germany. Cooper’s was thought dangerous and was broken up, its gearbox going into Zborowski’s Higham Special.

Richard Crump, a Maserati man and author of books about these cars, came to appreciate the huge appeal of the giant racing cars from the past. And having been able to obtain from Sweden one of the Type BZ4 18.8-litre 230hp Benz aero-engines, taken from an Aviatik aeroplane immediately after it had been either crashed or scrapped, together with axles, steering and other Edwardian Benz components, he decided they should be used in a replica Blitzen Benz.

After some preliminary work had been done by Charlie Smith, Ben Collings is doing the specialised task of completing this so-exciting car and searching worldwide for the missing parts. His superb work on the 1911 Cottin et Desgouttes and the 1914 KM Isotta Fraschini, which won the Louis Vuitton Concours two years ago, the only Edwardian car ever to do so, have both been covered in Motor Sport.

The engine was started recently for the first time in years; it commenced after two revolutions, flames shooting from the stub exhausts. Richard came down from Kent to Mid-Wales for this epic occasion.

Apart from the size of the car, the long bonnet, elongated still more by a radiator cowl and cone-shaped tail, as on the Hornsted car, the engine with its very large twin inlet pipes on the offside, fed via the long riser pipes from the original Benz twin carburettors, is eye-catching. The exhaust pipe on the nearside is horizontal, as on the Hornsted Benz.

The four pushrod-prodded valves per cylinder have been given better lubrication. A new radiator was constructed by John Underwood of Star Engineering. Lubrication is dry-sump with a ‘streamlined’ oil tank on the nearside. The drive chains, their links twice as wide as those on a 1908 GP Mercedes, give a 1-to-1 final drive, as Hornsted used at Brooklands. Even the instruments are original.

Thus we await with keen anticipation the debut of this impressive aero-engined car, which I hope will give Richard Crump much joy, especially as he lives very close to the roads where Count Zborowski used to unleash the Chittys and his other racing cars.