By Benz to Brighton

The Editor goes on the Veteran Car Run in the 1902 Spider from the Daimler-Benz Museum in Stuttgart

THANKS to Erik Johnson, the popular Public Relations Officer of Mercedes-Benz (UK) Ltd., I was offered the choice of two rides to Brighton this year, either in their huge 1904 5.3-litre Mercedes-Simplex or on their 1902 Benz Spider which the Museum acquired in 1979, a veteran formerly in use in Ireland. I settled for the latter, as more in the primitive pioneering spirit of the Brighton Run. It proved to be technically deserving of this description but a very fleet and effective car when in action.

That the two cars from the Daimler-Benz Aktiengessellschaft had arrived was evident when I presented myself at the Gloucester Hotel in S. Kensington on the Saturday evening (we were using a comfortable and accommodating Ford Sierra as our tender-car), to find two large and immaculate Mercedes-Benz Type 813 transporters outside, each coupled to a covered trailer. In addition, M-B had brought a Mercedes-Benz 250T estate-car as a travelling workshop-cum-spares supply back-up car. Some humourist at Stuttgart had labelled them, in German, “D-B Old-Timer Service”. The mechanics were smartly dressed in M-B overalls and quietly efficient — it was rather reminiscent of how l first encountered it, when the Mercedes racing team first came to Donington, in 1937.

Examining the Benz Spider was interesting. It has a twin-cylinder, horizontally-opposed engine set in line with the frame. On the off-side is an enormous mangle-like flywheel and the big pulleys for the very long flat-belt drive to the 4-speed and reverse gearbox, final drive being by side chains. On the near-side one perceives the carburetter, with a neat exposed-pinions link-up with the mixture control, and the chain-driven water-pump, feeding a four deep gilled-tube radiator. Ignition is by coil. The chassis is sprung on simple full-elliptic springs all round and the wheels are shod with 810 x 90 Dunlop Cords. The yellow body, name-plates reading “Benz-Mannheim”, consists of just two large seats and precious little else. It is yellow, with black lining and the Irish registration, IO-68, is retained. The only lamps are a pair of brass Type-666 Edmunds & Jones’ Detroit Model headlamps. Two spare Dunlops were strapped on behind. The petrol tank lives beneath the driver’s seat, which is on the near-side.

So this interesting Benz, which had not been run for ten years, marks the period when that famous manufacturer was clinging to a preference for belt-drive and a simple, gas-engine kind of propulsion, but was trying to keep up with progress by putting the engine at the front and incorporating a gearbox and chain final-drive. Crude in some respects this Benz may be, but it is no sluggard — the 125 x 120 mm. engine has a capacity of 2,945 c.c. and develops 15 b.h.p., giving a top speed of about 60 k.p.h.

The Benz was driven by M. G. von Pein, head of the D-B Stuttgart Museum, the Mercedes by Hans Brommer, and D-B had brought two more cars, which were at the Brighton Classic Car Show, a 1916 18 / 45 Benz tourer and a 1926 Mercedes 28 / 95 sport-phaeton. A young Czech lad who had won the prize of a ride in the Brighton Run, by bring the 3,000,000th visitor to the Daimler-Benz Museum, was going in the 1904 Mercedes and, being Mercedes-Benz, they had even remembered to bring an interpreter. . . .

We left Hyde Park at 8.15 a.m. on a fine morning and I was soon aware that the Benz is a flier. When conditions permitted, von Pein had it up to 40 m.p.h. or more and none of the hills troubled it. The vibration was very evident at low speeds but once the “high” was in, we flew along, smoothly and quietly.

We could easily have been among the early arrivals on the Madeira Drive had we not waited a long time at Hooley for the big Mercedes to catch up with us. The opportunity was taken to put in water and to oil-up and later we paused to check the fuel level — the Benz likes special light-grade gasolene — but it had used very little. Nearer Brighton it began to mis-fire and the M-B mechanics had the battery out and a fresh one slipped into its compartment in the boot with the efficiency of the old Grand Prix days. For some time the rain had been pelting down but I was snug, if not entirely dry, in some of my Functional bad-weather wear. By 1.15 p.m. we were clocking-off.

Von Peix had allowed we to drive part of the way, on the more open roads. It was a curious experience. On the dash, from I. to r., are the four oil drip-feeds, a pump that was never used, the tumbler ignition-switch, and a wooden box housing the coils. The gears have a quadrant change, back for first and forward through neutral to second, third and fourth. Reverse is engaged by a separate lever, to the left of the main one, with a side grip. Outside the body is a long, push-on hand-brake. The pedal on the right operates truly efficient back brakes (there is also a shoe-brake on that huge flywheel). The centre pedal shifts the belt to a neutral-drive position when it is up and you press it down until it locks, to engage the drive — confusing at first! To release this centre pedal for regaining neutral or changing gear you step on the left-hand pedal, which is inter-connected with the hand-brake, if you are with me and in control of your Spider. It all works very positively, once mastered. The little wood-rimmed, four-spoke steering wheel is on a slightly-inclined column and controls light steering, in which the track-rod is ahead of the front axle. But the springing does occasion some roll, if a sudden directional change has to be made. The engine is literally a fixed-speed one, the little hand-throttle requires no attention, apart from being used to get the engine to idle when the Benz is stationary. It is, however, necessary to pay fairly frequent attention to the aforesaid mixture-control, which sprouts from the left of the drip-feed box.

That was my 1982 “Brighton”, after which the item of prime importance was to try to get dry . . I am grateful to Erik Johnson and Mercedes-Benz for letting me experience yet another veteran, on what was my 31st “active” Veteran Car Run. — W.B.