Matters of Moment, March 1986

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The Birth Of The Motor-Car

Last year the centenary of the motor-car was celebrated in this country, notably with the successful “Motor-100” week at Silverstone, supplemented by other events. The French had had their celebrations in 1984 but Germany is commemorating the birth of the practical automobile this year, with a big rally at Stuttgart in June. Which is why there is a leading article on “Mercedes-Benz in Britain” in this issue of MOTOR SPORT.

Historians will forever argue about which year is the correct one, in this context, and who built the first motor-car, as distinct from the first working horseless road vehicle, which takes us back to the realm of some very remarkable and creditable steam-carriages — but which were not motor-cars as we know them.

There seems little doubt that Karl Benz (1844-1929) made the first usable motor vehicle with his three-wheeled Benz “Patent Motor Wagen” that was running in the streets of Mannheim in June 1886. In the same year Gottlieb Daimler (1834-1900), “the father of the internal-combustion engine’, had put such a power-unit into a four-wheeler, the first “horseless-carriage”. Which is why Germany has chosen to put the 100th birthday of the motor-car at 1986.

In Great Britain, Dr. Frederick Lanchester constructed the first of his very subsequently advanced cars in 1895, his second in 1897 and the first Daimler, with German Canstatt engine, appeared in that year, after the Coventry company had displayed a Peugeot omnibus at the first London Motor Exhibition of the previous year, the Coventry-Daimler delivered in 1897 to Major-General Montgomery of Winchester representing probably the first order from a private owner for an English car. Napier began by modifying Panhard-Levassors for S F. Edge in 1896 but the first Napier car didn’t appear until 1900, in which year a four-cylinder model appeared. The MCC, product of the dubious Great Horseless Carriage Co Ltd. made side-by-side with the Daimler in Coventry, dates from 1896 but was hardly a practical car. Humber and Sunbeam both date back to 1899, the former showing a voiturette at the Stanley Cycle Show but not making its first car, with De Dion engine, until 1901/02, the latter starting with an experimental car that led first to the Mabley “sofa”, also De Dion-powered.

In France Edouard Sarazin acquired the Gottlieb Daimler patents and on his death-bed on Christmas night, 1887, implored his wife and his friend Emile Levassor to retain and make use of them. His wife went to Germany to see Daimler, who gave her permission to continue to use his patents and she returned with the latest of these German engines, this romantic story ending with her marriage to Levassor in 1890, the year in which the first Panhard-Levassor car was built, Panhard being Levassor’s business partner. However, it was not until 1891 that this vehicle managed to complete the short journey from the factory in the Avenue d’Ivry to the Point de Jour and back. The front-engined Panhard-Levassor of 1891/2, Levassor’s third model, set a fashion that became universal (until challenged by Sir Alec Issigonis in 1959!), just as the many innovations incorporated in the 1900 Mercedes made that the most advanced car of its time, widely copied.

The first De Dion Bouton voiturette wasn’t made until 1899, although this combination pioneered the high-speed ic engine and practical electric ignition, Armand Peugeot did not go into car production until 1891, when his German-Daimler-engined Peugeot managed what was probably the first really long troublefree run, following the cycle race from Valentigny-Paris-Brest-Valentigny and Sir David Salomons exhibited his Peugeot in England, at the 1895 Tunbridge Wells Show.

America can claim the first Duryea in 1892, the first Oldsmobile in 1896, in which year the Winton and Columbia were affected by the notorious Selden patents, appealed against so bravely by Henry Ford in 1909, whose appeal was upheld in 1911.

We present these observations for historians to chew on, in the belief that they establish the year 1986 as the proper Centenary of the Motor-Car, in the context of practical, petrol-burning vehicles that were commercial propositions very soon after their advent which indeed, could quite soon be purchased — indeed, a Benz arrived in England around the year 1889 and is now in the Science Museum in London.

It as is usually accepted such early vehicles as the de Rivaz of 1807, the alleged Siegfried Marcus of 1864 and the Edward Butler tricycle of 1884/7 are ignored as impractical, and the valiant effort of Henry Knight of Farnham in 1885 likewise as contributing only a “one-off”, the claim that Benz and Daimler gave the World the first motor-car years ago this year seems valid. MOTOR SPORT is happy to accept that these two pioneers, and the makes of Benz and Mercedes which amalgamated in 1926 that contributed so much to motor-racing and record-breaking along the years, are the true pioneers of the automobile.

Next on the Jubilee list (the mid. thirties must have been a wonderful time for motoring), is the Fiftieth year of the four-wheeler Morgan. The main events (collectively known as MOG 86) cover July 11th-15th and include a Civic Reception, a Scenic Run, a Test Day and the Jubilee Dinner, plus an optional seven-day tour of Britain. Fuller information from Barry Iles. 22 Montpellier Spa. Roar. Cheltenham. Glos.

Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground, where MOTOR SPORT’s performance testing is carried out, is becoming a popular venue for a whole range of motoring activity, and the BMW CC will be holding a Closed Permit Sprint there on May 3rd For members only the event will comprise seven classes and the entry tee is £15. Apply to Mrs F C Brown. Lamorna Pottery, Lamorna. nr Penzance. Cornwall