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Hello everybody! Today we’d like to tell you about one more legendary car from our collection – Benz 200 hp or the “Blitzen Benz”.
A hundred years ago the record-breaking Benz 200 hp was the fastest car in the world. The very first time an internal combustion-engined car broke through the 200 km/h speed mark – the absolute speed record of 228.1 km/h was reached. It pushed all the hitherto existing limits a little further. This record for cars was to last some eight years, ultimately turning the “Blitzen-Benz” into something of a legend.
So, car enthusiasts, prepare your stomachs for an astonishing story about this automobile monster!
At the beginning of the twentieth century automobile races became very popular; all companies started producing their exclusive racing models.
Nevertheless, the inventors of the automobile from Benz Company didn’t hurry to join this trend. Carl Benz even voiced criticism of such activities: “Instead of taking part in races which provide no benefits in terms of experience, but on the contrary cause damage, we will continue to focus on the production of robust and reliable touring cars”, were his words in 1901.
But then, after investigating ways of increasing competitiveness, the attitude of Benz & Cie. towards motor racing changed. The company board came to the conclusion that even Benz could not afford to ignore the tricks of modern market mechanisms and gave the green light to construction of Benz racers.
Development of the record-breaking Benz 200 hp started in 1909 at Benz & Cie. in Mannheim under the guidance of Victor Héméry, one of the most successful racing drivers of his time. Although the vehicle was intentionally built as a sports car, race victories were not the primary aim of Benz & Cie. It rather more had its sights set on breaking the magical 200 km/h barrier.
The basis for the new vehicle was the 150 hp engine from the Benz Grand Prix racing car, but for the ambitious project even this output was not sufficient. By enlarging the bore to 185 mm displacement was enlarged to 21.5 liters, setting a standard no other racing or record-chasing car produced by Benz would ever reach again. The first version of this engine developed 184 hp at 1500 rpm, and then boosted up to 200 hp at 1600 rpm.
The engineers were also working to develop a new and aerodynamic body. They made the car as narrow as possible in order to reduce wind resistance to a minimum. But it was not only the performance and appearance which enthralled the public – the acoustics of the car also caused delight: the sound levels produced by the four-cylinder engine were described as “infernal”. The cylinders, each with a capacity of more than 5 litres, created a thunderous roar which left spectators’ ears ringing and the earth shaking. The fact that the exhaust pipe also ejected flames from time to time only served to underscore the brute strength of the car.
The car successfully completed its first outing at the one-kilometre race in Frankfurt am Main. On August 22, 1909 Fritz Erle – a designer at Benz – covered one kilometer with flying start in 22.6 seconds – equivalent to an average speed of 159.3 km/h. The work was completed in late 1909. In line with the usual naming method, the new car was named 200 hp Benz.
And straight away it went on to tour the record tracks in good old Europe, among them the concrete oval at Brooklands/England. In the time, Brooklands was the only track in Europe on which a speed of 200 km/h was possible. Tarmacs had barely had time to dry on the newly opened circuit when the Benz works driver arrived on November 8, 1909 to set a new land-speed record. Victor Héméry covered the one-kilometer distance from a flying start at an average speed of 202.7 km/h, breaking the all-important 200 km/h mark for the first time in Europe.
Yet internationally this did not place the record-breaking Benz 200 hp in something of a special position. Even though no other internal combustion-engined motor car in the entire world had travelled as fast, as ever there was still strong competition from steam engine vehicles. In 1906, using the Stanley Steamer car, racer Fred Marriott had exceeded a speed of 205 km/h. But the engineers from Benz & Cie. were convinced that their new creation was capable of matching this speed.
The race tracks in Europe, however, were too short and too narrow to support such speeds. Therefore Benz & Cie. thought about America, where it wasn’t a problem. The decision was quickly taken to cross the Atlantic. Moreover, the success with the record-breaking car in the States – an important overseas market – would not be bad for business.
In 1910, the car was fitted with new bodywork and shipped to America, where the lightning-fast racer was bought by event manager Ernie Moross. The businessman gave the car a new catchy name – “Lightning Benz” – which was painted onto his new purchase.
However, the car’s name was soon to lose its sheen in the eyes of its restless owner, who replaced it with the German translation “Blitzen-Benz” and had a small German Imperial Eagle painted onto the right-hand side of the hood.
With almost no preparation, Moross’ driver Barney Oldfield broke the existing world record by reaching a speed of 211.97 km/h at Daytona Beach in Florida on March 17, 1910. However, the A.I.A.C.R., the highest authority in car racing, refused to recognize the record because the Benz had not covered the distance in the opposite direction as well – as specified in the competition guidelines – with the average from the two runs determining the valid speed.
On April 23, 1911, it was Bob Burman’s turn to exploit the full potential of the “Blitzen-Benz” at Daytona Beach. Over one kilometer from a flying start, he set a new best mark of 225.65 km/h average speed and a new land speed record of 228.1 km/h. These records remained unbroken until 1919.
Faster than any contemporary plane, train or automobile the “Blitzen-Benz” became an attraction and toured across the United States like a traveling circus making reputation for the Benz brand across the Atlantic.
There were six Benz 200 hp units altogether. Two of these still exist today – one is in a private collection in the United States and another is owned by Mercedes-Benz Museum. The last one was built from the parts still at hand as an exhibition piece specially for the celebrations in 1935.
But story is not over yet. In 2004, a brand enthusiast from the United States privately built a replica of the Blitzen-Benz, the seventh Benz 200 hp. The Mercedes-Benz Museum loaned him its own exhibit to serve as a template for this extraordinary project. Mercedes also supplied the several original parts in order to add as much authenticity as possible to the reproduction. Sections of an original body, meanwhile, were still available in the United States.
Definitely, it was an era-defining vehicle, model destined to push back the boundaries which have sealed its place in automotive folklore as one of the most inspirational models ever made. So how could we omit such a marvelous automobile in our collection? To study in detail please see our 360 viewer.
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