It was the brainchild of Karl Benz, the famous engineer whose name forms the ‘Benz’ in today’s Mercedes Benz car brand.
Karl Benz was very mechanically minded from an early age, and as a young man, he joined the Karlsruhe Lyceum where he excelled in the study of physics, a prerequisite for any budding engineer.
Although his tuition fees were the equivalent of two months’ pension for his widowed mother, she was determined to provide the finances to support her son’s budding interest in the internal combustion engine.
After trying his luck as an immigrant in Austria in 1871, Benz returned to Germany, opening a small workshop in the Mannheim area, where he began the development of a new two-stroke engine.
In 1883, Benz formed his company, the Benz & Cie. Rheinische Gasmotoren-Fabrik Mannheim. Their number one priority was to design and manufacture a car powered by the internal combustion engine.
And so in the spring of 1885, a prototype saw the light of day for the first time. It was one much like the one you see in the Museu do Caramulo. The tricycle managed a distance of 1000 meters at an average speed of 12 km/h, on a public road. Karl Benz’s new tricycle was far from crude. It boasted technology which we still find in our cars today. It had a water-cooled engine, electronic ignition, a mechanical differential, automatic intake valves as wells as rack and pinion steering.
The tricycle, with its two-stroke single-cylinder engine placed horizontally under the seat, also had a vaporizer (or carburetor) to provide the air/fuel mixture for the combustion process.
The engine developed ¾ of 1hp and delivered it between 250 and 300 revolutions per minute. That power was transmitted to the rear wheels via two chains, which in turn drove a differential.
The car’s first big journey was made in August 1888, by none other than the pioneering Mrs. Berta Ringer Benz, Karl’s wife.
She left Mannheim at five in the morning with her two children, aged 14 and 15, and headed towards Pforzheim, a journey of about 100 km. After several stops and manual assistance during the more steep climbs, the adventurous Mrs. Benz arrived at her destination.
At a time of inadequate women’s rights, the first recorded trip by car would go down in history as having been made by a middle-aged housewife, proving not only the value of this new means of transport but also the equality of women in society.
The Benz prototype in the Museu do Caramulo is a replica made by the English manufacturer John Bentley & Sons Ltd., under license from Mercedes-Benz, during its centenary in 1986.