The Very Beginning of Motoring

Karl Benz, a German engineer, is credited with producing the world’s first motor car driven by an internal combustion engine. With a partner he established an engineering works but struggled financially, partly due to his partner. His wife Bertha had some money and was able to buy out the partner and save the business. Benz had a dream of producing an automobile, he was a great inventor and obtained patents for a range of his inventions. He produced his first car in 1886, it had a water-cooled engine with electric ignition. He was not a good salesman or publicist and, surprisingly, his car failed to make a great impression. His wife believed in her husband and his car and was dismayed that the company was failing. Without Karl’s knowledge she took the car and with her two sons drove to visit her parents 50miles away. It was not an easy journey, she needed to refuel more than once, fuel was only available from drug stores, she had to get help from a shoemaker to repair the brakes and needed help from the boys pushing on more than one occasion, but her expedition was widely publicised and generated more interest in the car, with a resulting boost to the business.
That journey also led to improvements in the car, including a gearbox and improved brakes. In 1888 Benz was awarded the gold medal at the Munich Exhibition and it is reported that he drove his car 200miles to receive it, which, if true, was amazing.
Gottlieb Daimler, another German engineer at that time, had been working on internal combustion engines. He was primarily interested in engines, not cars specifically, he saw a range of applications, especially for launches, but his company did produce a car soon after Benz. I believe his car was guaranteed for 100miles!
Daimler went on to improve his car, he employed an assistant, Maybach, who was also an inventor. Maybach invented the float carburettor (but later discovered that it had already been invented by an Englishman, Edward Butler, who had built a petrol driven bicycle in 1887). Daimler and Benz were the only car manufacturers in Germany.
The public in Germany and in the UK were not enthusiastic. People were frightened of benzene, the only fuel available, they were aware of how easily it ignited, roads were mostly not surfaced, the arrival of the railways half a century before had meant that road maintenance had been neglected with the result that they were often muddy or with deep ruts and the odd large stone. The gentry were in love with their horses, the German Kaiser had stated that automobiles were unpatriotic.
The French, on the other hand, were more welcoming, with the result that they were soon leading the development of the motor car. Peugeot was a French car, Panhard and Lavassor were building cars with Daimler engines
In the UK, as the threat of motor cars grew, Parliament introduce the Locomotive and Horseless Carriage Act, requiring cars to be preceded by a pedestrian carrying a red flag. There was considerable hostility towards cars in the country at large and that, with the red flag act, deterred potential customers. The ‘red flag Law’ law was revoked after a few years.
There were those in the UK with greater vision. In 1893 a Daimler Motor Syndicate was formed in the UK with a man by the name of Simms as MD, primarily for manufacture of marine engines. They established their business in West London in Putney Bridge Road and entered into a deal with Panhard-Lavassor to import their cars with Daimler engines. The first car the Syndicate sold was a Panhard-Lavassor with a Daimler engine in 1896. It was shipped to Southampton and driven from there to Datchet and then on to Malvern. This was the first long journey made by a car in England. It was a sensation, whole villages turned out to see it. It completed the journey with an average speed of 9.8mph, the maximum speed was 20mph. Mr Simms gave the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) a ride, it is said that the Prince was frightened by the speed and asked Simms to slow down. The owner of the car, the Hon. Mr Ellis, stored the car in a stable. He is credited with inventing the word ‘garage’.
The requirement for the red-flag-pedestrian was dropped in 1896, but by this time the French were well ahead with the development of the motor car and were running a Paris to Marseilles race. The first three cars in the race were Panhards, the first five cars all had British patents. A Mr Lawson donated a prize for the winner an ’Objet d’Art’, in the form of a goddess in a motor chariot. The medal awarded to today’s participants in the London to Brighton still bears the image of Lawson’s goddess in a motor chariot.
Mr Lawson, then purchased the syndicate and established the Daimler Motor Co, with Simms as consulting engineer, they purchased all the Daimler British Patents and the right to use the Daimler name, Gottlieb Daimler then joined the company. In 1896 Simms was appointed a director of the German company ’Daimler Motoren Gesselschaft’.
Lawson then established the ‘Great Horseless Carriage Co and Daimler’ in Coventry. They obtained Daimler drawings from Germany, as part of the agreement they had made, these were all metric. (I think Daimler in UK persisted with the metric system?).
The inaugural run of the London to Brighton race took place in 1896. Lawson entered a German Daimler, there were 22 entrants. A newspaper report after the event read, “We are on the Eve of one of our greatest epochs ……. Saturdays London -Brighton test has proved that we may travel much faster, much easier and at less cost. A four in hand makes five changes and employs twenty horses to do what a little motor car can accomplish.”
Gottlieb Daimler resigned from the board of the German company and Simms resigned at the same time, later Gottlieb resigned from the board of the British company – he died in 1900. The British Daimler company became totally separate from the Germans. Benz joined up with Daimler company in Germany to form Daimler-Benz, (later Mercedes Benz).
The first British built Daimler was produced in 1897, they went on to design their own engines, by this time other British manufacturers were producing cars and French cars were being sold in Britain. The explosion in motor production in Britain had begun. In 1900 there were no petrol driven taxis in London, by 1910 there were hardly any horse cabs.

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