Hit the road... the Benz way!

Updated - November 10, 2021 12:33 pm IST

Published - January 28, 2015 12:32 pm IST

Using Benz Patent-Motorwagen No. 3, Bertha Benz, wife of Karl Benz, set out from Mannheim with her two sons... And the rest is history

Using Benz Patent-Motorwagen No. 3, Bertha Benz, wife of Karl Benz, set out from Mannheim with her two sons... And the rest is history

If the story behind the birth of naval aviation fascinated you last week, this one that hinges around the birth of the automobile is bound to thrill you even more. It starts with Karl Benz, whose name is immortalised by the company that bears his name, Mercedes-Benz.

Following tremendous commercial success with his first stationary gasoline engine, a one-cylinder two-stroke unit that he built in 1879, Karl turned his attention towards his lifelong dream. Backed financially by his wife Bertha as well, Karl was able to devote considerable time and energy to build a lightweight car powered by a gasoline engine.

The attempts were not without failures. And it was only in 1885, that he finally completed his work. Major features of this two-seater vehicle included a high-speed, single-cylinder four-stroke engine installed at the rear of the vehicle and three wheels — two at the back and one up front — that were wire-spiked, giving it a maximum speed of up to 25 mph. A controlled exhaust valve, high-voltage ignition with spark plug and water cooling systems were also included.

Karl applied for a patent for his work, Benz Patent-Motorwagen, on January 29, 1886 and was granted one by November the same year. This patent — considered by many to be the birth certificate for automobiles — also marked the end of an era of horse-driven carriages.

Can you name the two sons who accompanied their mother in this historic drive? Send your answers to ganesh.a.s@thehindu.co.in with your name, class, school and location. [subject: eye]

Historic trip

Bertha was the driver and the mechanic all through the way. She stopped at a local pharmacy that sold ligroin, the petroleum solvent used to run the car, when running low on fuel. Bertha used her hairpin to clear the clogging in the fuel line and also made an emergency repair to the car’s ignition. And when the car’s wooden brakes began to wear down and fail, she asked a shoemaker to install leather soles instead, thus devising the world’s first pair of brake pads.

After covering a distance of over 100 km in less than 12 hours, the three travellers reached the home of Bertha’s mother. She sent a telegram to Karl informing her safe arrival, but the news of how safe their car was, was already spreading like wildfire, thanks to the eyewitnesses.

After staying for a few days, she drove back following a different route, completing a journey of just less than 200 km totally. With rivals not having clocked more than a few dozen feet on their automobiles, Bertha’s trip garnered enough publicity to catapult them to the forefront. It also demonstrated beyond doubt the practicality of motorised transport.

Feedback and modifications Another important fallout from the trip was Bertha’s feedback to Karl, which included difficulties encountered on the road. Travelling uphill was tedious and there were instances when they had to get down and push the car themselves. These were enough to convince Karl that he had to introduce modifications, which resulted in the world’s first gear system.

In 2008, nearly 120 years after her journey, the Bertha Benz Memorial Route was approved officially by German authorities as a tourist or scenic route. If you ever make your way to Germany, make sure that you follow the path of her historic trip.

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