The world’s oldest prestige vehicle just turned 130
The tiny Daimler Motor Car of 1892 looks even smaller, standing beside two magnificent Mercedes-Benz 770 ‘Grand Mercedes’ WO7 models from the 1930s. However, it fits in this picture perfectly, because, like them, it was the prestige vehicle of its time.
The world’s oldest prestige car – the Motor Car was the first car model sold by Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG) – and in 1892 it was a highly exclusive machine. Considering the number actually produced, that is almost an understatement.
Back in the early 1890s, six years after the invention of the automobile, only a few select customers were able to enjoy this innovative mode of transport. By 1895, DMG had built just twelve Motor Cars.
Star exhibit in the Mercedes-Benz Museum, the vehicle looks simple from today’s perspective, with its box-shaped body and open bench seat on top of four wooden wheels – the front ones slightly smaller – but back then it sent out a strong signal.
It looked like a carriage and yet did not need harnessed horses at all. Thus, even in this early phase of development, automobility as a prominent form of locomotion became clear. This uniqueness gripped important decision-makers and celebrities.
In the 1890s, an illustrious clientele was interested in this innovative mode of transport. ‘Sultan, Morocco’ is the very matter-of-fact first entry in the DMG order book in 1892 and records that the company’s first customer, Mulai al-Hassan I received a Daimler Motor Car.
The ruler of Morocco, from the Alawid dynasty, reigned from 1873 to 1894. Before he received the innovative vehicle from Cannstatt, he appeared before his subjects on noble horses.
The automobile delivered to the Sultan on 31 August 1892 looked somewhat different from the vehicle on display in the Mercedes-Benz Museum, because the climate in Morocco required a sun canopy. The car boasted an ornate canopy of velvet, with gold thread tassels and ebony trim as further special refinements.
Mulai al- Hassan I was apparently so enthusiastic about his new machine that he did not stop at the Motor Car: he also received a boat with motor drive from DMG.
Top-shelf customisation showed that the Cannstatt-based company offered a product to meet the most exacting of demands of distinguished owners, back in the late 19th century. Thus began the history of Mercedes-Benz as the world’s oldest luxury car manufacturer.
(Just one year later, Daimler’s competitor, Benz & Cie, in Mannheim, also entered the luxury vehicle market, with the Victoria.)
Chief designer Max Schroedter developed the 1892 Daimler Motor Car from Gottlieb Daimler’s and Wilhelm Maybach’s steel-wheeled car of 1889: hence its nickname ‘Schroedter car’.
The new vehicle had a two-cylinder engine with a displacement of 1060 cubic centimetres, which produced 1.47kW (2bhp) at 700rpm. Power was transmitted by a three-speed gearbox to a rear-axle differential. The top speed was 18 km/h.
The top speed is minimal from today’s perspective, but 130 years ago it was more than sufficient to confirm the combustion engine’s efficiency over horse-drawn power.
The front and rear of the vehicle in the Museum proudly bear manufacturer’s badges from Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft in Cannstatt.
The engine is inconspicuously built into the body, which was made by Stuttgart coachbuilder Otto Nägele.
Visible identifying features of the Motor Car include the steering rack in front of the seat, a large gearwheel with a solid chain drive between the rear wheels and other mechanical elements.
Coolant circulated through the steel pipes of the vehicle frame.
An external block brake provided deceleration, acting on wheels shod with solid rubber tyres from ‘Hamburger Gummiwerk’.