It’s common knowledge that the oldest gasoline-powered internal combustion automobile is a German one, the 1885 Benz Patent-Motorwagen. That’s all great, but if you want to drive it, you better head to a private track. That’s because it’s not only a priceless piece of history, it’s also not street legal. If you want to drive a truly old car down your local eight-lane highway, you’re going to need this 1894 Benz Victoria.
After Karl Benz created his Patent-Motorwagen, he went on to create its successor, the Benz Velo. But the Velo was still a bit pricey and hard to build, so the second car in the lineup, along with the Velo, was one of these, a Benz Victoria.
The Victoria wasn’t just easier and cheaper to build than the Velo, it also had better steering. No, not a steering wheel, that would still be absurd future technology when a steering tiller would do just fine, thank you, just like our Lord in heaven and people who enjoy boating intended. But the new-fangled steering tiller on the Victoria did work a bit better than the ones on the Patent-Motorwagen and the Velo, as Benz’s successor company, Mercedes-Benz, explains on its website:
The two inventors of the automobile did not know that as early as 1816, carriage builder Georg Lankensperger in Munich had been granted a “privilege”, as patents were called at the time, for a “steering device for horse-drawn vehicles”. In principle, his design represented the solution to the problem. It was re-patented by Amédée Bollée for his steam-powered vehicle in 1873 but then fell into oblivion for reasons unknown.
It was by coincidence that Carl Benz came across this “privilege” when browsing through a trade journal in 1891 and realised the significance of this design for the automobile, specifying that “the extended lines of the wheel axes must converge in the centre point of the bend.” In short, he realised that the double-pivot steering was the solution to the automotive steering problem.
In painstaking work, he developed a steering for his purposes – moved by a steering crank rather than a shaft – and fitted it into his Patent Motor Car. Several improvements followed until the steering was both light and reliable in operational terms, and therefore good enough to be patented.
The first four-wheeler presented by Benz with this groundbreaking new steering to buyers and the public at large was the Victoria. It was built between 1893 and 1900 in different versions and with engine output ratings from three to six hp. The Victoria was to remain Carl Benz’s all-time favourite car.
It’s got both a foot brake and a hand brake, like modern cars, but it’s also got two horns. Both of them sound delightful in the video, as you’ve got the “HONK HONK” from your squeeze-y horn and then your classic “AWOOOOOGAH” from a klaxon. Perfection.
But while an 1894 Benz Victoria may be able to pass inspection today, I’m still not sure I’d want to drive it on a public road with all sorts of other drivers around you. Just imagine getting lightly bumped by a truck. There’d be nothing but a cloud of splinters and a thin smear of blood left on the road.
Actually, someone hit up the IIHS. I have an idea.
h/t to Mustang ‘DontHitTheCrowd’ GT!