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Hang on a minute…
There we go!
December 22nd 2020 will be the 120th anniversary of the first car, as we know it. Commissioned by the gentleman in the photo – Austrian businessman & diplomat, Emil Jellinek – the 35HP model was designed by Wilhelm Maybach and Paul Daimler. A purpose-made long & wide steel chassis. A powerful 5.9 litre 4-cylinder engine, mounted low to help the centre-of-gravity. Electric sparking by Bosch… This most definitely was not a ‘horseless carriage’. This was the first modern car, and it was built to race.
The Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft racing programme had come to a sudden stop in March 1900 when chief mechanic Wilhelm Bauer was killed at the Nice-La Turbie race. The DMG he was racing was entered by Emil Jellinek – DMG’s French distributor, and automotive evangelist.
DMG were chastened, Jellinek less so. Just three days after La Turbie, a deal was struck. Jellinek would set out the criteria for a new Daimler racing car, and Maybach would be given the freedom to interpret them. “…it will be the car of the day after tomorrow”. Jellinek placed an initial order for thirty-eight of the new model, plus another thirty-six standard 8HP cars – delivered by year’s end. The cost? 500,000 Goldmark – but for that Jellinek wanted exclusive rights to the new car, and a seat on the board. It was, perhaps, the best deal Daimler ever made.
Work started immediately – with Jellinek overseeing the project via daily telegrams and trips to Stuttgart. By 22nd November the car was ready for testing – Jellinek taking delivery of the first example at Nice railway station on Saturday, 22nd December, 1900. This first 35HP model – already pre-sold to Henri de Rothschild – was the revolution Jellinek had hoped for.
The new car was immediately put to it’s intended work – Jellinek entering a six-car squad in the Grand Prix du Sud-Ouest. The Automobile Club de Béarn’s 300-kilometre road race was a tough opening to the season, coming just a couple of weeks after the delivery of the new cars. Too much, too soon. The 35HPs suffered the multiple technical issues to be expected with a brand-new racing car. Victory in the heavy car class went to Maurice Farman on a Panhard 24HP. Undaunted, plans were made for ‘Nice Week’.
One year on from Daimler’s tragedy, five of the new cars lined-up for the 1901 Nice-La Turbie… and they crushed the opposition! Wilhelm Werner – the Kaiser’s driver – on that first Rothschild 35HP broke all records, in all classes. Maxing-out at 53mph, he won at an average speed of 31.9mph… the existing race record was 19.4mph! Motoring would never be the same again.
This tale has one more historical twist.
Emil Jellinek named the new car that he had created. As with his house, and his racing team, he named it after his 10-year-old daughter Adriana… or rather, his pet name for her. This new machine, that would revolutionise transport & racing was called… Mercédès.
The Daimler production lines were flat-out in 1901. The demand for ‘family’ versions of the Mercédès 35hp – and smaller capacity models – was huge, and by September 1902 ‘Mercédès’ was a Daimler trademark. The brand so instantly synonymus – iconic – that in June 1903 Emil changed his name to Jellinek-Mercédès. “This is probably the first time that a father has taken his daughter’s name”.
The new century – The Century of the Automobile – was soon to be very cruel to the Jellinek family, but their legacy is undeniable. At the conclusion of that dominant first win in 1901, Paul Meyan of the Automobile Club de France stated, “We have entered the Mercédès era.”. No matter what vehicle you choose, I believe we are still in the Mercédès era – thanks to those events, 120 years ago.