Dawn of an era: the Mercedes 35 hp

May 14, 2010
  • Powerful drive system perfectly matched with chassis
  • Successful racing car and exclusive road vehicle
  • Succeeded by Mercedes-Simplex models
The first modern car was designed by Wilhelm Maybach, chief designer of Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG), in 1900. The state-of-the-art 1000-kilogram car with a characteristic low centre of gravity was made for Emil Jellinek, as the first vehicle to bear the “Mercedes” name. Standout features of the new car included the visionary contours, marking the final break from coach construction, and the powerful drivetrain. The Mercedes was propelled by a completely new 27-kW light-alloy engine, cooled by Maybach’s new honeycomb radiator. These ingredients combined to make the 35 hp the first super-sports car in the history of our brand, at least when fitted out as such, since the car was supplied in a range of body styles according to customer preference, as was normal practice at the time.
The car’s top speed was 75 km/h, or just under 90 km/h with the light sports body. These figures were superior to any other vehicle of the day – and the DMG 35 hp Mercedes proceeded to dominate the Racing Week event in Nice, winning the hill climb, street race and one-mile sprint titles.
Wilhelm Maybach’s design also created the culture of Mercedes-Benz super-sports cars, since as well as being a highly successful racing car, the vehicle was also sold as an exclusive car for customers looking for a superior sports car. Emil Jellinek clearly had such ambitions when he commissioned this outstanding car from DMG. He had been operating in Nice on the Côte d’Azur as an independent car dealer since 1897, selling Daimler automobiles to the rich and famous. His customers included members of the Rothschild family and other VIPs of the day. By the time of Gottlieb Daimler’s death in 1900, Jellinek had sold 34 cars in this way – a respectable figure in an age of very low production runs.
Jellinek finally convinced Gottlieb Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach to build him a powerful car. The new DMG vehicle was to enter the Nice races under the name of “Mercedes”. Jellinek and his team had entered races under this pseudonym since 1899. Even then, he realised that, as well as being powerful advertising tools for their manufacturer, high-performance sports cars also provided a foretaste of series-production cars of the future: “I want the car of tomorrow!”, he told the DMG engineers. He placed a bulk order for 36 cars for a total price of 550,000 Mark.
The first new 35-hp car was delivered to Jellinek on 22 December 1900, and already on 4 January 1901 there was a report in the Côte d’Azur car magazine “L’Automobile-Revue du Littoral” reading as follows: “The place to see the latest trends at the moment is not Paris, but Nice. The first Mercedes car built in the workshops at Cannstadt has just arrived in Nice, and thanks to the kindness of its owner, Mr Jellinek, all our motorists have been able to try it out. We make no bones about it: the Mercedes appears to be a very, very good car. This remarkable vehicle will be a fearsome competitor in the 1901 racing season.”
These words were borne out in no uncertain terms during the Nice Racing Week in March 1901. The new Mercedes returned home with four first places and five second places to their credit, in such diverse events as the endurance race, the hill climb and the one-mile race. After watching these successes, Paul Meyan, General Secretary of the Automobile Club de France, coined the phrase “Nous sommes entrés dans l’ère Mercédès” (“We have just entered the Mercedes era”).
Maybach’s conviction that there would soon be customers for the exclusive high-performance sports car was proved right, with a list of buyers for the DMG Mercedes during 1901 including a string of American billionaires: Rockefeller, Astor, Morgan and Taylor.
The Mercedes 35 hp marks the beginning of a creative process that led to the production of numerous powerful and exclusive cars over the next few years, particularly the the models in the Simplex family. These were the fruit of Wilhelm Maybach’s tireless efforts to produce an even better successor for the first generation of Mercedes models. This project started in autumn 1901 and resulted in the top model of the 1902 year: the Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp. This car dominated the Nice Racing Week in April 1902 just as the first Mercedes had done one year before.
The next development stage of the race-winning super-sports car was the Mercedes-Simplex 60 hp of 1903. This vehicle enjoyed its hour of stardom as a racing car, but only as the result of a disastrous accident. In 1903, the Daimler factory in Cannstatt was largely destroyed in a fire. The casualties included the three Mercedes 90 hp cars to be raced in the Gordon Bennett race. So DMG decided to replace its factory racing vehicles with Mercedes-Simplex 60 hp cars, which the manufacturer borrowed back for the race from customers who had already received cars. One of these cars was driven to victory against very strong international competition by the Belgian racing driver Camille Jenatzy. So it was that the Mercedes-Simplex 60 hp came to stand for one of the most legendary motorsport successes of the Mercedes brand.
Other outstanding DMG models that can be regarded as forerunners preparing the way for contemporary super-sports cars include the six-cylinder Mercedes 75 hp (1906), the Mercedes 37/90 hp featuring three-valve technology, double ignition and encapsulated drive chains (1911), and the Mercedes 28/95 hp, powered by a six-cylinder engine inspired by aircraft technology, with overhead camshaft, V-shaped overhead valves and steel turned cylinders (1914).
Benz & Cie., a competitor of DMG up until the merger of the two companies in 1926, also made a little piece of super-sports car history in 1909 with a very famous car: the Benz 200 hp, which as the “Blitzen-Benz“ (or “Lightning Benz”) set numerous records and entered the technology history books as the fastest car of its time. It had a 21.5-litre engine developing an output of 147 kW, and definitely belongs in the ranks of the super-sports cars. In contrast with the experimental cars and “ record-breaking cars” of later years, the Benz 200 hp was both sold to customers and entered in motorsport events.
Mercedes 35 hp
In production: from 1900 to 1902
Engine: 4-cylinder, in-line
Displacement: 5913 cc
Output: 26 kW at 1000 rpm
Top speed: 75 km/h
Mercedes-Simplex 40 hp
In production: from 1902 to 1903
Engine: 4-cylinder, in-line
Displacement: 6785 cc
Output: 29 kW at 1100 rpm
Top speed: 80 km/h
Mercedes 75 hp
In production: from 1906 to 1911 (including successor models)
Engine: 6-cylinder, in-line
Displacement: 10,180 cc
Output: 55 kW at 1300 rpm
Top speed: 95 km/h
Mercedes 37/90 hp
In production: from1911 to 1915 (including successor types)
Engine: 4-cylinder, in-line
Displacement: 9,530 cc
Output: 66 kW at 1300 rpm
Top speed: 115 km/h
Mercedes 28/95 hp
In production: 1914 to 1924 (all models)
Engine: 6-cylinder, in-line
Displacement: 7280 cc
Output: 69 kW at 1800 rpm
Top speed: 130 km/h
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s Mercedes 35 hp of 1901, designed by Wilhelm Maybach.
Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s Mercedes 35 hp of 1901, designed by Wilhelm Maybach.
The “honeycomb radiator” invented by Wilhelm Maybach for Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft’s Mercedes 35 hp of 1901 was a milestone in the history of automotive engineering.