“Chance created the situation; genius made use of it.”
~Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace~
Frustration filled me as I came across a seemingly ever expanding array of names: Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, Mercedes, Daimler, DMG, Daimler-Mercedes, Benz, Daimler-Benz, and Mercedes-Benz…they all seemed to have some sort of connection, but what? I was having flashbacks (or perhaps nightmares!) to several years ago when I read War and Peace. Nearly all the key characters had a variety of names which became immensely confusing. I would think that a new individual had just been introduced (there were after all nearly 600 people named in the novel) when it would dawn on me that a character with whom I was already familiar had just been referred to with a different name. Eventually I printed out a list of each person’s possible appellations in an attempt to decrease the level of my bewilderment.
Gottlieb Daimler formed the company Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft (DMG for ease of spelling!) and manufactured engines and automobiles in Germany from 1890 until 1926. Their first cars were called Daimlers, but confusingly, at least as far as I was concerned, their later cars were called Mercedes. The first “Mercedes” was created in 1902 when Emil Jellinek commissioned DNG to make him a quicker racing car. As he was a prominent businessman Jellinek raced under the pseudonym “Mercedes”, the name of his ten year old daughter, and painted “Mercedes” prominently on the bodywork of his car. Shortly after this DMG patented the brand name, and started calling all their cars Mercedes and so would confuse junior historical writers for decades and even centuries to come! Because of difficulties with the economic climate in Germany after the first World War, DMG merged with Benz in 1926 and formed the company Daimler-Benz who then called their cars Mercedes-Benz…I think that covers all the names… 🙂
Mercedes had entered three cars in the 1908 French Grand prix. One of these was driven by Christian Lautenschlager who managed to grab victory in his inaugural race. Lautenschlager had joined DMG at the age of 22 as a mechanic and gradually worked his way up in the company until he arrived at the illustrious position of chief test driver. He was responsible for the inspection and running in of all the cars, and it seems he was rewarded with occasional opportunities to drive the company’s car in a race.
Prior to the 1909 French Grand Prix the United States was pressuring the Automobile Club of France (ACF) to change the regulations to allow American Stock Cars to enter. In 1908 there had been a minimum weight of 1100 kg and a maximum bore of 155 mm which excluded the majority of American automobiles. Several European manufactures, including Peugeot and Mercedes, refused to enter unless the race was closed to stock-cars. Because of this deadlock between the Europeans and the Americans the French Grand Prix was not run between 1909 and 1911. The French Grand Prix was next held in 1912 as an open race with no weight or engine restrictions though by now the Americans appear to have lost interest in attending as only a sole driver bothered to make the trek across the pond to compete.
In September of 1913 the ACF released the regulations for their 1914 Grand Prix. Up until now there had been no limits on engine size, but the previous year Peugeot had gone against the crowd and had started going smaller and lighter instead of ever bigger. Their new car had been instantly successful and the ACF was keen to prolong local dominance. By bringing in regulations limiting engine size they hoped to further increase the advantage they had over the other competitors.
Mercedes had competed in the 1913 French GP with four cars finishing in the top seven places. For 1914 they would need to build a completely new car and engine in order to participate. The race was to be held July 4, 2014 so the engineers would have to try to beat the clock to get a car designed and built to the new regulations in time to enter.
DMG had the advantage of cutting edge innovation in their aircraft engines, which were small and light. At the outbreak of the First World War they were the only engine supplier to eight different German aircraft manufactures. Their 6 cylinder, water cooled, in-line engine could produce 100 hp and was reliable and fuel efficient. Their new car engine would be based heavily on their aircraft engine.
The 750 km French Grand Prix would require a car capable of withstanding immense forces for a sustained period of time. They would need to get the right blend of advanced technology and long-term durability. The Mercedes engine was simpler than the Peugeot, with a single overhead camshaft, but also had four valves per cylinder. Its cylinders were made of steel and each one was cooled individually. It could achieve more than 3000 rpm, the highest of any engine at that time. The engine was built in the car section of the factory but tested by the aero-engine technicians.
The decision was made to stick with rear wheel brakes, unlike the majority of the French cars who now sported brakes on all four wheels. Although the vehicles with front wheel brakes were faster into the corners the Mercedes had faster acceleration out of them. The omission of front brakes also had the benefit of reduced tyre wear (which turned out to be a pivotal factor in the race) and improved handling.
Two of the cars were finished ahead of time and sent to Lyon for testing in April. After extensive analysis of the track and the car’s performance the test drivers decided that a five speed gear box was necessary to get maximum speed and acceleration. However, the factory was unwilling to try to produce this at such short notice so a compromise was made and the gear ratios were modified. Because of handling difficulties noted during testing the wheelbase was shorted to 112 inches and the long tails were eliminated to save weight.
Mercedes arrived at Lyon with five cars, each one individually adapted to accommodate its intended driver. Their pits were organised to Teutonic perfection with colour coded containers for fuel, oil and water to avoid any possibility of confusion. There had been numerous conflicts between France and Germany over the years, with no love lost between them. Both were keen to demonstrate their engineering superiority over the other in the race to come.
Below is some absolutely beautiful footage of three restored 1914 Mercedes, along with an interview with Jochen Mass (unfortunately in German) but the rest of the commentary is in English.